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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.

Together We Can Fly - 12. Chapter 12

Toto and Michele hurried down Via Roma, their feet pounding the crazy paving, passing closed shopfronts until they reached Toto’s father’s store. Ahead of them, they could see Claudia running on down the street towards Da Rossi.

Salvatore was getting ready to close up for the night as they arrived, and he was taking in the last of the outdoor displays. He looked up in surprise at the sight of two anxious boys arriving on his doorstep.

“Papà,” Toto panted, “we need your help.”

“What’s wrong, Toto?” Salvatore asked.

“Daniele has gone missing. Angelo’s organising search parties in the square. We… we need bodies.”

“Of course,” Salvatore said at once. “I’ll be there in just a minute.”

“Thanks, signore,” Michele said.

Toto and Michele went straight to the apartment to get equipped, emerging a few moments later with a torch and a light jacket each. They made their way back to the square, where the search parties were already assembling in a huddle below the umbrella pines. As Toto and Michele joined the group, Claudia also arrived with Pietro and Marta in tow.

“Papà is on his way,” Toto said.

“Thanks, Toto,” Gianni replied.

Angelo nodded, and then turned to Marta and Pietro. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “Will everything be okay at the restaurant?”

Pietro nodded. “Anna and the team can manage without us for the rest of the night.”

“Do you remember Daniele from my birthday dinner?” Gianni asked. “About twelve, blue eyes, blond hair?”

Marta nodded. “We remember.”

Michele pulled Toto aside as Salvatore arrived and began speaking quietly with Angelo.

“Where do you think Dani would go, Toto?” Michele said urgently. “Apart from Patrizia and Paolo, we probably know him better than anyone else here.”

“I don’t know,” Toto replied, fighting a sense of rising panic that threatened to overwhelm him. “It could be any of the places we’ve taken him, or somewhere we don’t even know about.” He chewed a fingernail anxiously. “Jesus… you don’t think someone could have snatched him, do you?”

“Round here?” Michele said. “I don’t think so…”

“It’s just… he’s a good-looking kid…”

Michele shook his head. “We can’t help Daniele if we freak out, Toto. We have to stay focused.”

“All right,” said Toto, forcing himself to think. “He took his bike. Why would he take his bike?”

“Maybe if he were going somewhere a bit further away.”

“So probably not the olive grove at San Cosma. Do you remember him asking us about it?”

Michele nodded. “Yeah, I agree… that doesn’t add up.”

“And probably not down towards the coast… he’d have walked straight down.”

Michele blanched. “What about the Torre? Do you remember, that stupid cave…”

Toto felt a sudden chill. “God, maybe. He did say it was his ‘new secret place’.”

“We have to try it,” Michele said, “but how are we going to tell the others? Apart from us, nobody else knows any of that business with the cave happened. Remember, we didn’t want to get Daniele into trouble?”

“Or us…”

Michele nodded. “Okay, but that wasn’t the main reason.”

Toto thought for a moment. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll deal with it.”

Toto and Michele rejoined the others, where the rest of the searchers had already been organised into pairs and Angelo was making sure he had a phone number for each search party.

“So that’s settled, then,” he said. “Patrizia and Paolo will head back towards home and search around San Cosma and Torello. Mamma and Salvatore will search the centre of town and ask at the Villa Rufolo. Pietro and Claudia will head over towards San Martino and Monte Brusara, and Gianni and I will try to get access to the Villa Cimbrone and search the area around there.” He turned to Toto and Michele. “What about you guys?”

“We’ve got an idea,” Toto said. “We took Daniele to the Torre dello Ziro a couple of weeks ago. We’d like to check it out.”

There were intakes of breath and mutterings from some of the other searchers.

“I wouldn’t go up there at night,” Marta said. “Are you sure, boys?”

Toto nodded. “We have torches. We’ll be really careful.”

“Make sure you both come back in one piece, Toto,” Salvatore said. “Don’t take any foolish risks.”

Toto shuddered inwardly at the thought of his scramble along the ledge to rescue Daniele the last time. “We’ll do what we can,” he replied.

* * *

Toto and Michele jogged down the street past the ceramics workshop and turned off to fetch their Vespa scooters, which were parked in Toto’s usual spot. Without another word, they donned their helmets, gunned their engines and set off down into the valley.

At first, street lights flashed by as they descended past the main road tunnel, but then they passed the Scala turning and they were plunged into the lonely darkness of the night. Only the dull beams of their headlights lit the way as they descended the valley, the lights of Scala seeming distant and uncaring on the mountainside above them.

Toto urged his scooter on; all of a sudden, it seemed desperately slow and sluggish.

Please don’t let him have fallen…

And if Daniele had fallen, how would they even know? Toto pictured the younger boy lying broken at the foot of the cliff, and shook himself to drive the horrible image away.

It can’t have come to that… please…

The hairpin bends would normally have given Toto a thrill, but tonight he felt they were just slowing him down, and he was relieved when they reached the turning for Pontone and began to climb again.

Toto had never been to Pontone by night before, but this was not the time to dwell on it. They parked their scooters in the centre of the sleepy village and ran straight to the stairway that led down towards the head of the crag. They jogged along the deserted little street, their footsteps echoing harshly in the vaulted tunnel under the overhanging buildings. Apart from that, the only sound was the water pouring down the little aqueduct, reverberating strangely in the nocturnal quiet.

“Do you really think he came here?” Toto panted as they ran.

“I don’t know…” Michele replied, “but we’ve got more to go on than anyone else who’s searching.”

They passed the last of the houses and lit their torches. They pelted along the cobblestone path that led out to the crag, but when they reached the foot of the steep staircase, Toto was brought up short.

“Crap,” he hissed, shining his torch, “look!”

At the foot of the staircase lay a midnight blue mountain bike decorated with a pattern of silver stars.

“That’s Dani’s bike,” he said. “This is definitely where he went.”

In the cold white light of their torches, Michele looked pale. “God, Toto,” he said, “I have a bad feeling about this…”

“Come on…” Toto urged.

“Shouldn’t we call the others?”

Toto shook his head. “There’s no time. We have to look for him now.”

“All right…”

They began to climb the steep, zig-zag stairs towards the main gate, torch beams flashing over the rocks, lighting up stray tufts of vegetation an unnatural green in the darkness. Passing through the gate without stopping, they climbed the last flight of steps until they reached the old stone bastion at the top.

Both boys leant over the low stone wall roughly where they knew the cave to be.

“Daniele?” Toto called anxiously. “Are you there?”

There was no answer. Toto and Michele exchanged a worried glance.

“Could he have gone further along the crag?” Toto said. “Can we really search the whole woodland?”

Michele looked down into the valley below. “What if he…?”

“Please, don’t…” Toto said desperately.

Michele took a deep breath. “Daniele!” he shouted.

For a moment, Toto thought he heard an indistinct answering cry.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered.

In the light of his torch, Michele nodded. “I think so.”

“Daniele!” Toto called out. “Where are you?”

The answer came, more distinctly now. “Help!”

“The stairs!” Michele said urgently. “It came from somewhere near the stairs.”

They hurried back to the staircase and leant over the wall. Toto shone his torch towards the cave mouth, partially hidden behind its clump of vegetation.

“Are you in there?” he cried.

“Please!” came a plaintive voice from somewhere down below. Toto and Michele exchanged a horrified look and shone their torches down the cliffside.

Toto’s torch beam caught a flash of blond hair and lavender, and at last they saw him.

Daniele must have been trying to climb to or from his cave, and he had fallen. He had fetched up in a narrow cleft in the rock, saved only by a couple of scrubby-looking trees that were growing out of the cliff face. Beneath him was empty space. His pale, dusty, tear-stained face was pointing skywards, blue eyes squinting in the glare of the torches. There was no way of reaching him.

The look on his face was one of blind panic. Toto didn’t even think he realised who had found him.

“Please, help me…” Daniele repeated. “I fell…”

Michele shuffled back from the edge. “No, no, no… not this…”

Toto turned to him, placing a hand on his arm. “Michele, come on… we’ve got to do something.”

Michele fetched up against the rock wall behind him and tugged at his hair. “I can’t do this again!” he cried.

Toto took him by the shoulders. “Michele!” he said fiercely. “Snap out of it! We can still save him!”

Michele focused on him, and his eyes cleared a little. “How? There’s no way down there…”

Toto cursed. “If we just had a rope or something…”

“We should call someone. The fire service…”

Toto shook his head. “We could try, but how long would they take to find us? It could be too late by then.”

“Then what, Toto? What can we do on our own?”

Against all odds, an idea was forming in Toto’s mind. “I know where we might be able to get something to help,” he said. “But I’ll have to go back on the road to fetch it. Can you… can you take care of him until I get back?”

Michele nodded. “I’ll try.”

They shuffled back over to the wall, shining their torches down the cliff again.

“Dani!” Toto called. “It’s us.”

There was a pause. “Toto…?” the younger boy called back.

“That’s right, and Michele’s here too. I’m going to get help. Just… hang in there.”

“Please don’t leave me!” Daniele cried, his voice cracking.

“Michele’s going to stay with you. Be a superhero for us, like in your stories. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“I’m here, Dani,” Michele called shakily. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Toto made to leave. Michele turned to him, his face still pale. “Hurry!” he hissed.

Toto began to run down the steps. For a moment, he almost lost his footing, and he forced himself to slow down a little.

His heart was pumping hard. He clung to his idea: he had this one chance. If he failed, he would have to think again. Maybe one of the other searchers would be able to help.

Reaching the bottom of the steps, he sprinted up the street that led back into the village, trainers pounding the uneven paving stones once again. Returning to the road, he shoved his helmet on, jumped onto his Vespa and fired up the engine. Turning it round rapidly, he screeched off untidily down the road.

If the little bike had seemed slow earlier, now it seemed to be running like treacle. He pounded the throttle in anger, knowing there was nothing wrong with the machine and that it was all in his head, but frustrated all the same. The beam of his solitary headlight lit the way as he left the lights of Pontone behind and headed back up the valley.

In the darkness, every sound seemed amplified. Even over the burr of his engine, Toto could have sworn he could hear the trees rustling in the virtually non-existent breeze, and even the Dragone stream chuckling somewhere down below.

The lights of Ravello approached agonisingly slowly. Toto kept picturing that pale upturned face, and Michele’s panic-stricken reaction.

Be positive, Toto. At least he’s alive. There’s still a chance!

At long last, he took the corner at the Scala turning and made the final ascent into Ravello. He swerved into the main road tunnel, making for the Naples road on the other side of the hill and the one place he thought he might be able to find a rope.

Moments later, he pulled up outside the Palmeri garage. The forecourt was in darkness, but there were lights on upstairs in the little house next door. Toto dismounted and pounded on the door as hard as he could.

A light flicked on in the ground floor hallway. “All right,” came a surly voice from inside, “I’m coming.”

The door opened and Enzo stood there, dressed lazily in ripped jeans and a polo shirt. He scowled as he saw his visitor.

“What the Hell is this, Toto?” he muttered. “What are you doing here?”

“I need your help,” Toto said.

“You’ve got to be joking. Get out of here.”

Enzo made to shut the door, but Toto put an arm out to stop it.

“It’s Daniele,” he insisted. “He’s fallen at the Torre.”

“What?” Enzo growled.

“He’s still alive,” Toto said desperately. “Michele and I found him. We can’t get to him, but if we had something long enough… you must have a rope, or a towing line, or something. Please!”

“All right, all right!” Enzo replied. “Stay there.”

Toto waited at the threshold and looked on as Enzo disappeared into a storage room behind the stairs. He returned a few moments later with a length of blue nylon rope coiled about his shoulders.

“How long is it?” Toto asked.

“About fifteen metres.” Enzo replied.

Toto pictured the scene back at the Torre and did a quick mental calculation. “That should be enough. Thanks, Enzo.”

Enzo shook his head. “Just take it and get back there. Get out of my sight.”

Toto took the length of rope and draped it over his own shoulders. It was surprisingly heavy. Without another word, he returned to his scooter, kicked it into gear and set off. Enzo remained silhouetted in the doorway, watching him go.

* * *

It seemed to take an eternity to ride back to Pontone, but the equipment Toto was carrying gave him a sense of hope. He pushed the little engine as hard as he could on the climb back up into the village, and dumped the scooter at the entrance to the footpath without even trying to park it properly.

He must already have been gone for at least half an hour. He charged back down through the narrow street, descending the steps as fast as he dared, and only paused for breath when he reached the beginning of the zig-zag staircase back up onto the crag.

He took the steps two at a time, hoping against hope that things were still as he had left them. As he climbed through the gate, he was relieved to see Michele still there, shining his torch down over the cliff edge. Michele looked up hopefully at the sound of Toto’s approach.

“Toto, thank God…” Michele said as Toto collapsed to his knees, panting harshly. “You were gone for ages.”

“Dani…?” Toto managed, gasping for air.

“He’s still down there,” Michele said. “He’s okay.”

Toto put the rope down and peered over the edge. He could still see Daniele, crying quietly to himself about ten metres down.

“Daniele…” he called.

The younger boy looked up. “Toto? You’re back…”

“We’ve got a rope, Dani,” Toto said. “We’re going to send it down.”

“Okay,” the younger boy replied uncertainly.

Toto pulled back to see Michele examining the rope. “There’s nothing up here to tie it to, Toto,” he said.

“Then we’ll have to hold it ourselves,” Toto replied. Anxiously, Michele took one end of the rope and began to coil it around his hands. Toto did the same, and then he chucked the loose end down over the edge.

“Take a hold of this, Daniele,” he called out. “We’ll pull you up.”

Toto pulled back from the edge and braced his feet against the low wall at the edge of the staircase. Nothing happened.

“Daniele?” he shouted. “Come on!”

“I… I can’t…” Daniele’s plaintive voice floated back. “I’m scared, Toto.”

Toto shuffled back to the edge. The rope was within the younger boy’s reach, but he seemed too afraid to let go of the rocks. He began pulling the rope back up.

“What are we going to do?” Michele whispered.

Toto bit his lip. He could only think of one thing. “I’ll have to climb down. You’ll have to belay for me.”

No!” Michele cried. “I… I can’t do that! I could lose you both!”

“I’ll be careful,” Toto replied. “I’ll grip the rocks really tightly, and the wall will help you. You won’t have to take our full weight.”

Michele shook his head. “No,” he said, “I can’t do that on my own. There’s no way.”

Please, Michele,” Toto said desperately. “What other choice do we have?”

“Let me go down,” growled a voice. Both boys looked up in surprise.

Enzo was standing at the gate, wearing his old leather jacket, a head torch casting a pool of light at his feet.

“Enzo…?” Michele gasped.

“Belay for me, Toto,” Enzo said. “I’ll need a bowline knot.”

Wordlessly, Toto handed him the rope and watched as he looped it generously about his chest and tied it securely to itself. Enzo scrambled up onto the wall.

“Let out the line,” he said harshly. “You’d better not drop me.”

Toto gripped the rope tightly, passed it around himself and braced his feet against the wall again. “Help me, Michele,” he said.

“All right.” Michele took the pile of rope, ready to unspool it and to grip it tightly if he needed to. He also braced his feet against the wall.

“We’re ready, Enzo,” Toto said. Enzo nodded and disappeared over the edge.

Toto let the line out slowly, keeping it taut, watching it disappear over the edge of the wall, wishing he could see what was going on below. Michele’s pile of rope was shrinking rapidly by the time the downward movement stopped. Toto heard a yelp of surprise and fright from somewhere down the cliffside.

“Get us out of here, Toto!” Enzo’s voice roared from down below.

Toto began to pull on the rope as hard as he could, with Michele doing what he could to help. Ever so slowly, the line began to rise. His untrained muscles screamed in protest, but he ignored it, knowing that it was a matter of life and death.

After what seemed like an age, a strong hand grasped the edge of the wall and then Enzo appeared, Daniele hanging from his back, the rope restraining them both. Toto and Michele made one last heave, and the others tumbled over the wall onto the stairs. Toto released the pressure on the rope and watched as the two of them shook it off. Enzo walked a few steps away and brushed himself down.

“Th-thank you,” Daniele said to Enzo, and then, crying openly, he fell into Toto’s arms. Toto pulled Michele closer and they both hugged the younger boy tightly, sandwiching his shaking back between them.

Toto looked up at Enzo, who was slowly winding the rope back into a coil.

“Thanks,” he said. “Why did you come up here?”

“Unfinished business,” Enzo replied. He glanced at the other boy. “I think we’re quits, now, Michele.”

Michele broke away from the group hug and nodded. “We’re good. Thanks, Enzo.”

Enzo slung the rope over his head, then turned and began to walk back down the steps. He paused for one last look over his shoulder.

“You’re still a bunch of lousy queers,” he growled, “but you’ve got balls.”

* * *

Toto, Michele and Daniele remained on the steps for some time while the younger boy slowly came back to Earth. Daniele clutched Toto tightly until his sobs began to subside.

“It’s okay, Dani,” Michele said, rubbing the younger boy’s back gently. “You’re safe now.”

Daniele released Toto and sat down on the steps. In the light of their torches, he looked in a sorry state. His lavender t-shirt was dusty and ripped and his knees were grazed and bloody.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said.

“How long were you down there?” Toto asked.

“Hours. Nobody came!” the younger boy replied desperately.

Toto nodded. “Yeah, it’s pretty quiet up here. What were you doing here on your own, Dani?”

“I thought I’d build a den in the cave.”

“We told you it was too dangerous last time, Dani,” Michele said. “What were you thinking?”

Daniele shrugged. “You guys were busy, and I didn’t have anything to do… I just…”

“We’re really sorry about yesterday, Dani,” Toto said. “We came for you this morning, only… you’d already left.”

“We should call the others,” Michele said to Toto.

Toto nodded and dug out his phone. “Right.”

“What others?” Daniele asked.

“There are search parties,” Michele said. “Your parents…”

“My parents?” Daniele asked, and then he burst into fresh tears.

Michele comforted him this time while Toto dialled Angelo’s number.

Pronto?” Angelo’s anxious voice answered the phone.

“It’s Toto. It’s all right, we’ve found him. He’s okay.”

“Thank God,” Angelo replied, audibly relieved. “Bring him back into town. I’ll call the others back.”

“Okay. It’ll take us a little while to get back to you.”

“All right. We’ll see you when we see you.”

Toto rang off, then got stiffly to his feet and helped the others up. “We should get going.”

They started back down the steps. Daniele seemed exhausted, and they took it slowly, Toto holding his hand. As they passed through the gate, Toto was glad to see the back of the place. He thought it might be a while before he came here again.

They descended the zig-zag stairway, torches arcing back and forth once again. As they returned to the main path, Toto’s torch caught a flash of blue.

“My bike…” Daniele said weakly.

Michele picked it up. “Let’s take it up to the village,” he said. “I’ll find a bar or something. They’ll look after it for you.”

The three of them walked quietly back up through the houses. Toto was just starting to realise how tired he was himself; his arms were like jelly, and his feet were lead weights.

“What a night, eh, Dani?” he said. “If only we had a few of those superpowers you like to write about…”

Daniele sniffed. “You don’t need superpowers. You’re already my heroes.”

At last, they reached the road, and Toto and Daniele staggered towards the Vespa. Michele took Daniele’s bike and disappeared among the houses, climbing the steps up towards the village’s tiny square. He reappeared a few minutes later, unencumbered.

“It’s all taken care of,” he told Daniele. “You can come back tomorrow to collect it.”

“Thanks, Michele,” Daniele replied.

Toto offered his spare helmet to the younger boy and climbed heavily onto his scooter once more. “Saddle up, Dani,” he said.

The younger boy climbed aboard and closed his arms around his middle. Toto felt him rest his head against his back.

“Let’s get you home,” Toto said.

* * *

They rode back through the whispering night, climbing slowly up towards the lights of Ravello and Scala. Toto could feel Daniele breathing steadily against his back. Michele led the way, and Toto followed him around the hairpin bends, drawing ever closer to home.

With relief, they rode into town. They passed the ceramics workshop and clattered straight up the tree-lined street that led to the square, pulling up right next to the colourful planters that blocked the end of the road.

They dismounted from the scooters and removed their helmets. It felt strange to be back among the lively surrounds of the square, where the nightlife continued as if nothing unusual had happened. The only oddity was the knot of people standing a few metres away under the umbrella pines: it looked as if all the search parties had returned.

At the sight of the new arrivals, two people broke ranks and ran towards them. Daniele ran out too, limping slightly, straight into the arms of his parents.

“My dear, sweet, boy,” they heard Patrizia cry, “what happened to you?”

Daniele’s response was inaudible, so deeply was he buried in her arms.

Paolo looked up and beckoned Toto and Michele over.

“Thank you, boys,” he said, wringing both their hands. “We owe you so much for this.”

“Please, signore,” Michele replied, “it’s kind of our fault he was out there at all.”

Paolo wouldn’t hear of it. “It doesn’t matter. Tell me, what happened?”

As best they could, Toto and Michele explained how Daniele had been exploring the crag and how he had fallen. Toto recounted his tale of his journey back to Ravello and the help they had had from Enzo. By the time they had finished, Paolo was pale.

“You should write a book about it,” he said. “It sounds like quite the adventure.”

Daniele broke away from his mother and hugged Toto and Michele fiercely. “Thank you,” he said.

“Our pleasure, Dani,” Toto replied, “we’ll see you soon.”

“Yes, thank you both,” Patrizia said, stepping up to give each of them a kiss. “We should get our boy home… you all seem exhausted.”

Daniele’s parents each took one of his hands. They turned and, offering their thanks once again to the other searchers, walked Daniele gently across the square. Toto and Michele watched them until they disappeared down the lane next to the Villa Rufolo.

“So, who is Dani…” Toto said quietly. “Is he more like our son, or our annoying kid brother?”

Michele smiled slightly. “Maybe he’s our heart,” he replied.

When they had vanished from sight, Toto and Michele turned back and found themselves face to face with the other searchers. Foremost among these were Gianni and Angelo, who were both smiling broadly.

“You did great work, guys,” Angelo said.

Gianni nodded. “It sounds like you saved Daniele’s life tonight,” he said. “That’s something nobody can ever take away from you.”

Claudia stepped out of the throng and pulled Toto and Michele into a double hug. “My boys,” she said. “You are awesome…” she wrinkled her nose in disgust. “But, uffa, you smell.”

Toto laughed. “Heroics are hard work,” he said.

She released them both. “See you later,” she smiled, and she left with Pietro and Marta, heading back towards the restaurant.

Gianni and Angelo also moved to leave.

“Look us up soon, guys,” Gianni said. “Ciao!”

“Ciao,” Toto and Michele both replied.

They were left alone in the square with Salvatore. He stepped forwards and put his hands on Toto’s shoulders.

“Toto,” he said, “you seem to be turning into a fine young man. Your story of your adventures tonight was quite remarkable.”

“Thanks, Papà,” Toto replied, his eyes wide.

Salvatore glanced briefly at them both. “No doubt the two of you could do with some time to wind down after everything you’ve done tonight. I’ll leave you to it.”

He began to walk away. “I’ll see you in the morning, Toto,” he said over his shoulder. “I think you’ve earned the right to make your own decisions.”

“Good night, Papà,” Toto called after him.

Buonanotte, Toto.”

For a moment, Toto and Michele simply stood there, at a loss, but then Toto nudged his friend in the direction of the avenue of oleanders.

“I’m shattered. Let’s just go up the hill for a bit,” he said.

Michele nodded. “Me too. Okay.”

They wandered side by side up the gently climbing steps, the sparkling street lights shining down through the sprays of pink flowers. After a while, Toto dared to take Michele’s hand, and they walked that way to the Municipio gardens, where they collapsed on the grass amongst the beds of colourful flowers, which were dormant now against the darkness of the night. In the street at the top of the hill, a couple of cheerful locals strolled past the old buildings, but, apart from that, all was quiet.

“We did all right tonight, didn’t we, Toto?” Michele said.

Toto nodded. “I think we did.”

Michele frowned. “Your father… did he just say what I thought he said?”

“You mean… that I don’t have to go away if I don’t want to?”

“Yeah.”

Toto nodded. “I think so.”

Michele combed the grass thoughtfully with a free hand. “So where does that leave you?”

Toto shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Michele paused, and then looked straight into Toto’s eyes. “I just want to say this. We saved Daniele tonight. But if you never leave here, maybe your life just peaked. You may never do anything so important again.”

Toto nodded thoughtfully. “I know. I get that.”

“So…?”

Toto looked steadily at his friend. “I’m going to stay in school,” he said. “You’re right, I shouldn’t give it all up.”

“And us…?”

Toto took his hand once more. “If this thing between us really matters, it’ll survive.”

Michele smiled then, and Toto thought he had never seen anything so beautiful.

“I love you,” Michele said, and they kissed.

* * *

Seven years ago

Michele Romano, aged nine, follows his friend Toto down the steep steps below his house. They are off on their latest adventure, stretching, ever further, that invisible thread that ties them to their parents and their homes.

The cicadas churr in the olive trees and the swifts wheel overhead looking for insects. Lizards scatter as they hop down from step to step, jumping up now and then to snatch a leaf or a twig from a lemon tree and throwing them over the stone walls into the plantations to either side. They revel in their freedom, and the infinite possibilities it seems to present.

Toto glances over his shoulder and flashes him a bright smile. “Come on, Michele!” he exhorts.

“I’m coming,” Michele replies.

They reach a junction and they carry on down the hill, heedless of the long climb they will have to make to get home later. Their trainers clatter down the part concrete, part earthen path as they reach a final flight of steps leading down to a quiet little road.

The road traverses the hillside, now more than half way down towards the sea. Ahead of them, a panoramic view opens out over the bay, the mountains above Maiori a deep green and the sea the brightest shade of blue. On the far side of the road, a low concrete wall is all that separates them from the terraced olive groves below.

Toto climbs up on top of the low wall, staring out to sea, arms spread out wide. He glances down at Michele and smiles once more.

“Come on up,” he says.

Michele follows his lead and climbs onto the wall, his brown eyes looking up at his friend with simple trust. His imagination takes him skywards as they stand there together, side by side.

Together we can fly.

 

-End-

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.
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Chapter Comments



12 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

And one final thought on Toto and Michele's pendants. Swifts fly away each year from the place they were born, but they always return there for as long as they are able.

That's a great fact. Any parallel with my story is entirely coincidental!

I do know that they live almost their entire lives on the wing.

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1 minute ago, drsawzall said:

A great ending to a wonderful set of stories, and I am looking forward to more of your work as it appears!!

Thank you @drsawzall - your comments throughout have been greatly appreciated.

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@James Carnarvon, I'm so happy you revisited Ravello this year after Summer of the Firefly, which is one of my all-time favorites. The Villa Cimbrone, the cathedral square, all the foot paths, these places feel like old friends now.

This story was a fun read too. Based on the premise, I guessed Toto would meet a summer tourist and get over his Michele fixation. You had me fooled! But in retrospect the narrative arc is realistic. Lots of people struggle for years to figure out their sexuality. And the jealousy of those, like Toto, who already know exactly what they want -- that's real too, in my experience. 

I also like how you describe the tension between the beauty of the Amalfi Coast and the downsides of living there, like the limited job prospects. Ravello might seem idyllic as a tourist, but it could get too small if you don't want to sell all those lemon-related products or run a restaurant or hotel. 

The choice to spend the last chapter on Dani's rescue, instead of Toto and Michele's relationship, was interesting. It broadens the focus to Toto's growth as a person, including all his relationships. And I hope it sets up a Dani sequel.

I'll keep reading your stories, gay-themed or not. Go for the children's novel! If I can give a bit of constructive criticism for future writing, I think the teenage characters come across as a little too adult-like at times. At least, that's my take as an American. Maybe Italian teens tend to be more mature! You could add a dash of slang, inside jokes, some stroppy behavior if appropriate to the age and character. This is really a minor quibble... I love everything you write.

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5 hours ago, redwood said:

If I can give a bit of constructive criticism for future writing, I think the teenage characters come across as a little too adult-like at times. At least, that's my take as an American. Maybe Italian teens tend to be more mature! You could add a dash of slang, inside jokes, some stroppy behavior if appropriate to the age and character. This is really a minor quibble... I love everything you write.

No, I’m sure that’s a fair comment and thank you for giving it. Italian teens are not automatically more mature than American teens or British teens for that matter, although the family dynamics might be slightly different.

I’m sure this is a fairly common malady in teenage characters written by adults. In trying not to underestimate an intelligent teen’s potential as a character, and in trying to make them relatable and sympathetic, some classic teenage behaviours can be lost.

What I do try to do is capture the confusion, self-doubt and strongly felt emotions of the age.

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29 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

I, on the other hand, don't find it atypical for an only child who frequently interacts with adults to be exactly this way.

I should add that I draw on my own experience as a relatively non-stroppy (but still messed-up) teenager. They do exist.

Also, stroppiness in teens comes of attachment and security to some extent. Neither of my main point of view characters have typical relationships with their parental care-givers (although I wouldn’t say that applied to me).

Gianni is on egg-shells with his grandparents much of the time.

Toto is actively trying to repair a distant and fractured relationship with his father.

I do think the more inclusive Italian attitude to children may support more rounded behaviour, but Italians can also be an emotive and bolshy lot. I don’t profess to be a total expert.

Edited by James Carnarvon
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7 hours ago, drpaladin said:

I, on the other hand, don't find it atypical for an only child who frequently interacts with adults to be exactly this way.

A valid point. I was one of those adult-like only children, despite being really immature in less obvious ways. Thanks for helping me understand myself better!

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This has been a wonderful story of a relationship developing within the ‘tapestry’ of a fairly close knit community. As it came to an end I had an image in my mind of a swift soaring overhead as it watched over all the townspeople who figured in the story. I guess there are no more stories to look forward to, so it’s up to my imagination to speculate about what comes next. I wonder how Enzo is going to cope with being a local hero of sorts when Daniele and his parents spread the story of his part in Dani’s rescue. I have enjoyed the Ravello stories immensely, writing at its best!

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1 hour ago, Lorenzo46 said:

This has been a wonderful story of a relationship developing within the ‘tapestry’ of a fairly close knit community. As it came to an end I had an image in my mind of a swift soaring overhead as it watched over all the townspeople who figured in the story. I guess there are no more stories to look forward to, so it’s up to my imagination to speculate about what comes next. I wonder how Enzo is going to cope with being a local hero of sorts when Daniele and his parents spread the story of his part in Dani’s rescue. I have enjoyed the Ravello stories immensely, writing at its best!

Never say never, I guess, but if I ever did write another one I think it would need to be quite different and not the same sort of story over again.

Thank you for reading and commenting!

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14 minutes ago, James Carnarvon said:

Never say never, I guess, but if I ever did write another one I think it would need to be quite different and not the same sort of story over again.

Thank you for reading and commenting!

I suppose you can have too much of a good thing...

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25 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

I suppose you can have too much of a good thing...

And with each iteration there is a risk it would get less good. 

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I actually think you left us with a lot left to learn about Enzo. He might make a fascinating main character. Also, the biggest homophobes tend to be the biggest closet cases... 

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20 minutes ago, Hubert11 said:

I actually think you left us with a lot left to learn about Enzo. He might make a fascinating main character. Also, the biggest homophobes tend to be the biggest closet cases... 

That’s true, although I think Enzo’s homophobia is more due to his negative upbringing and his experience with a predator rather than a closeted sexuality.

I don’t think I would want to spend a whole story inside Enzo’s head.

Thank you for all the chapter reactions. I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

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I thought you guys might like to know that I'm writing again (I can't seem to stop these days?).

There will be another Ravello story, but it will be different this time. Not a love story, more of a plot-driven adventure.

I've been busily planning it out for a while, and I've made a start with the actual writing tonight, but I probably won't be doing most of the work until the autumn/fall... so it'll be a while!

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On 7/25/2021 at 11:05 PM, James Carnarvon said:

I thought you guys might like to know that I'm writing again (I can't seem to stop these days?).

There will be another Ravello story, but it will be different this time. Not a love story, more of a plot-driven adventure.

I've been busily planning it out for a while, and I've made a start with the actual writing tonight, but I probably won't be doing most of the work until the autumn/fall... so it'll be a while!

What an absolutely fantastic story - I so want to visit Ravello!

I can see all of your characters in my mind from Nonna all the way down to Ennio and Alfredo.

I'm really looking forward to reading the next story in the Ravello series - keep up the great work @James Carnarvon.

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