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Together We Can Fly - 3. Chapter 3

Sunday morning found Toto in the cathedral square, waiting for the church service to finish. Toto and his father had stopped going to church regularly after his mother died, but Michele and his mother still went to Mass every week. Michele’s father joined them as and when he could.

Over the course of the previous afternoon, Toto had recovered from his initial sense of affront that his friend had chosen to spend the coming Wednesday with someone else. Freshly showered and dressed in clean clothes, he had relaxed with a book in the shade of his bedroom, pondering what it all meant.

Toto couldn’t remember Michele ever ditching him for another friend like this until now. He would never have done the same himself; but then, he reasoned, he was the one who was in love, not Michele. He wished his friend had at least seen fit to tell him who he was meeting, but for some reason he hadn’t wanted to. Frustrating as it was, Toto had decided that he would try not to let it spoil their time together.

Once he had mostly accepted things as they were, he had slept well that night, tired but with a lingering glow of pride over his success with Michele at the Torre.

* * *

The morning had got off to a cool start once again, but the heat was rising rapidly. Toto waited on a bench in the shade of the umbrella pines, listening to the insistent song of the cicadas, the cooing of the pigeons and the chatter of the passers-by. From time to time the cathedral bells tolled, punctuating key moments of the church service.

At last, the doors opened and the congregation began to stream out. Toto got up from his bench and advanced towards the cathedral steps. There was no sign of Michele and his parents among the first few people to come out, but Toto did recognise a slightly stout elderly woman with a head of bushy grey hair. Dressed in black, she descended the steps carefully, holding onto the side wall for support. A silver pendant in the shape of a crucifix glinted on her chest.

Buongiorno, Marina,” he said as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

Gianni’s grandmother stopped, her mouth creasing in a smile of recognition.

Buongiorno, Toto,” she said, her voice as rich and husky as ever. “How are you?”

“I’m all right, thanks,” he replied. “And you?”

“I get along,” she replied, “although getting old is never easy.”

Toto nodded. “I’ve heard that.”

“I do miss my dear Vittorio,” Marina explained, glancing ruefully up the street she would have to climb to get home, “especially when it comes to climbing these steps.”

They were at the foot of the broad avenue of oleanders next to the cathedral.

“Would you like a hand?” Toto asked. He knew that, if Michele came out of the cathedral and couldn’t see him, he would wait at least a little while before heading home.

Marina smiled again. “That would be very kind, thank you, Toto,” she said.

Toto looped an arm around hers and they began to make their way back up the steps.

“I suppose I really should get a stick,” Marina went on, “but I would hate to seem so frail. Then I really would be written off as an old has-been.”

Toto laughed. “You don’t seem like a has-been to me.”

Marina gave him an amused glance. “Such a charmer. You must have been taking lessons from Sergio.”

They continued picking their way up the gentle stairway.

“How are things with your father?” Marina asked after a while.

“Much better,” Toto replied. “Thanks again for talking to him for me. We’re even spending some time together. It’s not much, but it’s more than we ever did before.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” She paused reflectively. “All I have ever really wanted in life, Toto, is to be useful, and it gets harder and harder to do that when you get to my age.”

They had reached the top of the stairway and turned up a broad street lined with a mix of grand palazzi and smaller buildings. Marina’s modest home was in a crowded courtyard a short way up the street, just past the little Municipio, or town hall, and its colourful, tree-lined gardens.

They parted at the courtyard gates.

“Thank you for your company, Toto,” Marina said. “If you see that grandson of mine, please do tell him to come and visit me a little more often. He could even bring his…” she halted, as if searching for the right word.

“Boyfriend?” Toto suggested with a smile.

Marina raised her hands in an elegant, resigned shrug. “I still can’t get used to calling him that. It seems such a puerile phrase.”

“Partner, then?”

“Perhaps,” she sighed. “Anyway, tell him he would be welcome to bring Angelo. I would be delighted to see them both.”

Toto smiled and nodded. “I will. Ciao, Marina.”

Arrivederci, Toto.”

Toto watched her climb the short staircase to her front door, and then set off quickly back down the avenue of oleanders, hoping Michele hadn’t been waiting too long. He found Michele’s parents chatting quietly beside the containers of flowers at the foot of the cathedral steps. Michele himself was still in the cathedral doorway, talking earnestly with Father Stefano, the priest. The priest gave Toto a wave, which Toto returned.

“Ciao, Toto,” Chiara said with a smile. “Michele tells us the two of you are taking young Daniele out today?”

Toto nodded. “That’s right.”

“It turns out they live just down the road from us,” Chiara went on. “They seem like a nice family, although both parents seem to work pretty hard.”

“Make sure you take the time to talk to his parents,” Davide put in. “I know if two older boys turned up wanting to take my twelve-year-old son out for the day, I’d want to at least speak with them first.”

Toto could see his point. He thought of what had happened to Michele two years ago when he had gone out with older boys without his parents’ knowledge.

“We will, thanks, signore,” he replied.

At that point, Michele appeared. He punched Toto on the arm. “Buongiorno.”

“Ciao Michele,” Toto said. “I… you know. I’m sorry about the way I left it with you yesterday.”

Michele shrugged. “It’s all right. I get it.”

Michele was wearing his Sunday best. It always made Toto’s stomach do little flips when his friend dressed up, and today was no exception. Toto swallowed the sensation and pressed on.

“Do you mind if I ride down separately today?” Toto asked. “I thought we could give Daniele a lift back up the hill. I reckon he’d enjoy it.”

Michele nodded. “Sure, okay. I need to get changed anyway. See you at mine in a little while.”

Toto said goodbye to Michele and his parents and then turned for Via Roma.

The tourist trade was already in full swing for the day. Toto threaded his way between the visitors who were peering in through the shop windows until he reached the quieter part of the street where he kept his scooter.

He fired up the engine and, upon checking the dashboard, realised that he was getting low on fuel. Checking his wallet to make sure he had the fuel card his father had given him, he decided he could fit in a quick detour to fill up before he had to be at Michele’s house.

The garage run by Enzo’s father Giuseppe Palmeri was the only petrol station nearby. It lay a short distance out of the town centre on the main road that led inland towards Naples. Toto set off down the road that led down the valley. After a few moments, he turned into the echoing main road tunnel that ran under the centre of town and re-emerged a short while later on the Naples road, which overlooked the coast at Minori and Maiori. It was an impressive view; tree-crowned mountains rose steeply out of the water along the length of the coast while, in the distance, the blue horizon shimmered. Sunlight sparkled on the wavelets at the water’s edge. Toto’s heart sank a little as he remembered that, when he went down there with Gianni and Angelo in a few days’ time, Michele would not be joining them.

What’s the big deal?

Was it just that he had been hoping to see Michele in his swimming trunks? Perhaps he had, but there was more to it than that. Some crazy, irrational part of Toto had always hoped that spending time with Gianni and Angelo, who had been together for years, would somehow inspire Michele and help to awaken a new interest in Toto.

That’s crazy talk, Toto. You know that’s not how it works.

Toto realised he was not concentrating on the road, and he snapped sharply back to reality as a car passed in the other direction. Rounding the next corner, he brought the scooter to an abrupt halt.

He had arrived at the Palmeri garage, but there were two police cars and an ambulance on the forecourt. Two paramedics were wheeling a gurney out of the little house next door. The man on the gurney seemed to have been savagely beaten: his arms were strapped up and his neck was in a brace. It looked like Enzo’s father.

What’s happening here?

Enzo appeared next. He had a police officer on each arm, and the look on his face was murderous.

“Enzo?” Toto called. “What happened?”

“Get lost, fairy boy,” Enzo shot back. “This is none of your business.”

Enzo shook his arms free from the police officers.

“Let go of me,” he growled quietly. “I can walk on my own.”

Toto watched, dumbfounded, as Enzo accompanied the officers to one of the police cars and allowed himself to be shepherded into the back seat. Before long, the police car and the ambulance had gone, leaving just one officer on guard while his colleague secured the building.

Toto dismounted from his scooter and wheeled it up to the police officer.

“May I refuel, please?” he asked. “It’s self-service.”

The police officer glanced over his shoulder so see how his colleague was getting on, and then nodded brusquely. “Make it quick,” he replied. “We’re about to close up.”

* * *

A short while later, Toto and Michele arrived at the gates to Daniele’s house with their Vespa scooters in tow. When Toto told Michele about the scene at the Palmeri garage, his friend had been as puzzled as he was, although Michele had quickly changed the subject, as if he didn’t really want to think about it for too long.

As Chiara had said, Daniele’s house was only a few doors down from Michele’s home. The little house stood on the seaward side of the quiet road that zig-zagged down the hillside below town, overhanging the olive groves and lemon plantations on the terraced slopes below. Next to the house was a small sun terrace with a dining table overlooking the sea view. A compact, midnight blue mountain bike, which Toto thought had to be Daniele’s, was leaning against the wall by the front door; it was decorated with a distinctive pattern of silver stars.

Toto pressed the doorbell beside the gate, and before long a couple in their late thirties emerged from the building and came to greet them.

In Daniele’s mother, Toto recognised the younger boy’s blond hair and blue eyes at once. His father’s colouration was more typical, but his short hair was more brown than black.

Daniele’s father opened the gate.

Buongiorno,” he said with a cautious smile. “Daniele told us to expect you. I’m Paolo Ferrero, and this is my wife Patrizia.”

Patrizia also nodded a greeting. She had a kind and gentle face, Toto thought, although right now she looked a little anxious.

Buongiorno, signore,” Toto replied, “I’m Toto, and this is Michele.”

Buongiorno,” Michele added.

“Daniele told us you rescued him from some bullies,” Patrizia said quietly. “We wanted to thank you both, but… why do you want to take him out for the day?”

“Well…” Toto said, unsure how to start, but Michele came to the rescue once again.

“It was my idea, signora,” he said. “Daniele seemed like he could use the company. He told us he hasn’t made many friends at school here.”

Paolo frowned slightly. “And just like that, you’re willing to spend time with him?” he asked. “You’re four years older than Daniele. It’s a bit unusual.”

Now Toto felt he did have something to add. “I know what it’s like to be an outsider here, signore,” he explained. “A couple of years ago, I… I needed a friend too. It was two guys a bit older than me who picked me up and helped me through it.”

“We can be trusted, signore,” Michele added. “Ask anyone.”

Daniele’s parents exchanged a glance.

“You seem genuine,” Paolo conceded. “But, forgive me… we’re not used to this. Is there anyone in particular who can vouch for you?”

“Father Stefano at the cathedral has known me for years,” Michele said.

Toto thought. “My father Salvatore runs a shop in Via Roma,” he added, “or there’s Gianni who works at the hotel by the fountain…”

“Gianni Fortuna?” Patrizia asked.

Toto nodded. “That’s him.”

Patrizia laughed. “We work together. He’s a sweetheart.”

“And he would speak up for you both?” Paolo asked.

Toto nodded. “Absolutely.”

This seemed to satisfy Daniele’s father. “All right,” he said, turning back to the house, “I’ll fetch Daniele out.”

“Please be gentle with him,” Patrizia entreated them. “He’s a little bit… different.”

“Don’t worry, signora,” Toto replied with a smile, “I’m a bit different too.”

Daniele appeared a few moments later, his face alight with enthusiasm for his day out with his new friends, although Toto thought he could also see a tinge of nervousness behind his blue eyes.

“Ciao, Toto! Ciao, Michele!” he said excitedly.

Buongiorno, Daniele,” Michele replied cheerfully.

“Ciao, trouble,” Toto said. He gestured at his scooter. “Fancy a ride?”

The younger boy nodded fervently. “Cool!”

Today, Daniele had exchanged his light pink tie-dye t-shirt for a similar one in a lavender colour and he had brushed his soft blond hair. His look was as sunny as his disposition. Toto looked at him with some amusement and tried to remember whether he himself had ever been so chirpy.

Patrizia bent down to embrace her son. “Have a lovely day, caro.”

Paolo handed Toto a folded-up piece of paper. “Here are our phone numbers,” he said. “Be sure to call us if you have any trouble.”

Toto took the fold of paper and placed it in his wallet. “Thanks, signore.”

Daniele’s father nodded. “Call me Paolo,” he replied.

Toto and Michele led Daniele across the street. Toto opened the storage compartment of his Vespa and got out his spare helmet. He helped the younger boy to clip it on, then mounted the scooter and gestured for Daniele to climb on behind him. The younger boy hopped on at once.

“Have you ever ridden on the back of one of these before, Daniele?” he asked over his shoulder.

Daniele shook his head. “No, never.”

“Then hold on tight!” Toto said, turning his eyes forward.

Toto felt the younger boy’s arms close tightly around his waist. Toto and Michele started their engines, and off they went.

Michele led the way on his own scooter. Daniele giggled as they zipped up the quiet road, terraced plantations scrolling by on the left and the distant blue horizon beyond. “This is epic,” he said.

Daniele tightened his grip still further as they turned a sharp hairpin bend at the little hamlet of San Cosma, a place where Toto and Michele had spent many of their days among the olive groves as younger children. Today, though, they were heading into town, so they continued up the zig-zagging road. As they went, they passed quiet stairways and footpaths heading up and down between houses and ancient churches: the old ways, dating back to a time before cars, and still the only way of travelling around most of the town. Toto knew from his many past adventures with Michele that, if you kept on going down the steps, you could walk all the way to the coast without setting foot on a road at all.

On they went, climbing now towards distant green mountains and past the modern curves of the town’s small concert hall. Before long they had reached the bus stops just outside the short tunnel that led into the cathedral square. Locals looked on with interest as the odd little party arrived. They secured the scooters among a long rank of them just below the end of the main Naples road.

Daniele was virtually bouncing on his feet. “Can we do that again some time? Please?” he asked them both.

Michele laughed. “If you’re good,” he said. Putting his helmet away in his own storage compartment, he fished out a simple toy: a ball, about the size of a tennis ball, fitted with a colourful tail like a windsock. “Fancy a game of catch? We thought we could take you up to the Villa Cimbrone gardens.”

Daniele nodded. “Sure, okay.”

They made their way up towards the bus stops. Toto fell in step beside Michele; Daniele ran on a little, making eagerly for the tunnel mouth. Toto and his friend glanced at each other.

“Could you have imagined we’d be doing something like this, when we finished school a couple of days ago?” Michele asked.

Toto smiled and shook his head. “No. It’s supremely weird.”

Michele grinned. “It’s funny to see you playing the dad.”

Toto scowled. “The dad?” he protested. “Can’t I be the big brother instead? Or at least the cool uncle?”

“Sure thing, Papà.”

Toto punched him on the arm. “Stop it.”

They walked through the cool of the tunnel to the cathedral square. Daniele was already waiting in the sunlight at the far end, impatient to move on.

“Come on!” he said.

“Chill out, kiddo!” Toto called back to him. “What’s the rush?”

Daniele smiled guiltily. “Sorry.”

They turned down a side street past some of the colourful shops, passing piles of decorated ceramics in all shapes and sizes, and soon left the quiet hubbub of the square behind them. They began to climb a long, winding flight of stone steps that twisted between old buildings and gardens.

“So, Dani,” Toto said. “Can we call you Dani?”

The younger boy nodded up at him. “Sure.”

“You’ve got a sense of style. I’m loving the tie dye.”

Daniele beamed. “I like the colours.”

Toto thought it was a smile that could light up a room. You could melt hearts with a face like that. How are you so innocent?

Toto glanced at his friend. “What do you think, Michele? Could I carry it off?”

Michele appeared to consider this deeply for a moment. “Nah,” he replied. “You haven’t got the looks.”

This sent Daniele off into another fit of the giggles. Toto glared at Michele playfully. “This has got to stop. I’m supposed to be the sassy one.”

“In your dreams.”

I could tell you a thing or two about my dreams, Michele…

They passed beneath the arched porch of a convent, where decorative lanterns hung on chains. Daniele did a passable impression of a yapping dog, which echoed about the vaulted ceiling; then the path wound beneath a stand of pines, where cicadas could be heard scraping away in the canopies. Before long, they had arrived outside a café that stood opposite a quiet little park of dry grass and shrubs, where a group of semi-feral cats lounged about in the shade of the benches. Quiet music played on a radio in the café. Toto popped in to buy some cold drinks, and came back out a minute later to find Daniele talking to a tabby kitten while Michele watched. The younger boy seemed to be entranced by the animal’s green eyes.

They moved on, passing a small hotel with an inviting-looking dining terrace draped with vines. Over the immaculately presented tables, a view could be glimpsed across the Valle del Dragone to the mountains beyond. A few moments later, they paused at the top of a terraced vegetable garden planted with lush rows of aubergine, courgette and tomato plants. Daniele finally seemed to have calmed down a little, and he glanced out at the view with them. From where they were standing, they could look all the way down to Pontone and the start of the rocky, tree-capped crag that led to the Torre; beyond, the distant blue water off Amalfi glimmered enticingly, dotted with white pleasure craft.

There were a few moments when Toto could tell that the place he called home was beautiful, but for the most part he took it for granted, having lived there all his life. It had taken a chat with Claudia a couple of years ago to make him realise that people travelled from all over the world to see his home town. Since then, this had become one of his favourite views.

Michele must have been thinking along similar lines, because he said, “Do you ever miss the north, Dani? What was it like in Milan?”

He shrugged. “It was okay,” he said. “The shops were brilliant, but we lived in a grey apartment block. I like it better here.”

Toto stared at him. The shops were brilliant? How many twelve-year-old boys would say that?

He patted the younger boy gently about the shoulders. “You just keep being yourself, Daniele.”

Daniele glanced up at him with an incredibly grateful look on his face.

It hasn’t always been easy, has it, kid? Others don’t always accept you. I can see it in your eyes.

They set off again, and soon they were making their way up the leafy footpath that led to the Villa Cimbrone gardens. Toto and Michele had visited them many times before. The gardens sat at the outermost end of the rocky ridge on which Ravello stood. From the villa itself, which was an eclectic and fanciful building complete with tower and cloister, a central avenue lined with hydrangeas scythed straight out along the crag through the heart of the colourful and fragrant gardens to the so-called Terrace of Infinity, a platform perched high atop the seaward end of the cliff.

They climbed the last flight of steps leading to the huge wooden doors and stepped through a small wicket gate to enter the villa courtyard. Since Toto had bought the drinks and would be buying them lunch later, Michele stepped forward to pay their admission at the kiosk.

Daniele must have been here before as well, because he was off at once, with a cry of “Race you to the terrace!”

“Oh, Jesus!” Toto muttered and he and Michele set off in pursuit, following the blond-haired, lavender-clad figure along the earthen ground of the avenue. Over their head, a pergola laden with grape vines and dangling wisteria flowers took the edge off the sun.

“Are we having fun yet?” Toto panted, and Michele laughed, shaking his head.

“A dad’s work is never done.”

They passed below a small temple structure and caught up with Daniele on the terrace itself, a long balcony lined with white marble busts that seemed to hang out over thin air. Far below, the terraced slopes of the hills leading down to the coast swirled around the contours in a dizzying fashion, while straight ahead was nothing but a horizon of deepest blue.

Daniele was draped over the boundary wall, peering vertically down the cliff to where the olive groves of San Cosma wound around the top of the hillside below.

“Have you ever been down there?” he asked.

“Are you kidding?” Toto replied. “We spent half our childhoods down there, hunting for cicadas in the olive trees.”

Daniele looked thoughtfully back at Toto and Michele. Toto sensed that he was keen to prove himself.

“Look what I can do, guys,” he said, and made as if to climb up onto the boundary wall.

Michele sprang forward at once and tugged Daniele gently back down by the waist. The younger boy looked disappointed.

“It’s okay, Dani,” Michele said. “You don’t need to impress us that way.”

Michele looked a little shaken. Daniele’s blue eyes glanced curiously from one to the other as Toto gave his friend a quick, reassuring squeeze about the shoulders. The younger boy returned to scanning the view, and his gaze settled on the old watchtower perched on the crag between Amalfi and Atrani.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“That?” Toto replied, a little uneasily. “It’s the Torre dello Ziro.”

“Could we visit it some time?”

Toto glanced uncertainly at Michele. The other boy nodded slightly.

“Maybe,” Toto replied, “once we’ve got to know you a little better.”

That seemed to settle the matter for the time being, because Daniele turned back around, smiled, and said, “Let’s play ball.”

* * *

In search of a quiet area to play a game, they eventually settled on a shady avenue of pine trees a little below the centre of the garden, where they could take over the space without bothering many of the other visitors.

What began as a pedestrian game of catch quickly devolved into Toto and Michele throwing the ball to one another while Daniele ran back and forth like a mad thing, trying to intercept it. Daniele did not seem fazed by the disadvantage; in fact, it only seemed to boost his sense of achievement when he did manage to snag the ball by its colourful tail. He would run a victory loop around the four nearest trees, his trainers kicking up clouds of dust from the dirt path and sending sticky pinecones skittering across the ground with a resinous smell.

“Don’t you ever sweat, Dani?” Toto finally asked, as an excited Daniele completed his third loop about the trees.

Daniele only grinned back at him.

“Okay, time out!” Toto flopped down to the ground under one of the trees. The others sat down next to him.

Michele’s was wearing an open shirt over a t-shirt once again. The collar had been knocked askew during the game, and the label was poking out. Daniele watched as Toto absent-mindedly folded it back inside. Michele jumped a little, but then thanked him.

Uffa,” Toto sighed.

He lay back on a carpet of pine needles with his hands behind his head and stared up at the canopy of the trees, framed by the blue sky. Michele lay down next to him. Daniele remained sitting up for a moment, looking down at them, but then he too lay down in an imitation of Toto’s posture.

This is what the summer holidays are about, Dani,” Toto said, “not just playing mad games.”

“How does that old song go?” Michele asked, slipping into English for a moment: “We have all the time in the world?”

“The name’s Ferrero,” the younger boy piped up in exaggerated tones, “Daniele Ferrero.”

Michele propped himself up onto his elbows in surprise. “You’re into James Bond?”

Daniele nodded. “I like adventure stories.”

Michele looked impressed. “Me too. I like the way he travels the world.”

Toto grinned up into the sky. “What about the snogging?”

Daniele made retching noises, and they all laughed.

Daniele sprang back to his feet. “Hide and seek?”

“What…?” Toto stared incredulously up at him. “Oh, all right…”

“Catch me if you can…!” the younger boy said, and he shot off.

“Don’t climb over any walls or fences!” Michele called after him.

There was a distant cry of “Okay!”

Toto and Michele eyed at each other in the momentary peace of the pine grove.

“Doesn’t he ever stop?” Michele gasped.

Toto smiled. “I guess not.”

“Hide and seek, though. Isn’t he a bit old for this?”

Toto gazed thoughtfully along the now deserted path the younger boy had taken. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Maybe he’s making up for lost time.”

Michele frowned for a moment as he considered this. “That’s a funny thing to say. Do you see yourself in him?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Well,” Michele said, standing up and pulling Toto to his feet, “I guess we’d better go hunting.”

They set off, side by side, searching the winding paths of the gardens, listening to the cicadas and the shrill cries of swifts flying overhead. They checked behind shrubs and statues as they went, and eventually found Daniele lurking within an ornate loggia in a rose garden close to the villa itself. He feigned a sad face when they found him, but then laughed and sent Michele on his way to hide somewhere else.

Toto and Daniele sat in the shade of the loggia for a few moments to give the other boy time to make his escape.

They were silent for a moment, but then Daniele turned his blue eyes on Toto and asked, innocently, “How long have you liked Michele?”

Toto stared at him, momentarily floored. “What? How can you tell?”

Daniele just shrugged.

“I don’t know…” Toto said. “A couple of years, I guess.”

But that wasn’t quite true, was it? When Toto looked back at his life up to the point when he had realised how he truly felt, he sometimes thought the signs were there from long before that. He just hadn’t known it at the time.

Daniele looked down and patted his hands alternately against the stone floor of the loggia. “I think it’s sad that the two of you aren’t together.”

Tears pricked unexpectedly at the corners of Toto’s eyes. He brushed them hurriedly away and then pulled Daniele into a rough sideways hug. The younger boy seemed surprised, but pleased, and hugged him back.

“Thanks, Daniele.”

* * *

When their time at the Villa Cimbrone had run its course, Toto and Michele took Daniele back to the square for lunch, where Toto treated the others to pizza slices and ice cream at one of the bars. Daniele put the food away at a voracious pace that seemed incredibly unlikely for his slight frame.

They took Daniele home, where Patrizia was waiting. Toto arranged for Daniele to join him for the trip to the beach on Wednesday. The younger boy could barely contain his enthusiasm, and Toto and Michele could still hear his excitable voice recounting their adventures that morning even after he and his mother had gone inside and shut the door.

Toto and Michele parted company at that point, as Michele said there was somewhere he had to be. They promised to meet up again the next day.

Several hours later, as the sun started to sink lower in the sky, Toto returned to the cathedral square with Gianni and Claudia. The three of them were armed with sketch pads and pencils. They took a bench together under the umbrella pines, facing the cathedral. Claudia sat in the middle, insisting that she wanted to keep ‘her boys’ to either side.

They chatted for a while. Gianni explained how this was one of the first views he had sketched when he first took up drawing again after the accident that had first brought him to Ravello.

“After the crash I was sort of… blocked… for a while, you know?” he told them.

“How did you get started again?” Toto asked.

“Angelo brought it out of me,” Gianni replied. “He and I were just starting to get… ah…”

He looked a little embarrassed at that point, and Toto couldn’t help exchanging a glance with Claudia and suppressing a giggle.

A memory suddenly presented itself in Toto’s mind. “Don’t you still have that first picture you drew? I think I’ve seen it on the wall of your apartment.”

Gianni nodded. “That’s the one.”

“It looked pretty beaten up.”

“Angelo carried it round in his pocket for weeks,” Gianni replied. “He’s in the picture, you know. The boy with the football? He said it helped him through a difficult time.”

“When Papà died,” Claudia chipped in quietly.

Gianni nodded again. “That’s right.”

“I’ll tell you something else about that drawing, Toto,” Claudia said, more cheerfully. “There’s someone else in it too. That little boy on the bicycle…?”

She fixed Toto with a long, meaningful look.

“Me?” Toto laughed incredulously. “No way.”

“You must have been so cute back then,” Claudia teased, reaching across and ruffling his hair.

“Quit it, Claudia,” Toto replied, brushing her hand away. “I know you can’t get enough of me, but respect the merchandise.”

Gianni chuckled. “Easy, now.”

All three of them had managed to sketch the cathedral, and now they were trying to evoke some of the life of the square in front of it. Gianni’s drawing, of course, already looked beautifully composed and detailed, and he had already added several people in the foreground. As he drew, he had tried to give them pointers about perspective, proportion, light and shade.

Toto glanced at Claudia’s pad. She tended to lack confidence in her abilities, but he thought she had made a fair fist of the scene as well. There was some imaginative detail on the small trees that stood to either side of the cathedral steps, and now she was attempting to add some human figures in silhouette.

Uffa, I’m terrible at this part,” she muttered.

Toto looked down at his own pad. Next to the others’, his effort seemed rough and distorted. The gable end of the cathedral looked as if a giant had sat on one side of it, and he was sure the real building wasn’t so short and fat. At least, he thought, he had managed a decent suggestion of the heavy bronze doors.

“I don’t think I’m going to get that far,” he told Claudia, “unless we’re about to have an invasion of cartoon stick figures.”

Claudia glanced at his effort. “Don’t be so down on yourself,” she replied. “It’s really not that bad.”

“I’m just doing what I know,” he smiled back. “I can be rude about my own work in three different languages. Yours looks great to me, though.”

Angelo strolled into the square at that point from the direction of Via Roma. As it was Sunday, he had abandoned his usual work clothes in favour of a casual shirt and a pair of khaki slacks. Seeing the three of them lined up on the bench, he assumed a heroic pose in the middle of the square.

“Down in front!” Gianni called out. “You’re blocking the view.”

Angelo grinned as he ambled over to them. “You mean enhancing the view. Budge up.”

The three of them did their best to shuffle down the bench so that Angelo could perch on the far end next to Gianni.

“I ran into Marina this morning,” Toto told them. “She asked me to tell you to visit her more often.”

“All right,” Gianni replied. “Thanks Toto. We’ll try to stop by again soon.”

“How come you don’t see each other that much?”

Angelo smiled. “Awkwardness. I don’t think Marina’s ever really got her head around the whole ‘liking boys’ thing.”

Gianni nodded. “That’s true. I think she’s worked hard to open her mind over the years, though. This isn’t exactly the sort of lifestyle she was brought up to accept.”

Toto thought of his father, who was still taking his first steps along a similar road. “I know what you mean.”

Claudia grunted with frustration. “I don’t know what the big deal is for everyone,” she said. “Some guys like guys. So what? Why does it need to affect anyone else?”

“And some girls like guys who like guys,” Toto teased.

Claudia narrowed her eyes. “You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”

Toto shook his head and grinned. “Never.”

“You’re right, Claudia,” Gianni said, “it shouldn’t matter at all. But after we went public, Nonna wasn’t the only one who needed some time to get used to the idea.”

“The fact that you tried to steal the show at Pietro and Anna’s wedding might have had something to do with that,” Angelo suggested wryly.

Gianni smiled slightly. “Yeah, maybe. But things looked pretty bad there for a couple of days.”

“How bad?” Toto asked. There were parts of Gianni and Angelo’s story that he still didn’t know.

“I almost died, Toto,” Gianni said quietly. “If it weren’t for Angelo, I would have.” He turned to Angelo. “But I’ve never been happier that you stopped me doing something so stupid.”

“Me too, Gianni,” Angelo replied, placing an arm around him.

They returned to their drawings, their conversation returning to lighter subjects. Toto watched Gianni and Angelo enviously, appreciating their ease with one another, and wondering at the journey they must have been on together to get to that point; a journey he had once so wanted to go on with Michele.

As if summoned by Toto’s thoughts, Michele himself appeared in the square, descending via the avenue of oleanders next to the cathedral; he didn’t seem to have noticed them. Toto perked up at once, but then he faltered. Michele had company. Walking next to him, Toto recognised the petite girl with a bob haircut and glasses who had said goodbye to Michele on the last day of school.

Toto’s heart plunged to somewhere in the region of his stomach. He glanced at Claudia and saw that she, too, had spotted the scene playing out on the far side of the square. She looked back at him without a word, eyes wide.

Michele and the girl walked past the cathedral together and then waved goodbye outside the Villa Rufolo gatehouse. She set off through the tunnel in the direction of the bus stops, while he turned down one of the little side streets that headed towards home.

Is that it? Is that why you can’t come to the beach with us?

Toto flipped his sketch pad shut. He didn’t feel like drawing any more.

* * *

Six years ago

Enzo Palmeri, aged twelve, cowers on the floor of the kitchen in the little house he shares with his father. His cheek stings where Giuseppe has just struck him, and he wonders why he had hoped for any better.

Unable to stop reliving the events that took place in the vestry a few days ago, Enzo had finally come to his father, hoping desperately for some support, but all he got for his trouble was the back of a hand to the face and a renewed tirade of condemnation.

“You let that man do that to you?” his father shouts, the sour stench of alcohol coming off him with every breath. He clenches his fists, glaring up into an imagined sky. “What did I do to deserve such a coward for a son?”

Enzo screws up his eyes, determined not to cry: there will be no more tears. For years, Giuseppe has taken his every personal failure and imagined injustice out on Enzo. He has cursed God every day for giving him a son to raise alone, while still insisting that Enzo participate regularly in the activities of their local church. And, for years, Enzo has taken it, covering up the cuts and bruises as best he can and blaming the ones he can’t hide on imaginary fights with other kids.

Enzo doesn’t know why the lay minister targeted him over all the other boys in the choir. Who can know how a predator thinks? Perhaps he knew he was dealing with a child of a broken home, who would have no-one sympathetic to talk to and whose story would never be believed even if he did tell it; or perhaps he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, either way, the few short seconds that passed between the two of them before he managed to make his escape left young Enzo feeling powerless and soiled.

Now, as he struggles with every fibre of his being to hold back his tears as he lies on the kitchen floor, Enzo vows he will never again make himself so vulnerable in front of another human being.

“Well?” Giuseppe snaps impatiently. “Aren’t you going to get up?”

Slowly, Enzo rises, a new stillness settling upon him. He is done playing the victim, and he means the world to know it. He doesn’t quite have the courage to face down his father just yet; but the rest of the world had better watch out, starting with that lay minister and any other queers he can find.

This is the day that Enzo decides to fight back for real.

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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36 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

And at long last we can see the crux of Enzio and it is pretty ugly. One has to wonder, why he was not led away handcuffed

The father, being a heavy drinker with a penchant for violence, may be well known by the police and seen as more instigator than victim. This could be a make or break moment for Enzo. He needs someone he can feel he can open up to. It won't be easy.

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22 minutes ago, travlbug said:

It may be too early to say that Dani is gay, but the pink and lavender shirts he favors may also be a clue. (Yes, I'm stereotyping! :lol:)

Dani? He’s just Dani. 😊

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We all, myself included, have a tendency to label and pigeonhole people. Many times those can be way off the mark.

Daniele is open-minded, caring, and full of the joy of life. There are people missing a chance at having a wonderful and devoted friend simply because he has such a unique personality. I think he may be destined for great things.

I think the little markers we see are false trails. Being affectionate and sensitive don't mean you are gay. His colorful clothing choices? He grew up in Milan, one of the most fashion forward places on the planet.

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Enzo's story now it has been told is a sad tale of sexual molestation and abuse by his father.  His anti-social behaviours and disrespect for authority is understandable.  That it occurs in this caring community is surprising.  Where will help come from for his healing?  He has no real support from true friends or family.  

Michele is keeping his distance and the girl Toto sees him with appears to be competition for Michele's affection.  Toto needs to realise that Michele is still trying to identify his own feelings and sexuality.  It will be a struggle for both boys and a test of their friendship.

Dani is intelligent and a bit hyperactive, but also vulnerable.  How the pieces of the story will fit together is very unclear at this point.  Hopefully Gianni, Angelo and Claudia will find a way to provide some of the support for all.  

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