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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 - 4. Chapter 4

Toto and Michele passed the next few days much as they normally would, hanging out at each other’s homes, cycling together, chatting in the square, or wandering the lanes and gardens of the town. Toto did not tell Michele what he had seen on Sunday evening, and Michele steadfastly failed to mention it himself.

Toto tried not to let what he had seen bother him, although the image of Michele walking with that girl kept popping into his head, unbidden, distracting him from whatever he was doing at the time. He didn’t know what it all really meant, but the way Claudia had reacted reassured him that it wasn’t just his imagination – there was something going on that was worth noticing.

He tried to tell himself that nothing had really changed. Why shouldn’t Michele spend time with a girl? For two years now, Toto had fought his own feelings as he tried to accept that Michele only saw him as a friend. However, hadn’t he always held out the tiniest bit of hope that he might, one day, be proven wrong?

By and large, he felt he had managed quite well. It hurt to know that Michele was hiding things from him, but he valued their friendship too much to make a scene, and to have Michele as a friend was better than not having him at all.

* * *

The Wednesday of the beach visit dawned clear and bright, promising a scorching day to come. When he got up, Toto showered and dressed lightly, knowing he would be spending much of the day out in the sun.

Toto had offered to take Daniele down to Minori himself, where the others would be meeting them. Weighing his options, Toto had decided against trying to transport the two of them and all their gear on his Vespa. Instead, he and the younger boy would walk down to the coast, and they would catch a bus back up the hill later.

As such, Toto arrived at Daniele’s house on foot that morning. He had removed his school things from his shoulder bag and replaced them with his swimming trunks, a towel, a beach mat, a pair of flip-flops, an inflatable beach ball and a supply of water.

Toto pressed the bell push by the gate, and soon Daniele appeared, looking impossibly summery as usual. He was back in his light pink tie-dye t-shirt and pale khaki shorts, as Toto and Michele had seen him when they first met him. His light blond hair shone in the sun, and his blue eyes were aglow with excitement. He, too, had a shoulder bag bouncing about his waist.

“Ciao, Toto,” he piped up, and he surprised Toto by hugging him around the middle.

“Ciao, trouble,” Toto replied, giving the younger boy a quick squeeze back. “Are you ready for a walk?”

“Sure!” Daniele nodded, and they set off down the street.

At first, they walked along the quiet road, following the contours of the hillside in the general direction of Minori. Daniele chattered animatedly as they went. Toto learned that Daniele liked to write adventure stories as well as read them and watch them; he was currently composing a piece in which he himself appeared as a superhero, with special powers that had yet to be fully discovered.

“Michele and I used to imagine we could fly like the birds,” Toto put in. As if to illustrate the point, a small group of swifts flew overhead at that moment, uttering their joyful summer cries.

“That’s so cool,” Daniele replied. “I would love to be able to do that.”

They had soon reached the hamlet of Torello, a cluster of old buildings centred around a small church on a hill overlooking the sea. They turned off the road and wandered down the stepped main street, where the little houses crowded in from both sides and occasionally arched over the footpath, casting inviting pools of shade. They met nobody else, but snatches of conversation and tinny music floated out through open windows as they passed.

“What other powers do you wish you had, Dani?” Toto asked.

“I’d like to be able to heal people,” Daniele replied, “and make sure no-one is poor or lonely.” As an afterthought, he added, “And stand up to bullies.”

Toto nodded. “Yeah, those would all be great powers to have.”

They emerged from the village and were soon following a zig-zagging path down through silvery olive groves which rang with the scraping of cicadas. The grey sands and terracotta rooftops of Minori were drawing tantalisingly close now as they made their way down the endless steps. Toto gazed out over the view as they walked, lost in thought about Michele and the mystery girl.

“Tell me again about the people we’re meeting?” Daniele said after a while.

Toto wrenched himself back to the here and now. “Gianni and Angelo are about eight years older than me,” he explained. “They live in Ravello too. They… well, let’s just say they were kind to me once when I needed a friend.”

Daniele’s blue eyes were attentive, and Toto could tell he was taking it all in. “They live together?” he queried.

“Yeah. They’ve been an item for… nine years, I think.”

“That’s cool.”

“And then there’s Claudia, Angelo’s sister. She’s a couple of years older than me.” Toto paused. “She kissed me once,” he admitted.

Daniele looked confused for a moment. “She kissed you?”

Toto ruffled the younger boy’s soft hair. “It did nothing for me. I like her a lot, but not like that.”

Daniele smiled. “I don’t want to be kissed either. Bleurgh.”

Toto laughed. Give it time, kid…

They were now almost upon the sea, and they descended the last few flights of steps together as they came into the little resort town of Minori. Touching down briefly on the main coast road, they waited for a gap in the traffic and then continued down between a jumble of cream and salmon-coloured buildings towards the beach.

A welcomingly scruffy and lived-in-looking town, Minori nestled in a compact bay bordered by terraced, rocky mountain slopes. The seafront consisted of a wide strip of grey volcanic sand and a broad promenade shaded with pine and plane trees. Planters of colourful flowers were dotted about the place, while cafés and bars spilled out onto the promenade from the old roadside buildings and kiosks at the top of the sand. The place buzzed with life, as visitors in swimsuits or light summer clothes milled about, buying refreshments or chatting with friends or family.

Toto and Daniele made their way along the promenade towards an area of the beach that was free of parasols and sun loungers.

“Excellent, they’re already here,” Toto said as he caught sight of three familiar figures on the beach. Daniele, who had gone rather quiet, took his hand nervously.

Gianni and Angelo had already stripped to their swimming shorts and were in the process of setting up a volleyball net. Claudia, who was wearing a stylish two-piece swimsuit, was standing at the ramp down from the promenade talking to a smartly dressed man in his thirties whom Toto recognised as Angelo and Claudia’s older brother Pietro.

“Ciao, Toto,” Claudia smiled when they arrived. “Pietro gave us a lift down. He’s here to do… market research?”

Pietro nodded. “Something like that.”

Toto grinned. “Do you mean… spying on the competition?”

Pietro put a finger to his lips. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said, and turned to leave with a wink. “See you later!”

“Ciao, Claudia,” Toto said. “This is Daniele.”

“Ciao.” Daniele smiled uncertainly up at Claudia.

“Well, aren’t you a cutie?” she smiled, looking the younger boy up and down. “Pleased to meet you, Daniele. Let’s go and join the others.”

Daniele bit his lip and gave Toto a sideways look as Claudia moved away. “She’s not going to kiss me too, is she?” he whispered.

Toto laughed. “No, I think you’ll be safe.”

Gianni and Angelo were putting the finishing touches to the volleyball net. Toto couldn’t help checking them out as they approached. Angelo always had looked athletic, and his work as a carpenter had certainly done nothing to diminish that. Gianni was also in decent shape; most of all, though, he stood out due to his slightly fairer skin and his piercing blue eyes. All in all, Toto thought, they made a handsome couple.

But, for me, it’s always been Michele.

“Ciao,” Angelo grinned as they approached. He turned his attention to Daniele, who still looked slightly apprehensive. “You must be young signore Ferrero.”

Daniele nodded. “Buongiorno,” he said quietly.

Gianni stepped up beside Angelo. “You don’t need to be so formal around us,” he said. “A simple ‘ciao’ is fine. I’m Gianni, and this is Angelo.”

“Failing that, ‘hey, you’ will do,” Angelo added.

Daniele laughed at this, and then it was okay between them.

“Get comfortable, guys,” Angelo said. “We’ve got a fun-filled day planned. There’s volleyball, swimming, some more volleyball, maybe a swim, and… ah… help me out here, G.?”

“Maybe a spot of lunch?” Gianni suggested with an ironic smile.

Angelo nodded. “That sounds good.”

“Don’t forget the ice cream,” Claudia added.

Angelo shook his head seriously. “As if we could.”

“All right, Dani,” Toto said, “let’s get changed.”

Daniele smiled and took off his shoes and socks. Having done that, he whipped off his t-shirt and shorts in about five seconds and was already standing there in his Speedos, all skinny limbs and tousled hair. Toto had to be impressed by his forward planning.

“Oh, Jesus,” Toto said. “Excuse me for a minute.”

Toto felt like it took him forever to get changed, fumbling around under the cover of his towel as he exchanged his underpants for his swimming shorts. Hoping desperately that he didn’t have the swimming shorts on backwards, he shook the sand from his clothes and shoes and stuffed them into his bag. At last, he was ready, flip-flops in his hand. He put his bag with the neat pile of belongings the others had already made.

He realised that Claudia had been watching him and, judging by her expression, she had been thoroughly enjoying the show. “Thanks for finally joining us, pretty boy,” she teased.

“Oh, shut up,” Toto said, flushing a little with embarrassment.

Daniele was busy applying sun cream to his face and ears, presumably on the instructions of his parents. When he had done that, he asked Toto to help put some on the back of his neck and shoulders. Claudia watched his efforts with some amusement.

“Say, you look just like a d…” she began.

“Don’t you start,” Toto retorted, as he rubbed the sun cream gently into the younger boy’s skin.

“He’s not like a dad,” Daniele asserted, “he’s my friend.”

Thank you, Daniele,” Toto said, sticking his tongue out at Claudia.

Claudia laughed. “Oh, boy…” she said, shaking her head.

Angelo cleared his throat patiently, drawing their attention. “When you’ve finished flirting, you two, can we get started?”

He was waiting beside the volleyball net, an amused half smile on his face, tossing a ball gently from hand to hand with Gianni close by his side.

“Three versus two,” Gianni commented. “How does that work?”

Angelo narrowed his eyes at Toto and the others in a friendly challenge. “I think we can hold our own.”

They began their game, and they were soon warmed up into it. Gianni and Angelo had the superior teamwork, but Toto, Claudia and Daniele made up for it with numbers. Toto and Claudia covered a corner each, with Daniele running back and forth like a mad thing in front of them, returning the ball over the net whenever he could. Falling back on an old trick of his, Angelo started a running commentary.

“A valiant volley there by Ferrero, but it’s still ten points for the guys, a mere seven for the kids…”

“Kids?” Claudia challenged him, sending the ball back over the net with force.

“Make that eight points for the kids…” Angelo continued as Gianni lunged for the ball and missed. “Terrible fumble there by Fortuna, letting the side down as usual…”

Gianni gave up chasing the ball and lunged at Angelo instead, planting him on his bottom in the sand with a well-placed tackle about the waist. Toto’s teammates collapsed in laughter.

“You’re not supposed to foul your own partner, Gianni!” Angelo panted.

“Yeah, well, when he’s this annoying…” Gianni replied, helping Angelo back to his feet and gently brushing him down.

“Can you believe this guy?” Angelo asked the others, but he put an arm around Gianni just the same.

Toto watched them wistfully. Here was everything he had wished he and Michele could be. Their banter wasn’t that different, but their moments of softness and their lack of physical barriers with one another… that was something else.

Daniele was looking at Toto expectantly, and he rallied bravely. “On your feet, team,” he said. “We’ve got to teach these ‘guys’ a lesson.”

* * *

Gianni and Angelo eventually conceded defeat when the ‘kids’ had stretched themselves out to forty points to their thirty, and the group’s attention turned to the sea.

Toto inflated his beach ball and they played catch among the waves. They called to each other and tried to pass the ball back and forth from further and further apart, while Angelo tried to catch it in the middle. Claudia and Daniele turned out to be strong swimmers and competed well when out of their depth.

“Over here!” Claudia called, waving from a distance. Toto lobbed the ball in an arching throw. Angelo lunged out of the water, but it sailed over his outstretched fingers and into Claudia’s waiting hands. She then passed it along to Gianni, who signalled to Daniele. Angelo lined himself up in between them, poised to intercept it.

“Ready?” Gianni called.

“Ready!” Daniele cried back.

Gianni threw a curveball. Angelo leaped out diagonally, but missed by inches, splashing back down into the water. Daniele snagged the ball and clutched it to his chest, grinning.

“Damn!” Angelo said. He turned to the younger boy. “I’m coming for you, Daniele,” he teased, diving back into the water and swimming towards him.

“No!” Daniele shrieked excitedly. He lunged sideways into the waves, somehow managing to swim with the ball in his hands until he found his footing, then waded towards Toto as fast as he could. “Save me, Toto!”

“You’ve got it, Dani,” Toto replied. “Climb aboard.”

Crouching among the waves, he mustered all his strength to hoist Daniele up onto his shoulders, as he had sometimes seen men do for their girlfriends in posed photos in magazines. The younger boy whooped as he was hoisted to dizzying heights and, for as long as Toto could manage it, Daniele threw the ball over longer distances, laughing fit to burst, while the others splashed around trying to catch it.

The constant shifting of Daniele’s weight took its toll on Toto’s back after a while, and so they retreated to the beach to dry off in the sun. Toto, Claudia and Daniele stretched themselves out on their beach mats while Gianni and Angelo continued to lark about in the shallows with the beach ball.

“That was epic, Toto,” Daniele said. “You’re the best.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better partner in crime,” Toto replied.

“You mean it?” Daniele asked.

“Sure thing, Dani.”

Quietly glowing, Daniele took a carton of juice out of his shoulder bag and began to drink it.

Toto contemplated the younger boy’s sandy shoulders and now hedgehog-like hair. It wasn’t so long since he had been twelve himself. How could a person change so much in just four years? But, then again, Daniele did seem young for his age.

When Toto had been twelve, he had barely given a thought to questions about his own nature and identity. He hadn’t thought of himself as different in any unusual way, and he had just sort of assumed that everything would unfold normally for him as he grew up. In those days, Toto had avoided Gianni and Angelo on his father’s instructions, and there was nobody else in his life who could have shown him a different path. At twelve, therefore, Toto had had no cause to question whether he – or anyone else, for that matter – would like boys or girls, and least of all whether he liked Michele as anything more than a friend.

By contrast, Toto knew that Daniele already saw differences in himself, and the younger boy had been utterly accepting of Toto’s nature from the moment they met. Suddenly, for all his childish enthusiasm, Daniele seemed almost more mature than Toto himself had been four years ago.

Chill, Toto. You’re tying your brain up in knots.

Toto wondered whether Michele had ever had cause to question himself in the same way. If he had, he had never let on.

And now Michele might have a girlfriend. Where did that leave Toto? Despite his best efforts to accept that his feelings for his friend were unrequited, Toto had still based his vision of his future around being near Michele – just in case.

“What’s on your mind, Toto?” Claudia asked. “You look like you’re far from here.”

Toto glanced up. “I dunno,” he said. “Michele. The future. School. General stuff…”

Claudia laughed. “That sounds deep. Tell me more.”

Daniele looked on, drinking contemplatively from his straw, watching Toto with interest.

“Are you going to go to University?” Toto asked.

Claudia nodded her head emphatically. “Totally. Aren’t you? I mean, isn’t that why you’re studying at the liceo?”

“That was my father’s idea,” Toto replied.

Claudia shrugged, as if to say that this didn’t change anything. “Okay.”

“Don’t you ever wish you could stay here?”

“Look, Toto…” she said tactfully. “I love Scala. I love Ravello. I love all you guys, even you…” she paused to ruffle Daniele’s tangled hair, “even though we’ve only just met. But I want to have a career, and maybe travel the world a little. This place… it’s kind of a dead end. If you’re not part of one of the old farming families, then your career options are really just construction or tourism.”

“Michele said something like that,” Toto said glumly.

“Maybe he had a point?”

Toto glanced out at the waves, where Gianni and Angelo now appeared to be wrestling together. The beach ball lay discarded on the tideline.

“Gianni came here to stay,” he pointed out.

“Gianni’s an artist,” Claudia replied with a smile. “He got inspired, like the classical composers. Plus, there’s the matter of his undying affection for Angelo.”

Here, she rolled her eyes, as if to suggest that she couldn’t understand why anyone would look at her older brother that way. Toto, however, didn’t rise to the joke, and returned to staring at the sea.

“You’re still holding out for Michele, aren’t you?” Claudia sighed after a while. “Even now.”

Now Toto did look at her, feeling slightly wounded.

“I don’t know. I’m just starting to think… maybe I should consider going away after all. I’m not sure yet.”

They were interrupted at that point by Gianni and Angelo, who came splashing up the beach together. Angelo had the beach ball under one arm; he tossed it to Toto, who opened the valve and began to deflate it.

“This all looks very intense,” Angelo said. “What’s afoot?”

Claudia stretched. “Nothing,” she said lightly. “We’re just talking about life and love.”

Gianni produced two more beach mats so the two of them could sit down. They placed them side by side and sat with their arms around each other.

“There must be something in the water here that turns people’s hearts to romance,” he smiled, glancing at Angelo.

“What do you mean?” Toto asked.

Angelo took up the story. “This beach is where we really got together, I guess,” he said, “although… it wasn’t exactly that simple, but something definitely changed that day.”

Gianni nodded. “This is where we crossed a line.”

Toto glanced down and raked the sand with one hand. He had never felt Michele’s absence as keenly as he did now.

“Of course,” Angelo said, turning to Gianni, “I was bowled over almost from the moment I first saw you. But you were a bit slower on the uptake.”

Toto smiled a little as a fleeting look of embarrassment crossed Gianni’s face, but it didn’t last long. He turned to Angelo, and they kissed.

Daniele’s hands flew to his mouth as he stifled a sudden giggle, his shoulders shaking and his blue eyes wide.

* * *

Gianni and Angelo treated Toto and the others to a pasta lunch at a bar near the seafront. After a few more games on the beach, Pietro reappeared to take Gianni, Angelo and Claudia home. Toto and Daniele were left to catch the bus.

Toto bought a couple of tickets at the local tabacchi, and they waited at the bus stop. Before long, the coastal bus from Salerno to Amalfi swung into town. They boarded it and had a comfortable ride for the first stretch along the sunny, winding coast road. They disembarked at the little village of Castiglione, where they would have to change buses to get home.

They waited in the shade of a stone bus shelter at the foot of the road that led up the valley to Ravello. Daniele seemed tired after their exertions on the beach and was quieter than usual; he flopped against Toto, fiddling with a handful of seashells he had picked up, his damp hair resting on Toto’s shoulder. Toto didn’t mind; he imagined the younger boy probably hadn’t had so much fun in years.

Before long, the compact bus that ran up and down the valley road between Amalfi and Ravello ground around the hairpin turn up from the coast road. As usual, the bus was baking hot inside and packed to the gills with tourists, while a few elderly locals tolerated the crowd with weary familiarity. Toto and Daniele squeezed in among the crowd of standing passengers; there wasn’t much to hold onto, but it was scarcely necessary, as nobody really had room to fall. In the end, Toto held onto the back of a nearby seat and Daniele held onto Toto. Toto gripped the seat back grimly as they swung around the multiple hairpin bends as the road made its way up into the mountains.

Some time later, Toto and Daniele parted company in the cathedral square. Daniele had offered to walk home on his own to save Toto climbing back up the steps again afterwards.

“Thanks for taking me out today, Toto,” Daniele said. “I had a great time.”

“Thanks for coming, Dani,” Toto replied. “I’ll see you again soon, okay?”

Daniele gave him a last bright smile and nodded. “Say hi to Michele for me.”

He hugged Toto, and then set off on his own down the shady footpath next to the Villa Rufolo gatehouse.

Once the younger boy was out of sight, Toto set out across the square, making for home. Yes, he thought, it had been a good day.

Toto wandered along Via Roma, dodging the shoppers as usual. Reaching Salvatore’s store, he exchanged a wave with his father and then let himself in through the door that led up to their apartment.

After several hours spent in the fierce summer sun and the long, hot bus ride back up the valley, it was a relief to step into the shady cool of the apartment. Toto shed his shoes and socks, relishing the feeling of the cold ceramic tiles on the soles of his feet.

A second shower seemed to be called for. Toto stripped off his dirty, salty clothes and deposited them in the laundry basket; he would wash the clothes himself, later on, as his father worked such long hours in the shop. Safe in the privacy of his own company, he wandered naked into the bathroom, set the shower to a medium temperature, and washed himself thoroughly from head to toe.

Thoroughly freshened up, Toto put on some underwear and deodorant and then flopped down on his bed with a book and a glass of water. The story he was reading, which had been recommended to him by one of his language teachers at school, was written in French, a memoir of the writer’s boyhood adventures in the hills of Provence. Toto was reminded of his own childhood adventures with Michele.

After he had been reading for a while, he was interrupted as his mobile phone buzzed. He picked it up from his bedside table and frowned. It was a text message from Michele.

I need to see you. Meet me by the vegetable garden in twenty minutes?

Toto stared thoughtfully at the message for a few seconds. Michele’s few words seemed deliberately enigmatic; perhaps he had decided to come clean about the girl he had been seeing? Toto texted back a quick ‘OK’, stretched and then got up in search of some clean clothes.

* * *

A short while later, Toto set out again, wearing a casual shirt and a fresh pair of shorts. He wasn’t sure quite what he was heading into, but he had braced himself to hear some home truths.

Whatever happens, Toto, he’s still your friend. Try to remember that.

Since Toto had come home, the day visitors had begun to leave, and the early evening crowd was taking over. The atmosphere in the square was mellow as Toto made his way past the cathedral. The bars had a scattering of customers, who were enjoying coffees and small beers as they chatted. The cicadas scraped away in the pine trees in the warm rays of the evening sun.

Toto took the little street that led towards the long stairway up to the Villa Cimbrone. He began to climb, pausing now and then to cool off when a lick of breeze managed to penetrate the gaps between the buildings. He didn’t want to get hot and sweaty again today.

At this hour, the footpath was quiet and peaceful; the only activity came from the couple of restaurants he passed, where staff were busy setting up for the evening sitting. Toto thought about what Michele and Claudia had said about his future if he stayed in Ravello. Was this really what it would look like – a life in retail or hospitality? Gianni seemed happy enough in his job, Toto thought, and at least the hotel had air conditioning.

Toto wandered alone through a secluded world, with only the cicadas in the pine trees for company. As he passed the café at the top of the hill, he paused to say hello to one of the feral cats, a small black one. It gave his finger a quick, nervous sniff and then ran off, tail raised high.

There was no sign of Michele at the vegetable garden, so Toto waited, leaning on the stone wall above the aubergine plants and looking out at the view over the valley to Pontone. He watched the birds wheeling about in the valley and listened to the sound of classical music drifting up from the restaurant terrace down the street.

A few minutes later, Toto heard footsteps and then his friend appeared from a side turning, a narrow little path that they had not often used together. Lush foliage hung down over the walls to either side.

“Ciao, Michele,” Toto said.

In spite of everything, Toto couldn’t help being pleased to see his friend; part of him always felt incomplete when they weren’t together. The way Michele looked now only served to enhance the effect; he had opted for a dark blue, slim fit shirt, and his tousled, chestnut-brown hair was sticking up slightly on one side, the way Toto had always liked it. Michele’s swift pendant was hanging out through the open top two buttons of his shirt, glinting in the sun.

“Ciao, Toto,” Michele smiled. “Thanks for coming up here to meet me.”

“Sure, no problem,” Toto replied, trying to keep his voice neutral. “Have you had a good day?”

Michele shrugged. “You know,” he said evasively. “It was fine, I guess. How was the beach?”

Toto looked back at him for a couple of seconds. It didn’t sound like Michele was about to launch into a full confession.

So why am I here, Michele?

“It was great,” Toto replied. “Claudia and Daniele came along. I think Dani had a great time.”

Toto described the main events of the day. Michele listened with some interest, and even laughed a little when Toto got to the part about Gianni and Angelo’s kiss and Daniele’s reaction, but Toto could tell that he was distracted by something.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t go,” Michele said when Toto had finished.

Toto would normally have suggested that they try again another day, but something stopped him. He didn’t think he could stand to be turned down again just yet.

“Daniele’s a smart kid,” Toto said. “Did you know, he knew I liked you almost from the moment that we met him?”

“And he was okay with that?” Michele asked.

Toto nodded. “Totally. He seemed to be quite into the idea, to be honest.”

Michele inspected his hands. “Good for him.”

Toto still didn’t feel they were getting to the point. “Why did you call me up here, Michele?”

Michele stared out at the view. “I, ah…” he glanced back at Toto. “I wanted to give you something.”

He reached into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a small package wrapped in tissue paper, which he handed to Toto.

Now utterly confused, Toto gently unwrapped the package. His heart faltered for a split second as he realised it was another swift pendant. A mirror image of Michele’s own, if you held them next to each other it would have looked like they were flying towards each other… or away from each other. He held it up and watched it twirl around in the low evening sunlight, which reflected in little stars off the pendant’s metallic parts.

“You’ve been such a good friend,” Michele went on awkwardly. “And a year ago, you gave me this lovely thing which I never repaid and I… I wanted to give something back to you.”

Toto was thrown. What is this? An apology? A goodbye gift? Something… else? I don’t get it.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “Thanks, Michele.”

Michele attempted a smile. “Put it on, then.”

Toto undid the little clasp at the top of the chain, reached behind his neck and then fumbled with his fingers as he tried to do it back up. Suddenly, he realised he had no idea how to do it. Girls had always made it look so easy.

“Crap,” he said. “I’m stuck. Please can you help me?”

Wordlessly, Michele moved around behind Toto and took the chain from his outstretched fingers. Within one short moment he had fastened it, and he returned to his earlier position next to the wall.

“Thanks,” Toto said, with a shamefaced smile, unfastening an extra shirt button to let the pendant hang through it as Michele’s did. “I guess I need some practice.”

Michele looked at his gift contemplatively. “It suits you,” he said quietly.

Some way back down the hill, the church bells chimed the hour. Michele sighed.

“I can’t stay,” he said. “My parents are expecting me for dinner. But see you tomorrow?”

Toto nodded. “Sure.”

Michele gave him a tired-looking smile. “Ciao.”

“Ciao,” Toto replied.

Michele turned and retreated the way he had come, leaving Toto more confused than ever. He wondered what Claudia would make of it all.

With Michele gone, Toto realised there was no point in hanging around here. He set off slowly back down towards the square, lost in thought.

* * *

Eight years ago

Gianni Fortuna, aged sixteen, climbs through the woods at the summit of Monte Brusara with two sleeping bags and half a tent on his back. His friend Angelo walks beside him, carrying the tent poles, two air beds and a rucksack.

It’s July, and they have just survived their first year at school together in Amalfi. They have spent the last eleven months playing it safe: keeping their heads down, avoiding trouble and building support for their relationship among their families, while catching whatever time alone that they can. But there is still one line that they have not crossed.

An unspoken understanding has passed between them that this night is significant. They have earned this moment through sensitivity and care.

At the rocky summit, they find a patch of flat ground at the edge of the treeline where the ground is a little softer, and they work together to pitch the tent among the dry grass. They set up the airbeds side by side, and Angelo covers them with an old blanket that he has purloined from a cupboard at home.

It’s a hot summer night, but they set up a campfire anyway on a nearby patch of stonier ground. Angelo has always been careful about the risk of wildfires among the parched summer vegetation, and Gianni has learned from his example.

Once everything is set up and the fire is burning, they separate temporarily to freshen up as best they can with the limited gear they could carry. Gianni returns a short while later in a fresh change of clothing and finds that Angelo has done the same. They sit down together next to the fire, shoulder to shoulder on a comfortable log that Angelo found among the trees.

The sun is going down. It disappeared behind the mountain above Scala some time ago, but its pink traces can still be seen in the sky. Angelo cracks open two small bottles of green apple juice and hands one to Gianni.

“Here’s to a whole year of being on our best behaviour,” he smiles.

Gianni and Angelo chink their bottles together and take a drink. The juice has lost its chill during their journey, but it still tastes good.

“I love you,” Gianni murmurs, and they each put an arm around the other’s shoulders, heads together.

It’s a year now since Gianni lost his mother and father, but he still thinks of them every day. He wonders what they would say if they could see him now. He hopes they would be proud.

Angelo raises his bottle again. “To Papà, and to your parents,” he says, as if he has read his mind, “in hope that they still watch over us.”

“To all our parents,” Gianni replies, and they chink glass on glass one more time.

They drain their drinks and place the empty bottles down by the fire. Gianni turns and looks at Angelo, and finds his dark eyes looking straight back at him. In the flickering light of the fire, his friend looks more beautiful than ever.

He reaches out tenderly and touches Angelo’s cheek, then runs a hand up through his spiky hair. He pulls him in, and they kiss for a long time. Gianni’s heart strains with a desire that has been held in check for too long. The time has come for that to change.

Gianni stands, takes Angelo’s hand, and pulls him gently towards the tent. Angelo follows willingly enough, but they pause for a moment before the fire.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Angelo asks gently.

Gianni nods, for he has never been so sure of anything. “I want to be with you.”

They kiss again, fumbling for each other’s shirt buttons.

A few moments later, and the sleeping bags have been opened out and spread over the blanketed airbeds to form a sort of duvet. The night air is balmy and carries no trace of cold. Angelo slides in beside Gianni, wearing just his underwear, and they gaze at each other in the light of the nearby fire and a small camping lantern. Angelo reaches out under the covers and Gianni feels a hand exploring his chest, homing in on his madly beating heart.

Angelo smiles, and Gianni loses himself for a moment in his eyes. Then, almost without knowing he is doing it, he reaches out, pulls the other boy closer and they melt together.

“I love you too,” Angelo whispers.

Nothing else matters now. Gianni wishes he could stay in this moment forever.

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

There are so many uncertainties clouding Toto's mind. He is feeling anxiety over his future, mostly over the apparent increasing possibility it will be without Michele's returned love.

He had a wonderful time at the beach, but due to Gianni and Angelo's story it seemed like a missed opportunity. Michele's secrecy over how he spent the day festers like an untreated wound.

Then we have Michele's gift of a matching swift pendant which he took pains to give him in a secluded place. We are left as confused as Toto. The gesture seems to mean more, but Michele is steadfastly enigmatic and unreadable.

Edited by drpaladin
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33 minutes ago, James Carnarvon said:

@drsawzall This story has twelve chapters, so eight to go! Hmm, you seem pretty sure that Toto and Michele are going to become a couple - or is that just hope? 😉

I am on the side of the boys resolving the gulf between them and moving forward happily!! 

 

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I loved spending the day on the beach with Dani, Toto, Claudia, Angelo and Gianni.  It was filled with fun and humour.  I also liked the hints throughout that subtly foreshadow the future of Toto.  With the title of the story, the addition of Dani's observation, the superpowers discussion, Michele's gift and the flashback we have hope that Michele will finally understand his feelings for Toto.  Superb writing!

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I was wondering if when you said: The story he was reading, which had been recommended to him by one of his language teachers at school, was written in French, a memoir of the writer’s boyhood adventures in the hills of Provence. Are you referring to Marcel Pagnol?

The gift of an identical pendant was touching.

(PS. I downloaded the story and am reading it on my ebook reader, so much better because the ebook reader keeps your page making it easy to pick up and put down).

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16 minutes ago, James K said:

I was wondering if when you said: The story he was reading, which had been recommended to him by one of his language teachers at school, was written in French, a memoir of the writer’s boyhood adventures in the hills of Provence. Are you referring to Marcel Pagnol?

The gift of an identical pendant was touching.

(PS. I downloaded the story and am reading it on my ebook reader, so much better because the ebook reader keeps your page making it easy to pick up and put down).

Yes - it’s Pagnol. Good spot!

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