Stefano thrived at the pub. He soon made friends of everybody with his outgoing but serious character. He was a good listener. And, word had spread about how he treated that "straight prick of a male - all dick and no brains." His role as a host fit him perfectly. He welcomed new customers, visited with them, then introduced them to those regular customers who seemed best suited to the newcomer. He gained their confidence, at times just listening, at other times giving his advice; but from his mouth never came the first hint of gossip.
He proposed table games and organized little parties for birthdays or anniversaries of the couples.
The pub grew more and more crowded, and Piggì, happier along with it. A month passed peacefully. Stefano enjoyed some conquests at the pub. Among these, he chose the few with whom he wanted an erotic encounter without attachments. He didn't yet feel ready for a serious relationship. Most mornings he slept until eleven 'o clock, unless he had taken somebody to bed.
An American youth was passing through, and Stefano hosted him for five nights. Kevin was twenty-eight years old and had a velvet body with platinum blond hair, clear hazelnut and gilded eyes, and an irrepressible sensuality. He enjoyed both top and bottom, so in bed they merrily padded from a sixty-nine to the anal penetration, freely exchanging roles. Stefano admired Kevin's circumcised member, which quivered at the least touch, and whose erect state was hard to tame. Kevin made love cheerfully as well as passionately. He could be provocative or tender. The boy was both skilled and sweet.
Kevin lived in Detroit with his lover, Michael, who was his age and whose picture he shared with Stefano. Michael was more muscular than Kevin, with an intense face crowned by coppery-brown rebel hair. They had met in the Army, and now lived together.
"We have an agreement - when we are together, neither of us even thinks about an adventure outside the relationship. But, when we are separated for more than three days, then we both can have all the adventures we could wish for. It works. We have been together for seven years, including the time in the Army."
"Could you make love also in the barracks?"
"Oh, no way, not in the barracks! It was too dangerous. But we met as we both worked at the officers' mess. Almost every day we had take the jeep downtown to buy fresh produce and meat. On the third or fourth day while he was driving, he said to me, 'You're gay, right Kevin?' I said, 'Why do you ask?' And he said, 'Because I'm gay and I like you very much. I want to make love to you.' So I told him, 'I'm not gay and I'll report you!' Then he said, 'Well I'm not gay, either, and I'm going to report you!'
"We both burst out laughing. Then I said, 'Michael, I'd do it right now on the spot!' And he answered, 'No please; I'm driving now. I can't. But later...' So I asked, 'But where, then?' He told me he was trying to get a small apartment in town for us to use. I asked him, 'Were you so sure about me?' He said no, but he sure hoped he was right.
"As soon as he got the apartment, we just took more time - about an hour - to make our purchases. We were going to the supermarket, so we would give a list to a salesclerk who was his friend. Then instead of waiting thirty minutes at the bar as we had before, we went to our place to make love for about an hour. Then we were back to store, loading all the purchases and went back to our base. Before I met Michael, I was something of a little bitch... I was hopping from bed to bed, and I liked orgies. But he changed me."
Stefano liked to listen to the American boy's tales as they relaxed in bed between one fuck and the next.
When they made love for the last time before Kevin had to leave, Stefano told him, "Michael is really lucky to have a man like you. I envy him..."
"No, I'm the lucky one. If I hadn't met him, I might be a hustler, to say nothing about dope. With his sweetness and his vigor, his fantasy and his love, he made me forget about dope and all the men... well, almost all the men." Kevin smiled as he caressing Stefano's naked body.
When Kevin left, he gave Stefano his picture, an integral nude that Michael had taken on their apartment's terrace. Stefano framed it and hung it in his bedroom. After many days, he thought of Maurizio, who was far more beautiful than Kevin. The man would have liked to have his nude picture, too. What a pity that the boy was not as mature as Kevin.
Stefano had another pleasant encounter that month with a twenty-three-year-old university student of Upper Adige region. The boy, whose name was Matteo, liked only to give head and to be a bottom. But he did both with such consummate skill that he gave Stefano wonderful orgasms. The boy liked to come by just lying near the Stefano after the man had spent himself inside him. Matteo would masturbate while Stefano embraced, caressed, and kissed him.
Stefano was almost getting a crush on Matteo. The boy, also, seemed to be more and more attracted to the man. But, as much as Matteo was uninhibited at home or in bed, he was painfully withdrawn elsewhere. He had the terror that somebody who got to know him could guess that he was gay. His concern was obsessive - almost paranoid. So Stefano decided at first to lessen, then finally to stop their encounters altogether.
About a month after the night of his outburst at Maurizio, one evening Stefano was sitting at the counter talking with a customer. Tony said to him, "Hey, Steu, you'll never guess who is coming in! Don't look now... it's your body guard."
Stefano stiffened and turned. Maurizio was coming over to him, with a hesitant smile.
"Ciao." the boy said, awkwardly, when he drew near.
"How are your bruises?"
"Yes, there and there," Stefano said pointing to the two spots.
"Ah, practically gone, just a shadow..."
"Good." Stefano said dryly, without smiling.
"Yes." the boy said, then hesitantly asked Tony, "May I order a beer?"
"Sure, honey, have two."
"Would you like a beer, Stefano?"
"No, thank you. Rather, you can have my seat." the man answered indifferently, standing up and turning.
Maurizio looked at him and said with amazement. "What's wrong with your cheek?"
"Nothing." Stefano answered.
But at the same time Tony said, "A slap."
Stefano gave him a dirty look.
Maurizio asked, "Who, the guy from last time?"
"No, another. But this time I deserved it." Stefano added readily.
"Deserved it?" the boy asked, unbelieving.
"Yes, I insulted him."
"And he slapped you."
"Yes, and he was right. In fact, I apologized."
"You apologized to him? But... what did you say?"
Stefano was about to explain, but then realized that he was conceding too much to Maurizio. "It really isn't any of your business, I think!" he answered dryly.
"No, but... if somebody bothers you, all you have to do is tell me, and I'll take care of him. Agreed?"
"I'm quite able to take care of myself. I'm not a kid any more, but neither am I an old man." Stefano answered harshly, then added, "Thanks anyway." Then he held out his hand. "But I'm busy now. Goodbye."
Maurizio held Stefano's hand in his. "My mother said she would like to meet you..."
"What? Ah, really? And what for?"
"Well, you had been kind towards her... and then I... I do nothing but talk about you to her..."
"Ah, I see. And do you tell her... everything?" the man asked, looking at Maurizio with a teasing expression.
Maurizio blushed and said, "No, not really everything. She would like you to come have lunch with us next Sunday."
"Tell her thanks, but I can't. I'm busy on Sunday."
"Perhaps another Sunday, then..." the boy insisted.
"I don't know. I can't see any good reason for this. There is nothing between us."
"She would be glad if you would come. And at home... with her there... Nothing could happen. I mean, it is not for that. Just for... friendship."
"I don't know, I'll see."
"Thank you." Maurizio said releasing his hand. Then he said, "Ah, Stefano?"
"Would it bother you if I were to come here, sometimes?"
"This is a public place... Even though I really don't see why you would come here."
"Thank you." Maurizio said sitting on the stool that Stefano left.
Ambling through the pub, Stefano saw that the boy stayed at the bar for about an hour-and-a-half. Then he didn't see him any more so he went to the bar and asked Piggì, "Did Maurizio leave?"
"Yeah, about five minutes ago. He said he didn't want t' disturb ye, and t' tell ye goodbye for him. He doesn't give up, right?"
"Well, he just wastes his time." Stefano answered.
But to himself, Stefano had to admit that he had enjoyed seeing Maurizio again - just holding his hand. For him that boy had a magnetic, animal fascination - yes, an animal fascination.
The next evening, while Stefano was in the bar's middle room, Pino came to find him. "Steu, there's a woman at th' door asking for you!
"For me? A woman? Who is she?"
"I haven't got the faintest idea. She asked, 'Is Professor Genta in?' So I said, 'Yes, come in, you can find him in the other room.' And she said, 'No, it is a private matter, would you call him, please?'"
"She didn't tell you her name?"
"I didn't think to ask her. You want me to go and ask?"
"Doesn't matter, I'll go and see..."
Stefano went into the front room. There at the door stood a woman in her fifties, of medium size, and dressed simply.
When he drew near her, he said, "I am Stefano Genta. Were you looking for me?"
She smiled hesitantly, showing a line of teeth so bright and perfect that it was obvious that they were dentures. Holding out her hand, she said, "Yes, I am Maurizio's mother."
"Ah, how do you do, madam. Some problems with your son?" Stefano asked, alert.
"No, no. No problems... One of my cousins lives nearby and I went to see her. My Maurizio told me you were working here, so close to Rita's house, in a pub called Tambo. Rita told me it was really close and explained to me how to get here. I just thought I would come to thank you for all the kindness you have shown to us."
"Don't mention it." Stefano answered, as he wondered what really was behind this odd visit.
The woman looked inside the pub, slightly ill at ease, then asked, "May we go outside for just a moment?"
The woman crossed the street and stopped on the other side, under a street lamp. Now Stefano became quite anxious.
"Well, I... I wanted to thank you for all the advice that Maurizio says you have given him. The boy has changed. He is more thoughtful now; and, more gentle towards me, more careful. And then, you too are so kind to me even without knowing me... First the flowers and chocolates, then that fine scarf, and now even the money for my new denture. I really don't know how to thank you."
"The... money for your denture?" Stefano asked widening his eyes.
"Yes. Maurizio told me that you didn't want him to tell me. But I had to thank you. Don't get angry with him that he told me the truth..."
"But I, Madam, really..." Stefano stammered in confusion.
"Oh, you are such a refined and kind person - a real gentleman at heart, as my Maurizio always says. Yes, and then... to tell the truth, I came also for another reason..."
"Tell me..." Stefano said, even more confused.
"Well, my son told me that a while ago he said something to you that made you really angry. I told him he should come apologize to you. And he told me that he was not really sure what he could have said to make you so angry with him. He had thought about it a lot, but he still felt confused. He thinks he must have said something really wrong that you would become so angry with him... you, who are so kind and learned.
"So I told him all the same, he must come apologize to you, and ask you what he said that was so bad... so that he would not do it again. Then he told me that yesterday evening he came but could not talk with you. Now, I don't really know if he could or not, or if he was just too ashamed. But I know that Maurizio is not a bad boy. If he did something wrong, it wasn't on purpose. It has been like... like an accident... do you see?"
"Yes, I think I can understand." Stefano murmured, feeling quite awkward.
"So, then, I told him he must find the courage to pay for his wrong deeds, whatever that might be. He must... must apologize to you, full stop... Especially after all you have done for us. I told him that he must learn from you were he is wrong and to ask your forgiveness for having made you so angry. Oh, not for your gifts, you know, but just because it is right.
"But Maurizio says he is afraid that you don't want to talk with him any more and not even see him if he comes here or to your place. And he feels so bad, believe me, because I feel that to my Maurizio you became even more important than his father was, even though he admired his father so blindly. So, I told him he has to humble himself to you until you accept and listen to him. Was I wrong to tell him that?"
"Well... nobody should humble himself in front of another..." Stefano answered hesitantly.
"Oh, yes! Because he who humbles himself will be exalted!" the woman said with conviction.
Stefano smiled at her quotation of the Gospel. "Madam, there is no need for Maurizio to humble himself to me. If he really wants to talk with me, I will listen to him."
"Oh, thank you! My Maurizio said that you have a good heart. He has so much to learn from you, he always tells me so. My son says that you make him use his brain... Thank you. And... if this doesn't bother you... can you call me Natalina, and not madam?" the woman said making her false teeth shine in a smile full of hope.
Stefano wondered at the woman's candor, honesty, shrewdness... and stupidity, and how much of it Maurizio took from her. He answered with a forced smile, "Well, then you can call me Stefano... Natalina."
The woman clasped his hand tightly in hers. Stefano felt her withered and hard hands and felt pity for her. These hands obviously had borne years of suffering.
"Then, can my Maurizio come apologize to you?" the woman asked again.
Stefano nodded without smiling. And looked at her walk away under the light of the street lamp. He thought he understood - that woman was greedy. She was not after his "gifts" or his money. Instead, she was greedy for her son, that he might rise above the misery of his empty life. That woman saw in Stefano her son's salvation - his exaltation. He who humbles himself will be exalted. She was pushing her son towards him so that the boy could improve himself. How, in what sense - she probably did not even know.
And, what would that woman have thought... said... how would she have reacted if she knew what had happened between the two of them? Would she become the furious she-cat who shields her kittens? Or would she grasp for even more, this time for money, thinking to exploit the situation? Or would she just lose all her hope? Or would she cry and curse her bad luck and that of her son, to have run into such a pervert? Who knows?
Further, why did Maurizio lie to his mother, saying it was Stefano who gave him the money for the denture? Even if it was clearly a cheep one, the prefabricated model, yet it could not have been that inexpensive...
He went back into the pub, deep in thought.
Piggì asked him worriedly, "What happened? Who was thet woman? What did she want?"
"Piggì, do you know the story of Pandora's box?"
"Eh? Yes... well, more or less... What does that have to do with... "
"See? When I met Maurizio, that Friday evening, I opened the lid of that box..."
"Of all human ills?"
"Even worse, I still don't know what will come out."
"But, who was she?"
Piggì whistled long and low. "Fucking shit! And what did she want... to stir up trouble?"
"Who knows," Stefano answered then took him into the kitchen and told him the strange dialog he had.
Two evenings later, Maurizio had not yet shown up. When the pub closed, Stefano asked Pino to give him a ride home in his car. As they pulled up to Stefano's house, he saw Maurizio standing at the front door of the building.
"Oh, shit! Pino, do you have to go back home, tonight?"
"What? No. Why? Is this a proposal?"
"No, that is Maurizio, do you see? Certainly, he wants to come upstairs with me. But if you are with me... Can I tell him you are stopping at my place? So at least he will go away. I don't want him to think he can come upstairs with me. The two of us... alone..."
"Are you afraid you can't resist his charms?"
"Rightly so. Does that bother you?"
"No. But are you sure you can resist my charm?" the boy asked half-serious and cunningly.
"I'd rather surrender to your charm, than to his."
"Hey! That is really a compliment. Agreed, my friend! Tonight we'll fuck... at least officially."
They got out of the car. Maurizio was looking at them. They went towards the door.
"Ciao, Stefano..." Maurizio greeted, faltering.
"Hi Maurizio. How comes you are here?"
"I wanted to talk to you..."
"I'm sorry... you know Pino, right? He works at the pub... Tonight he is staying with me. If you want to talk, you can see me at the pub..."
"I see... but... in the pub there is all the people... I wanted to talk with you privately..."
"In the pub, Maurizio, very willingly. In my place, no! 'Night, Maurizio." Stefano said opening the door and pushing Pino inside.
Stefano turned toward Maurizio, "In the pub, more than willingly. I will listen to all you want to tell me." he repeated, and shut the door. Then while going upstairs, he told Pino, "Thank god. That was easier than I thought... If you want, in ten minutes you can leave and go home."
"No way ... you are still trembling. I will stay with you. Besides, I am not going to let you off the hook so easily as I have been waiting a long time for you to give me such an invitation."
They went upstairs.
"So, determined to spend the night at my place?" Stefano asked entering in his apartment.
"No, not at your place. With you... if this doesn't bother you." Pino merrily answered.
Stefano smiled at him, "Bother me? I don't really think so. Let's get undressed, then. The bedroom is throught that door, the bathroom through this one..."