The next Friday evening Stefano was taking off his coat a few minutes before eight, when Maurizio came into the pub. "Hardly anyone is here now..." he said, approaching Stefano with a shy smile.
Stefano nodded and directed the boy to one of the inner rooms. "Find a free table and I'll join you shortly."
"Thank you." The boy went where Stefano pointed.
Piggì saw the boy go into the room and said to Stefano, "He just doesn't give up, your bodyguard, like a faithful dog..."
Slightly annoyed at his friend's expression, Stefano answered, "He is not my bodyguard, nor is he a faithful dog! He has a name - Maurizio. You know that. I told him that if he wanted to talk with me, he should just come here to the pub. I hope it doesn't annoy you."
"Hey, hey, hey! Don't fly off the handle at me Steu! If it's okay with you, it's okay with me. Besides, it's your problem, not mine. Wasn't it you who wanted to end things with him?"
Pino interrupted, "Well, I willingly lent you a hand, and even more." he giggled, then added, "And, if you ever need me again..."
Piggì looked quizzically first at Pino then at Stefano, who said to Pino as he headed for the inner room, "Come take his order, gossip girl!"
The boy giggled again and followed him.
Maurizio was sitting in the room furthest in, and at a table farthest from the door. Stefano sat down at the table. Pino asked, "What can I get for you guys?"
Maurizio said, "For me two sandwiches and a large beer. I haven't had supper. And for you, Stefano? I'd like to pay..."
"Nothing for me, right now. Thank you."
"Which sandwiches would you like?" Pino asked, as he handed the boy a menu.
Maurizio scanned the long list and said, "Number 21 and... number 15."
"White or black bread?"
"Black, thank you." Maurizio said as he looked Pino icily in the eye and returned the menu to him.
When they were alone, Stefano said, "You sure look spruced up this evening."
Maurizio gazed at his hands, which struck Stefano as more appropriate to some awkward kid than the beautiful young man sitting before him. This aspect of the boy utterly fascinated Stefano, as well as the fact that Maurizio was so completely unaware both of his beauty and this incongruity.
The boy glanced at the man and answered, "Yeah, sure; I didn't want you to be ashamed of me. Everyone is so elegant, in here..." and returned to studying his hands.
"You really are nicely dressed tonight. It shows off your beauty..." Stefano said, trying to put the boy at ease.
Maurizio looked him in the eye. "But you... You like just my beauty, right? Not... not any of the rest."
"Well... I told you..." Stefano answered hesitantly.
Maurizio lowered his eyes to his own hands as he played with the ashtray. "You prefer that bartender to me, don't you?" he asked.
"In a way, yes. Although he is not as handsome as you, he is more... honest."
"Honest." Maurizio echoed, as if to fix the point. "And... what else?"
"Why are you so interested in Pino?" Stefano asked.
"Because I want to understand what he has that I don't."
"Oh. Well..." Stefano started to say, but fell silent when Pino arrived with the sandwiches and beer.
Maurizio looked at the waiter and said, "Thank you..." as he studied him carefully.
"You are welcome. If you need anything more, anything at all, just whistle and I'll come running." Pino said as he left with a coy smile.
Maurizio missed the allusion. "Anyway..." the boy said, "I didn't really come to talk about him. I made you mad at me, and I want to ask you to forgive me."
"Are you still mad at me?"
"No," Stefano answered, "Perhaps I snapped at you too quickly. But I still think all I said to you..."
"Yes, exactly. I... I wanted to talk about that, if it's okay with you. All this time I have thought about it and... I'm still not sure I really understand you. That is, maybe I did understand, something, but..."
"Eat your sandwiches now, Maurizio. We have plenty of time. There still aren't too many customers."
The boy nodded and eagerly started on his first sandwich. Stefano watched him eat. It seemed to the man that the boy could deal with only one thing at a time, and that one thing would completely absorb him. He was either the awkward boy who wanted to talk with him, or the young man savoring a delicious sandwich, without worrying about anything else - so linear; so simple; so naive.
But, the boy ate just half the sandwich then put it back on the plate as he deliberately chewed his last bite.
"What's the matter? Don't you like it?" Stefano asked in surprise.
"Eh? Oh no. It's really tasty, but... I disgust you because I do it with minors, right?"
"Good, that much is clear. When I told you I had stopped, you said that's not enough, right?"
"But... Why did you stop? That is part of the problem."
"Because you are not happy with it."
"You mean that if I were happy with it, you'd go back to doing it again?"
"Well, no, not after what you told me. When you sent me away, I went with Renato, first to dance, then to the garage. But for the first time, I couldn't even get a hard on! You see, I did nothing at all."
"And why was that?" Stefano asked.
"Well, I thought, they are just little girls. They really don't know what they want. Somewhat like my sister - how would I feel if it were she on the bottom with Renato on top? Sure, they like being fucked. And, I like to fuck them. But... Well... I thought... We are not just fucking machines, right? I... To them, one male is like any other... And also to me, one girl is like any other... Something like dogs - they don't choose, they just fuck and that's that. I said to myself as I watched Renato fuck the other girl, 'See, she is just pleasuring Renato's cock... nothing more.' You... You always gave me a lot more than just making my cock feel good. And I miss that, now that I know it exists. And then, you give me something more even when we are not in bed. Even now... you are giving me something important."
"Ah, really?" Stefano asked interested now, curious, "And what's that?"
"You are listening to me. Nobody ever listens to me... I mean, serious matters like these. So I have to think carefully about what I say because you really listen to me. And only you give me this, nobody else."
Even as Stefano listened carefully to what Maurizio said with such difficulty, he also recalled his encounter with the boy's mother. So he changed the subject and said, "Why did you tell your mother that I gave you the money for her dentures?"
"Well... Okay, I lied. But after all... you taught me to... to think more of her. So, I thought, 'How can I make her happy? What would he do for her, if he knew her? She had bad teeth, she had problems eating... he would buy her a denture.' so, I told her it was you... Because, after all, it was more you than I..."
"You must have spent lot of money."
"I did a... how is that called... I pay a little each month directly from my pay. Just five months more and I'll be done with the payments. But it is worth it. Mum now is happy. She eats easily."
"If she knew all that has gone on between you and me, I don't think she would be so happy."
"Well, that's none of her business. It is my fucking choice... ours."
Stefano shook his head. "It is not quite that simple, Maurizio."
"What is simple? Since I met you everything seems to be so complex. But... it's been worth it."
"Really? And why?"
"Because you... You give a meaning to things. Stefano, I'm thinking so much these days that it gives me a headache. But, you say that we are not just animals, don't you?"
"So, it may be difficult to be more than animals... to be men... But I'm trying hard."
Stefano looked at him tenderly and thought how much the boy, in all his spontaneity, was really fascinating... and, really dangerous for him. "Are you starting to understand that we are not just a stomach and a cock?"
"Yes... and more even than just a body. But... if you would help me... I didn't go any more with the little girls, after I met you. And, I understand that this alone is not enough, right?"
"If I chased you away, now, would you start with the little girls again?"
"No, I really don't think so... I told you, I even tried... but something has changed inside me. Well... It's a natural need... Sometimes I get so horny that I have to go to the toilet to jack off..." the boy said, blushing to the tip of his ears.
"And... What does Renato say?" Stefano asked watching that delicious blush gradually fade away.
"Renato? Ah, as long as he fucks..."
"In other words, as long as you pay for his fun, right?"
"Possibly. Anyway, I don't go to the garage any more."
"This is good, Maurizio. Find a pretty girl your own age. Court her. Make her your girlfriend. Sooner or later you can start your own family. This is your future. And don't beat her as your father did with your mother. Try to make her happy... Make children, and spend your time with them, follow them..."
Maurizio looked at him in astonishment and said, "Dad was not a bad man..."
"Maybe not, but one should also care for the other's happiness, is that not so? It is not enough to just not be a bad person, one needs to be a good person as well. Or at least, do his best to be one. And you can be a good man. You are basically a very good man."
"Well, I... I would like to care for your happiness."
"But I feel good, now. I am happy. I don't need you..." Stefano answered coldly but without harshness.
"I see. But if a day... if you needed me..."
"Thank you. I'll not forget that". the man answered with half a smile.
"Listen, Stefano... To you it is not enough what we did in bed together. And I... I don't think that I.... could give you what you gave me. Anyway, even if we didn't have sex, I would like it so much if we could just be friends... I... I need you... not just the sex."
Stefano could see that the boy was sincere. But he asked him, "But you also need sex, don't you?"
"Well, sure... I can jack off like I do now."
"Why not look for a woman instead? It would be better for you, and more logical. You are made for women. As handsome as you are, you could have any one you want. Just don't be in a hurry. After all, you are just twenty three, you have plenty of time..."
"We will see. I'm not in hurry, right. But do you accept that we are friends? Do you want me as a friend?"
"Friends, yes. But just friends ok, Maurizio?"
The boy smiled broadly, then dove again into his sandwich.
Just as he was about to finish his second sandwich, Gianni, a young man in his twenties came over, greeted Stefano, and sat down at their table.
"Can you introduce me to your friend?" he asked Stefano, as he looked at Maurizio.
"Yes, this is Maurizio. Maurizio, this is Gianni."
"How do you do," Gianni said, offering his hand along with an alluring smile.
"How do you do." Maurizio answered. He barely touched the man's hand.
"You are a gorgeous boy. I have noticed you here a couple of times, if I'm not mistaken."
"I come to see him". the boy answered dryly, nodding towards Stefano.
"Ah, Maurizio is one of your suitors, then. You have all the luck, Stefano... really". Gianni said.
"He is just a friend." Stefano corrected him.
"Do you mean that you would let such a splendor escape you?" Gianni asked, half- astounded and half-unbelieving, then added, looking at the boy, "I would do anything I could to get him into my bed!"
Maurizio looked at him agape, then said, "But I would never go with you!"
"Ah, thank you! That's really nice. I don't think I should be thrown away, anyway. Are you playing hard to get, girl?"
Maurizio frowned. "Look here... I am no woman!"
Gianni giggled, "No, I don't think you are. Still... I wouldn't mind checking."
Maurizio shook his head, "You... Well, let's just stop this here."
"Oh noooo... Tell me, darling..." Gianni insisted, amusedly.
"You can call somebody else darling... Could you just leave us alone? We were discussing business. Would you please sit somewhere else?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry! Did I interrupt your little affaire de Coeur?"
"Affaire de Coeur? What do you mean?"
"Don't mind him, Maurizio. I'm sorry, Gianni, but..."
"I understand, honey, oh I do understand... I'll just leave you girls to read each other's fortune"... the man said as he got up and left.
Stefano thought that Gianni could have cut quite a figure with a wig and stiletto heels - not that he was effeminate, just that he was always acting.
"Stefano, why did that man treat us like women? Is he crazy?"
"No, it is just a joke. Some gays do it just for fun."
"Well, I don't like it. I'm no woman. And neither are you."
"Didn't you say that we gays are half women?"
"Well, I was wrong. I mean... maybe that one is, but not you. You are a man, like me."
"The first time we met, you asked me who was the woman between me and Carlo..."
"It was a silly question... as you explained to me. I was just curious because you were the first gay I had ever known."
"All right. But today I want to answer you. You say that I am a man."
"But Carlo was also a man."
"I believe you."
"And yet Carlo fucked my ass, and I fucked his ass. Do you understand?"
"Well, if the two of you were happy with that... why not?"
"Therefore, which one of us was the woman?"
"Well... if he too was like you, neither of you..."
"Right. Do you understand then that one can be a man even if he takes it in his ass?"
"Yes, I believe you. I understand that, now. But I... I don't think I could ever take it in my..."
"That is quite a different matter. There are some gays who are never a bottom. To be gay doesn't depend on what you do, but with whom. Gay people prefer to have sex with one of the same gender... Or only certain ways with one of the same gender."
Maurizio looked at him without reaction then asked, "Did you ever try it with a woman?"
"Just three times, as I told you before - when I was a boy."
The boy barely nodded. Then hesitantly asked, "When it's time to close... may I see you at home?"
"No, Maurizio, it is better not to."
"As a friend..."
"It is still better not to," Stefano insisted.
"I see. So you don't trust me any more, do you? Like the last time, when I told you no sex and instead... I was honest when I said that... but then I was so aroused that I didn't keep my word. And now you don't trust me, is that it?"
"No Maurizio... I don't trust myself."
"Yourself? I don't understand."
"I am so strongly attracted to you that if we were alone, you and I, I would fall right into it again and I don't want that."
"Because... because I can't give you what you need, right?"
"Yes, I understood that. And I'm sorry that I can't..."
"We can't help that, you and I. You're straight; I'm gay. It is not our fault!"
"Right, it is not our fault. But you are such a special person to me. And I really thank you for being my friend. You are my best friend."
Stefano thought about asking him "and what about Renato?" but instead, he kept silent. He felt that he could not push the boy too hard. Maurizio was already confused enough. Certainly, he would have liked to rescue him from the bad influence of his friend. But the boy had to come to understand that by himself. It had to be his own spontaneous decision. At most, he could give him the elements to help him to make his choices, but nothing more. He would not morally dominate the boy.
But oh! How tender he was, that boy!