It was Monday evening.
Piggì looked at Stefano's face. "Steu, ye don't look so well. Are ye ill? Maybe ye should go back home, this evening?"
"I don't know, perhaps it's just a cold. Why don't you fix me a punch instead, so I can warm up a little."
Around nine o'clock Stefano felt worse. He was trembling and his head was spinning. Piggì had been watching him and came over. "You're as white as a sheet. And you have such bags under your eyes!" Then he put his hand on Stefano's forehead, "Holy shit, yer burnin' up with fever! I'll have Pino take ye home right now - and no fuss. I'll send ye a doctor, too. Riccardo has t' come by here tonight."
"Ok, thank you. I'm really having trouble just standing up."
Pino saw him home and helped him to go to bed.
"You can go now, Pino. They need you at the pub."
"No, Piggì told me to stay here at least until the doctor comes. You shouldn't have to get up to let him in."
"Come on, I can..."
"No, fat-head. Moreover, Piggì's the boss, not you."
"You are kind. You all are so kind..."
"I wish I was the one making you so hot!" the boy answered cunningly taking a chair and sitting near the bed. Stefano dozed off.
He woke up with someone touching him. It was the doctor, Riccardo, who examined him thoroughly.
"Stefano, you have a mild case of pneumonia. Your temperature is one hundred three degrees and this is not good. I'll give you an injection of antibiotics now but you will have to have another one every six hours until your prescription is complete. You must rest easily for a few days. Do you have someone who can give you these injections?"
"I'll do 'em." Maurizio answered going to the bed and taking the box of syringes from the doctor.
"What are you doing here?" Stefano asked, more surprised than angry.
"Piggì told me you wuz sick, and I showed th' doc how t' get here. And now ya need me. Pino cn take th' doc back t' th' pub and I'll stay here till tomorrow morning at seven. Pino or Renzo will come t' relieve me, since I have t' get t' work then."
"I don't need all of that..." Stefano said, somewhat annoyed now.
Riccardo intervened, "On the contrary, it seems to me a very good idea." He asked Maurizio, "Do you know how to give injections?"
"Yeah, I always give 'em to Mum. She says I have a light hand."
"Good. Here are my telephone numbers, if there's any problem. I'll come back tomorrow around noon."
He gave more instructions then left with Pino.
Maurizio sat near the bed.
"Maurizio, you are very kind, thank you, but..."
"I won't touch ya, don' worry."
"No, it's not about that... It's just that... Tomorrow morning you have to go to work. You can't spend the night in that chair."
"I'm strong, don' worry."
"Yes, but your job is hard work. If you really want to stay, lie down here beside me. This bed is wide enough... and Riccardo says I'm not contagious."
"All right. But I'll stay dressed, and on top o' th' covers. If ya need anything, wake me up, all right?" the boy said with determination.
Stefano smiled. "All right. Come here, you - come on."
Maurizio took off his shoes and lay down beside the man. After a while he whispered, "Are ya sleepin'?"
"How d' ya feel?"
"So weak. And I'm dizzy."
"At... at five 'o clock I have t' wake ya up for the injection. I set th' clock t' wake me."
"I didn't think I c'd ever sleep near ya again..." the boy giggled.
"Don't take advantage of my weakness to take me tonight."
"Are you kiddin'? I wouldn' even think o' doin' that!" Maurizio said seriously, almost offended.
"I'm just joking." the man answered softly.
They were silent for a while then Maurizio asked, "But... would ya like fer me t'... t' take ya?"
For a while Stefano didn't answer, then with a sigh he admitted, "I'm afraid... yes. But we can't have sex any more."
"Sure, I know. It's jus that... I might like it too... t' take ya."
"Did you ever give it to one of your girls up the ass?"
"Sure, t' any of 'em who wanted t' stay virgin."
"And did you like it?"
"Sure... But, let's talk about somethin' else. This is makin' me hard. Better yet, let's go t' sleep." Maurizio whispered and the man noticed the boy's voice quiver.
Weak though he was, Stefano felt a powerful urge to kiss that big boy, so simple, so naive - oh to be wrapped in his strong arms! But he was tiptoeing in a minefield. If one of them even brushed against the other, they would both burst out. It was up to him to be prudent, for the two of them, because he had more experience, more maturity.
At five in the morning Maurizio woke him up caressing his cheek, but withdrawing his hand as soon as the man opened his eyes. "I'm sorry t' wake ya. You were sleepin' well... but it's time for yer injection."
Stefano nodded and rolled over, baring his buttock. The boy got out of the bed, then prepared and gave him the injection.
"You really do have a hand lighter than a feather. I felt nothing." Stefano said while the boy massaged his butt with a cotton ball.
Covering him with the sheet and blanket, Maurizio gave a satisfied smile. "Now sleep sm more."
"Won't you come into bed?"
"No, I'll go have a nice shower. If it's not a problem fer ya, I'll fix sm breakfast 'n' eat it. While I wait they c'n come t' relieve me. You get sm sleep, now."
"Thank you, Maurizio. You really are sweet."
"Are ya happy I'm here? ...like this?"
"Yes, of course."
"Thanks." the boy said with a merry smile and went to the bathroom.
Stefano fell asleep listening to the water splashing in the shower, and imagining that boy's perfect body under the spray.
In the evening Maurizio returned to relieve Renzo. He had bought some groceries.
"I'll go t' th' kitchen t' fix supper. If ya need me, jus call. I'll leave all th' doors open." he said and, kissing Stefano lightly on his forehead, he went into the kitchen.
He was still wearing his working clothes, tight pants and a T-shirt that set off his beautiful body so nicely. Stefano heard him bustling in the kitchen, humming something in a low voice.
Stefano recalled that afternoon, when Piggì had come to relieve Pino.
"Why did you send Maurizio to me?" he asked his friend.
"Well, in yer condition ye could not stay alone, and we have th' pub t' keep open. But he's free in th' evening and through th' night. He agreed at once. Thet boy certainly is fond of ye."
"You were right to warn me about him!"
"It seems t' me thet ye overcome yer crush on him, right?"
"I don't know. I still want him terribly. Last night I woke up and I felt so tempted to touch him, to arouse him, to make love with him..."
"But ye didn't, right?"
"Of course not - because I know he is not right for me. And neither am I right for him. Anyway, I was too weak..."
"Well... when ye feel better... perhaps once in a while ye c'd also have a fling with him, until yer able t' not fall in love with him. Such a body within yer reach, and so available... twould be a sin not t' take advantage of it."
Yes, perhaps Piggì was right, Stefano told himself. Just once in a while, without sentimental attachments. A splendid body, ready to be adored... He could get all the attention he needed from other men...
After serving Stefano supper, which the man ate hungrily, Maurizio asked, "Wuz it okay?"
"Yes, perfect. Exactly what I needed, I think."
"Yeah, yesterday I asked Riccardo what I sh'd give ya for yer meals."
"You already decided to stop here." Stefano noted.
"Well... as long as ya don' run me off. Wha'd Riccardo tell ya, today?"
"That after the fever goes away, I have to stay in bed some three or four days more, then take it easy for a week."
"But did he think yer gettin better?"
"A little. Did you eat already?"
"Yeah, while I wuz fixing supper fer ya. Mum says that when ya get well you c'n come t' have lunch with us, 'r supper."
"You sure charmed her. She says yer a real gentleman."
"I'm asking myself..."
"When she came to the Taboo to meet me... she must have realized that it is a gay pub, didn't she? Did she say anything?"
"I was asking myself if your mother didn't understand what happened between you and me..."
"Oh no! Mum is convinced that fags r half-women and thet they jus want little kids, jus like I thought before. And you, yer all man and I'm not a kid any more. No, I'm sure she doesn't think thet. Anyway... it's my fuckin' business, jus between us. Besides, there isn't anythin' more between us, is there?"
Stefano laughed. "You are asking me? You know very well, don't you?"
"No, 'cuz... I'd like t' do it again, even now if you weren't ill. But it's all jus so complicated..."
"Complicated? What do you mean?"
"Well, I'd like t' do it again, and I know I'd enjoy it, and maybe at first you'd like it too, like the other times. But then... I'd be satisfied, but not you, and thet wouldn' be fair, would it?"
The boy seemed to Stefano as though he were reciting a lesson he had studied by heart, just as he had often seen as a teacher. So he asked him: "But you would do it again, if I said yes?"
"Oh yeah! That is... no. I mean... I'd do it if ya said thet you'd like it too, thet you'd be happy... if not, then no. I mean, I want it, but you... it's not fair for me t' think only 'bout my pleasure, right?"
"That's right." Stefano admitted.
Maurizio smiled, satisfied. Stefano wondered what was going through the boy's mind. His honest and serene face betrayed nothing. That boy had a really simple mind. And Stefano had shaken him from his simplicity. Had the man been right to do so? The boy, used to having sex several times a week, said that for more than a month he'd not had any. Stefano believed him. But he thought that sooner or later the boy would go back, if not to sex with the little girls, then to look for a woman. Well, anyway it would have been a big step forward if he had learned to look for some responsible, adult companionship.
Piggì and Riccardo were sitting at the table in Stefano's living room. The man's fever had gone. It was the second day he had gotten out of bed for a little while. It was Saturday morning and Maurizio was washing dishes in the kitchen, and then he came in, drying his hands.
Piggì was saying, "... the keys. You can go there any time you want. Only somebody should go with you. You are still too weak."
"No, thank you. I can rest here at home." Stefano answered.
Riccardo intervened, "On Lake Viverone the climate is milder than here in town. It would be much better, for you."
"But how can I go there? Who can keep me company? All my friends work," Stefano said.
Maurizio sat with them: "I... I still have ten days o' vacation t' use. If I don't ask for them before th' end of th' year, I lose 'em. I have the car, too - my 500. So I c'n take ya there. I c'n call m' boss 'n' tell him I'll take m' ten days. Anyway, we don' have much work now."
"But Maurizio..." Stefano protested.
"You 'n' me alone at th' lake... Do ya know thet I've never been outa Turin since I wuz born, excep' fer th' hill on th' other side o' th' river? I'd like it," the boy said cheerfully.
The three men looked at him amazed to discover somebody that had never been outside of their city in his entire life.
Stefano said: "You and I alone... that doesn't convince me..."
"Stefano, I... I promise ya thet..." Maurizio started, embarrassed.
Piggì said: "There are two bedrooms. You can sleep apart, if that is the problem."
Maurizio blushed, but then brightened. "Yeah, right! We c'n do thet. At least I c'n go t' help with th' supplies 'n' prepare your meals 'n' keep things tidy 'n' keep ya company..."
"And split the wood for the fireplace..." Piggì said smiling at the boy's enthusiasm.
"Sure... holy shit, there's even a fireplace? How great! So then, it's okay?"
Stefano protested some more, even if weakly. The three friends all did their best to persuade him and at the end he surrendered. Maurizio, happy, went downstairs to call his boss. Stefano said to his two friends: "I feel a strong attraction towards that boy. And not just sexual..."
Riccardo nodded and said, studying Stefano's expression, "And he for you - and not just sexual. But for one week... wouldn't it also be agreeable to let yourself go?"
"Yes... if it could really be limited to just one week. But, I'm afraid the... that could begin a..."
"Something more serious?" Piggì suggested.
"Right. And you know well that there could not be anything serious, lasting, between a boy who is straight from head to toe and an old gay like me. Moreover, he is younger than I am... and..."
"Good! Then go have fun and be careful that it doesn't become something more serious."
"Sure, Piggì, if only it was that simple. But it will be better if nothing at all happens." Stefano commented.
"That depends on the two of you. Did he try anything with you the past few nights?" Riccardo asked.
"No. And neither did I, although for sure we were both tempted..."
"So then, it doesn't seem to me you are running such a risk. And, that boy is so delicious..."
"That's it, Riccardo. He is too delicious..." Stefano murmured.
They left on Sunday morning. Piggì drew a map for them, filled with references so that they could easily find the bungalow on the lake's shore. Maurizio drove carefully and smoothly, fast but not too much so, curled between the steering wheel and the seat. Stefano relaxed near him.
Along the way, Maurizio asked him many questions, which Stefano answered carefully. The boy seemed eager to learn.
"You believe in God, right?"
"Yes, Maurizio, even if he is not exactly the same as the God of the Catholics."
"I believe in God too, but I never really thought about him. Still, I know he has t' exist. Do ya think he'll punish me cuz I took advantage o' those little girls?"
"Punish you? Perhaps not, since you were not aware that you were doing wrong."
"I see. But when I wuz a little kid, Mum punished me when I stole bread at home, even though I did it only cuz I wuz hungry. I didn't wanna steal, but I was still stealin', wasn't I? I didn't wanna do wrong, but she still punished me."
"Well, if a God exists, he must be one who understands things better than a father or a mother, I think."
"Yeah, 'r else, what kinda God would he be?" Maurizio said, convinced. And after a while he said, "Ya told me once thet sex 'n' love are two different things."
"No, not exactly. They could be different, but they could also be the same."
"Eating anything because you are hungry... or eating a wonderful meal, savoring its taste and aroma and presentation... Are they the same?"
Maurizio thought a while, then said, "Ya mean, ya could eat a raw potato just t' keep from starvin', but it's nuthin special, right? But, if ya eat a cake jus cuz you're starvin', ya couldn't even tell how good it is..."
"Yes, more or less, that's it."
"I mean, havin' sex jus cuz you're turned on, t' satisfy yer need, or jus fer fun... Lovin', means doin' somethin' beautiful fer yer lover, right?"
"Yes, worrying about your partner's happiness more than your own. In this case also, sex becomes the expression of love."
"Ya mean, if ya have sex cuz yer in love with someone, it's a lot more beautiful?"
"Sure, it is a lot better."
"Oh..." the boy concluded. For a while he kept silent, as if he was engrossed in driving, but then asked again, "But why do we come into this world? I mean, I know how... But why?"
"That's a difficult question. So many philosophers have tried to answer it, but they could never agree. Even the religions can't agree."
"But you, Stef, whadaya think?"
"That possibly we are born to try to become real men gradually... to build ourselves."
"So, how do we do that? Somebody works, eats, plays a sport... is that building himself?"
"Yes, this also. But one learns to love. It is love, I believe, that really builds everything."
"Fucking hell, love is that important eh?"
"I really think so. It is what makes us different from animals."
"And... it's hard t' love?"
"Yes and no. You see, when you bought the denture for your mother, that was an act of love because you renounced something of yours just to make her happy."
"Well then, it's not s' hard."
"Renouncing what you have can be very difficult at times."
"But if ya wanna make the other one happy... I mean, if there's a reason, it's easier."
"And you renounced even her gratitude by telling her that I gave you the money."
"Oh, thet jus came naturally. It didn' cost me anythin'. It wasn't even a lie, really. T' me, it seemed fair, ya see? Anyway, seein' her happy paid me back a lot."
"Sure, because you love your mother."
"But you're th' one who made me aware o' thet. S' then, I love you, too." the boy said quietly, continuing to drive.
Stefano looked at him askance, and was not surprised to see the boy's quiet and relaxed expression - he just spoke what he was thinking, without trying to send messages different from what he just said...
They were driving along the lakeshore now, and the view was superb.
"Pull up and stop for a minute. I'd like to look at the lake." the man said.
Maurizio slowed down and turned into in a scenic layover overlooking the lake. "Is this okay?" he asked looking at Stefano.
"Yes, Maurizio, thank you. Isn't the lake beautiful?"
"Yeah. I never seen a lake before, just the Po River, but thet wuz different. It's beautiful here... so peaceful."
"That's true. All of nature, normally, gives a sense of peace."
Maurizio turned towards him, then drew near, and kissed him lightly on his cheek, withdrawing at once. Stefano felt his body stress, but he forced himself to relax.
"Why?" he asked in a low voice, with a sigh.
"Because th' lake is beautiful, and you made me aware o' thet. How many times do we pass beautiful things and don' even see 'em?"
"Yes, too many times."
"Too many." the boy agreed, then asked, "Are ya cold?"
"No, thank you. And you?"
"No, not me. You're beautiful, too. But I knew thet before today."
"Thank you." the man said with a half smile, and breathed deeply.
"Not only your face, 'r your body, I mean..." the boy added thoughtfully. "But me... b'sides m' body... I'm a zero, right?"
"Nobody is ever a zero."
"Do ya still think o' me as someone who takes advantage o' little girls?"
"I don't think so now. It seems that you have really understood it."
"Mmhmmh, thanks to you. I'm learnin' t' see many things, thanks t' you. Why couldn't I hev met ya earlier?" The boy's cold hand barely brushed one of Stefano's. Then Maurizio asked, "C'd we... tonight, Stef, c'd we... Please?" Maurizio murmured lightly caressing his hand. Stefano sighed. The boy insisted, "If ya say no, it's still okay, I swear, but... d' ya wanna?"
The man was so torn... He could feel the boy's desire. And, he also felt his own desire. Perhaps... Just that one night...
"Do ya want to?" Maurizio asked almost in a whisper.
"All right. But just for tonight."
The boy squeezed his hand and smiled happily, looking at the lake.
"Were you afraid I would get mad at you?" Stefano asked, torn between the pleasure he was feeling at having accepted, and the fear that he was doing wrong.
"Yeah, I thought maybe you didn' wanna make me happy..."
"Is that all you want, for me to make you happy?" Stefano asked without resentment, simply trying to understand what the boy was feeling.
The boy turned towards him and looked at him. "No... Well, not only, I mean. Shit, I don't know what to say when you ask me such questions." he complained.
Maurizio was about to take his hand away from Stefano's, but the man seized it and squeezed. "If I told you that I love you, Maurizio, what would you say?" he asked, and at once regretted asking that question.
"I dunno. Nobody ever tol' me thet, before. I think I'd say thank you..."
Stefano nodded. Then the boy asked him, "What should I say if ya tell me ya love me?"
"What do you feel like saying..."
"What do I feel? I dunno... or if I do know, I can't describe it... Sure, somethin' inside o' me moves at th' thought, but..."
"Maurizio, will there ever be love in your life?"
"I dunno. Before I met you, I thought it just meant t' fuck. Now I know thet's not true, but I still don' really know what it is. Like I tol' ya, nobody ever said thet t' me..."
"You will marry, one day."
"No, I don't think so. I have t' care fer Mum 'n' she cares about me. Then too, I don' think I'd like t' have kids. I dunno...." Maurizio said looking again to the lake. Then he turned again to Stefano. "But what's this got t' do with us?"
"Nothing, I think. But, you see, I feel sad for you. You are so alone, you... and nobody should ever be so... so poor."
"So then?" the boy asked, looking into the man's eyes.
Stefano shook his head: "Like you, Maurizio, I don't know how to express it, I don't understand..."
"You?" the boy asked in amazement, "But you c'n say anythin'. You're special. You..."
They fell silent.
Then Maurizio asked, "But you... d' ya still want t'... y'know, for tonight?"
"I promised you."
"But d'ya want it... Fer you?"
"But you'd like it more if there wuz love along with th' sex, wouldn't ya?"
"It would be so beautiful! Without love it is just like two dogs - they sniff, get horny, fuck, and then leave..."
"Yeah, you told me thet..." the boy said, wrinkling his forehead as he did when he was thinking intensely.
"What's up, Maurizio?"
"Nuthin'. I wuz jus thinkin'. C'n we go now?"
"Yes, let's go."