"There is someone who would like to see you, Laurent." When Carlo said this at breakfast, I knew immediately that it was Fabio.
It was only my second visit to the farm, and somehow I felt a great difficulty making a full connection with that Laurent boy that had once visited that same house. There was a string of so many Laurents linking that boy to the current me, over the last twenty five years, that I sometimes lost their connection.
"He is married and has two children, Laurent." Carlo told me on the morning before my reunion with Fabio.
A part of our farm had been taken to constitute the National Park. According to Carlo, Tarso had died because of this grief -- the loss of part of his ancestral lands, and not of old age, since he still was not the least sick late in life. His affliction was understandable, considering the continuous, ancestral stream of family members had been tirelessly working, since Roman ages, to acquire bit by bit what had become the D'Allegro property. Not even in the worst of times had the family sold any piece of land -- so that Tarso had been the first D'Allegro to actually diminish the size of our ancestral soils. He must have been hurt in his pride, too.
The rest of the fields left for agricultural purposes, Fabio had rented them from Carlo. He still somehow worked on our lands, but now to his own benefit.
"Do not worry, Carlo. Since our last conversation," Two years had gone by, since our reunion in Vice City, "I've decided I'm not going to sleep with married men anymore." I assured him. Because what he had just told me wasn't some trivial comment, not a mere update on a friend from the past -- but a request and a warning that I shouldn't act frivolously with Fabio.
And it was also a recognition that, after all, Carlo had indeed noticed my intense connection with Fabio. From a distance, Carlo had watched the budding of my childish romance. And suddenly I missed that boy I had been, pure and virgin.
Was I lying, though? What would Carlo think if he knew that Fabrizio had a fianceé? He was not yet technically married, but still...
"Glad to hear that, son!" Carlo smiled, tranquilized.
Some things, perhaps many things remained unspoken between my father and me. At least not very clearly said, but implied. Carlo had always been shy and discreet by nature, and not only because of Catherine's imposing and commanding presence, as I had believed. He had the soul of the D'Allegros from the mountains, quiet and restrained, minimal, accustomed to few words and just the essential emotions.
"Nothing has ever happened between us, Carlo..." For I, after all, was a D'Allegro from the beach -- the one and only born far from the Apennines. The soft sand and clear waters that constituted me did not have the same characteristics of the hard rocks and the deep waters that made Carlo's essence, and again I was crying. "Not even a kiss..." I confessed. "No whatsoever intimate touch. Only the friendship between two boys." I had tears in my eyes, recollecting and finally being able to open up to my father about my first love, of which he was the only witness in my life.
"It was pure and beautiful, dad," I kept trying not to sob. "I have only delicate and fond memories of when I fell in love with Fabio. And even if he hasn't fallen for me... and never even realized the adoration I had for him... He treated me with so much kindness... And respect!" I continued, "It is with these pure and sweet memories, with the heart of a child, that I will meet him today, Carlo."
But there was something else I wanted to clarify. Because I suddenly realized where Carlo, the orphan, took so much love from -- to dedicate to me. Even if he had not received it from the people with whom he had lived longest, like Tarso and Catherine.
It was in his eyes. The way he looked at me, his son. In the loving look that he lay on me. I was not only the receptacle of his love. I was the source of it. My presence -- my existence -- awoke love in Carlo, and he gave me it all. Had I reciprocated him, ever enough?
"Thank you for taking care of me at that time when I--" I gulped, unable to finish the sentence, "and realizing what was happening to me, dad..." Calling him dad again was a redemption. My throat was tight, and I could not hold back the tears, having finally realized the love Carlo manifested towards me in all his attitudes. And also in the silence from which he calmly, lovingly watched me. "And thanks for still taking care of me, now!"
Carlo and I hugged, and it was a tight, loving hug just like years ago, when we had say goodbye in Vice City. A hug that communicated love, and won over time and distance.
But strong emotions seemed to leave Carlo slightly embarrassed, and he parted from me with his innate good humor, saying, "No crying, not now, ain't it right, Laurent? You don't want to meet your first love with your makeup all smudged, do you?" Carlo laughed at his own joke, while I blushed. Even if twenty five years late, admitting my infatuation for Fabrizio was still a confession.
My conversation with Carlo had prolonged and when I left home to meet Fabio, I was already late.
I crossed the woods and fields running -- and that was perhaps my mistake, instead of having made a nice walking meditation, getting in touch with my feelings and my expectations at each step. Awareness could have helped me over the almost twenty five years that separated one Laurent from the other -- and one Fabio from the other too, after all.
"I'm sorry that I'm late..." I blurted as I approached Fabio, who was standing in the same fields of twenty years ago. That was one part of our property that had direct boundaries with the National Park, and so it had remained especially preserved -- in my recollections, too.
"No problem, Laurent." I did not remember him calling me by my name before. "I don't even have a watch!" Fabio laughed, as if requesting me to relax... And I realized how I was again the stressed city boy who had come to the mountains, always in a hurry, and afraid -- even if it was only afraid of being late.
And full of expectations, full of prejudice.
Looking at Fabio, I was shocked. Was this the man I had fallen in love with? Had this been my first experience with the rapture of male beauty?
The years hadn't passed in the same way for us, I thought. I tried not to show my shock and surprise -- mostly, my disappointment -- and faked a smile as I politely listened to Fabio telling me about his life.
He had aged badly. He was bald, and the body that once was strong and muscular had grown fat and limp. His rustic aspect, that in other times had added charm and character to his presence, now denounced neglect and constant hardship.
"Carlo told me that you set up an association of regional landowners, to make them aware of the value and importance of preserving the National Park..." I tried to find a subject in common with Fabio, because I felt that our conversations and interests of yore had also vanished with his beauty. At least, since then, I had studied a bit of Italian -- aiming the visit I would pay Carlo, but having Fabrizio in the back of my mind -- and we could properly communicate.
"Oh yes! We even have a private fire brigade to help the rangers, now..." Fabio told me how, twenty years ago, he had been one of the few voices among the natives of the mountains to speak in favor of the National Park. But he had gradually convinced more people, though never Tarso, who had ended up as his enemy. "Your great-grandfather loved these lands too much, and he was very attached to them..." He did not say it as a criticism, but with compassion.
"That's wonderful, Fabio!" I suddenly realized my own blindness. I recalled how Fabio had never cared about his beauty, and how his muscular body was no more than a working tool for him. Hearing the excitement with which he spoke about the preservation works, and watching the sparkle in his eyes, of a bright green like the pines around us, just like I remembered it, I finally realized that the beauty of the mountains all around us was Fabio's very beauty. Wrinkles and sun blotches did not make him ugly -- for the beauty of those preserved mountains made him a wonderful man, and his work so valuable. "I always knew you would do great things, Fabio!" And again I saw myself praising my first love, with the same sincere adoration, but no longer with any desire. I tried to avoid sighing.
"Just imagine it..." Fabio seemed embarrassed. "I knew I'd meet you today and I started recalling... that I wanted to study in town, but ended up just doing a technical course by correspondence. I never left these mountains. Here I met my wife, and we had two children... a boy who is now in college in Turin, and a girl who lives with her aunt in the city, in order to get a proper education. At least my kids will have a future better than mine, with their studies." I remembered the love Fabio demonstrated for education. "I ended up staying here..." Fabio seemed discouraged. "Unlike you, Laurent. I know from your father about your travels around the world, and your exhibitions... Each one shall follow his own destiny, and if it is large or narrow, it is already fate from the beginning..."
"You cannot believe this..." I made a gesture with my hands that encompassed the entire majestic landscape of the mountain range around us, "... is narrow!?! Carlo spoke to me about your work with sincere admiration, Fabio! He greatly admires and respects you... and so do I... since... ever! You had and you still have my... admiration." It had been easier to praise him when I was a child, naively stating my adoration. "I recall everything we shared... with... love... I have learned so much from you. Thank you very much indeed, Fabio. You have changed my life..."
"No, I thank you!" Fabio's embarrassment peaked. And indeed it was a strange feeling that, after having been so close for several weeks, we had never seen nor spoken in ages. I wish I had heard news from him, but through whom, since Carlo was gone? "Nobody had ever listened to me before like you did, Laurent. Your... love... gave me the strength to fight for a slightly better life than I had been destined to, my friend..."
And that was the closest we came to a confession about our youthful love, when he said the word "amore". For a moment, I thought perhaps Fabio hadn't been so oblivious of my adoration and attraction to him. Had he noticed my eyes seeking for his muscles and his bulge, always eagerly devouring his figure? Had he actually understood what I longed for when I constantly praised his beauty and tried to touch his body? But whichever his perception of my love and desire had been, when he could have abused me, he had instead handled it with so much care, perfectly appropriate towards a twelve years old intoxicated kid.
"Can I give you a hug, Fabio?"
You know, I'm that kind of inconvenient person that likes to hug others. And I am aware that it embarrasses some people. But I cannot help it, when I feel real affectionate.
I had parted from Fabio with a giddy embrace, and twenty five years later, in a rather different state, it was lovely to be in his arms again.
During my second visit to the Apennines, I was to meet Fabio again a couple more times. He shared how discouraged he was by the uncontrolled growth of the region. Many farms had become country homes to the wealthy and not always scrupulous people, that had no love for Nature. They arrived in helicopters and roamed the mountains in fast cars, often trampling animals.
Worst of all, which at that moment was Fabio's private war -- he was even trying to submit very strict protection policies --, were the farms being allotted to become condos with several houses, with a harmful impact on the ecosystem of the region, especially on the water resources.
From humble origins and upbringing, despite a hard working and time consuming routine, through a greater understanding of his mission and participation in the matters of his native mountains, until becoming a much respected regional leader, I believe Fabio was one of the noblest persons I have ever met. Despite his apparent simplicity and humility, I think of him as a prince of the fields. With a different kind of wealth.
And it was from his combat against real estate speculation that Fabio fell victim.
"I had donated a painting for a benefit auction in aid of the preservation association founded by Fabio. But before the appointed day, Carlo called to inform that Fabio had suffered a car accident in the mountains. A truck had thrown his car off the road, and then simply fled. It was never proven, but Carlo believes that Fabio was killed because of his opposition to the speculation with lands in the region."
"Fabio died?" Fabrizio asked, his voice shivering with shock. Surprisingly, he had tears in his eyes.
"Yes. And now, it's Carlo who pays for the college of Fabio's daughter. Fabio never got to see her get into college... Neither his son graduating..." I sighed. I had already cried a lot on Fabio's unjust death. "And despite hating to leave the farm, Carlo was keen to go to Turin for Fabio's son graduation..."
"Oh, my God!" Fabrizio groaned. "Laurent love, how sad... I don't recall you mentioning Fabio during my visit to the Apennines..."
Fabrizio and I had been sharing the same armchair as he listened to my retelling of my second visit to the Apennines. But I grew impatient with the overwhelming power of my own emotions, and slipped to the floor. Fabrizio himself was overtaken by emotions, and I felt myself suffocating from too much past. Sitting at his feet, I resumed.
"Of course not!" It was a bit annoying that Fabrizio seemed to want to read me like an open book, while there were things I was still afraid to share with him... and everybody else. "But it was so important to reunite with my first love... At least I had that chance, before he died. To see clearly Fabio's true beauty, beyond his superficial good looks that had attracted me so much in my youth... I reconnected with that pure and lovely feeling, and then... You and I... reunited, too, on those same mountains." I tried to deliver a smile, recalling my days of Fabio and Fabrizio in the Apennines. As much as those names had been a plain coincidence in my life, the few letters and the decades that separated the love I had felt for both were very symbolic of the man I had become, and the strenuous path that had led me from Fabio to Fabrizio.
Fabrizio reached for me, and caressed my face. "I wish I had a love like that in my early teens to recollect. But all I got was... nothing." Maybe Fabrizio would have mentioned his former roommate Helmut, but he avoided talking about him just like I was not talking about Angelo either. "It's a truly beautiful story, that of how your heart awakened, Laurent... Too bad it ends like this for Fabio." Fabrizio made a pause, just to allow me the time to leave my past and reconnect with him in our Icelandic home. "My first love..." He sighed, and I thought Fabrizio was going to make a confession, "...took long to arrive in my life." He left the chair to lean over me. "But now that he is here, I will not let him go, not ever again!"
Fabrizio planted a delicate kiss on my forehead, full of love and respect, and then another chaste one on my lips. Purposely devoid of passion, I felt he was trying to kiss my soul. And with so much tenderness and reverence, he certainly touched it.
"What did I do to deserve you, Fabrizio?" I could not help but express my wonder aloud, looking at his tremendous beauty towering over me. From Fabio to Fabrizio, it had been one uninterrupted stream of rapture with male beauty, and as if a circle was closing, I was finally able to recapture that purity of the love devoted to Fabio in my feelings for Fabrizio. "What did I do..."
"Everything, Laurent! Every detail you tell me about your life... How your parents met. Carlo's frustrated love for your uncle. Your ideal childhood in Punaouilo. The bullying you suffered at school in France. And now, this love so pure that you experienced for Fabio. In comparison, it seems that I have not lived, being protected in a capsule. Everything was so neat and tidy and predictable in my life... Until you!" Again, Fabrizio paused, and gently caressed my face. His blue eyes overflowed with the true love I had always searched for. "But when I was with Carlo and you in the Apennines, I could never have imagined that you had been separated for so long. You are so close, for a father and son. Much closer than my father and I have ever been, though we lived in peace... or perhaps it was just a state of languor and insincerity... until just the other day..." Fabrizio's voice broke when he mentioned his family. "And how Carlo welcomed me--"
I realized that Fabrizio, once again, did not want to talk about himself, averting the issues with his family. In Iceland, he wanted to take vacation from everything -- except me.
At first, I had been a bit frightened by the force with which Fabrizio had promoted changes in his life. I felt guilty, sensing that I was responsible for the feelings I had triggered in him.
But Fabrizio had changed his life not for me -- ultimately, for himself.
"Laurent!" My name reverberated across the lawn and against the stone walls of our ancient house.
Having dozed under the sun, I hadn't heard Fabrizio's car speed up the mountain, not even in the final curve before arriving at our house. Unlike Carlo, who had identified the sound of a Lamborghini and came to greet Fabrizio at the door, his curiosity aroused by the fancy car approaching. But rather than inviting Fabrizio into the house, Carlo had directed him to the lawn in the backyard, where I liked to sunbathe and read during the mornings.
"Laurent!" I felt my heart swell as I woke up, when I heard my name in a shout. And I knew it was him.
"Fabrizio..." I whispered. It was like waking from sleep into a dream, when I saw Fabrizio running towards me. His beauty always caused me a commotion, and to see him actually appear on my family's ancestral lands, I don't know... I wanted to believe in destiny, after all.
There was a brief moment of embarrassment when we faced each other.
We both blushed, when we looked into each other's eyes. It had been a while since we last saw each other. But it hadn't been so long since we had first met.
I was completely in love, and did not want to fight that feeling anymore.