I recalled that melancholic visit to Fabrizio's apartment, and how he had greeted me with a simple and brief handshake.
This time, our hand contact turned into a hug, as I shamelessly drew Fabrizio closer to me, and then into a kiss, to which I gladly surrendered.
It was our first kiss, but it didn't feel like a first kiss.
We had longed so much for it. Somehow, it hadn't happened when it should have -- our first date had been too many months and too many complications and resentments ago. That kiss felt more like redemption, if not revenge -- and I didn't feel like considering whether I was kissing a man who was going to marry soon or not.
For my own sake, I needed to kiss him, first. And then, maybe, ask.
Kissing Fabrizio, I wanted to forget everything that had happened before, for him and for me -- I refused to think of Andara and Celeste, about cheating and deceitful relationships, of Angelo, Gabriel or Helmut. I wanted to believe in a new beginning for both of us, even before Fabrizio answered the question he read in my eyes, whispering in my ear, "I'm here just for you, Laurent ... I'm all yours, now."
And we kissed again, unreservedly.
For the next couple of hours, at least, we lay on the grass under the sun, talking and kissing. I wondered if I had any gay ancestors, and where they would have hidden to make out -- because I was pretty sure no other D'Allegro boy before me had enjoyed the outdoors so unreservedly cuddling in the arms of his lover.
"Your father doesn't seem to mind, does he?" Fabrizio was aware that Carlo knew about me -- about us --, but he still was astonished that we could so openly live our love. "This is a very traditional, even conservative part of the country, Laurent. Aren't there employees?" The thought crossed my mind that, had Tarso been still alive, I would have been disowned and expelled from the family. In that other sense, too, Carlo was an amazing father, and represented a great, groundbreaking step in the family.
Calming down after a long flight and a frantic drive through the country on the Lamborghini he had rented, Fabrizio was above all eager to share about his 'crossing'.
"And you're breaking up with me because you want to be truthful to yourself? How noble of you! How selfish!"
"Selfish, Andara?" At first, Fabrizio had been surprised with his fianceé's reaction to his coming out. "I do not want to act out based on a lie any longer. What is it that you don't understand? I'm doing it for both of us. Or do you want to go on living a lie?"
"We have been living a lie all this long, haven't we?" Andara confronted Fabrizio. "Happily living it, isn't it? Why does your truth seem suddenly so important?"
"I'm not getting it, Andara..." Should I have just dumped her without further explanations?, Fabrizio wondered.
"At least one of my friends thinks her husband is gay." Andara continued, defiant. "Another friend positively knows her husband is gay. Still, they have been married for a couple of years, now. Happily married. They even have a baby girl... You know them. Sylvia and Tonio. Why can't you live discreetly like the other married guys?"
"Andara!" Fabrizio had been truly shocked with her suggestion. "You want me to lie to you? And be discreet about it?"
"You HAVE BEEN LYING to me for 4 years now! What is new, then?" She suddenly seemed to change her tactics. "Oh, I know! You are always SO PERFECT, aren't you, Fabrizio?" There sprung a little anger and much irony in her voice. "Now you want to be P-E-R-F-EC-T-L-Y-G-A-Y, isn't it! Always perfect, Fabrizio Caprice must be ALWAYS perfect..." She snorted. "And how do you know you're gay?"
"I know it, Andara. Trust me." At that, Fabrizio had thought... What am I supposed to tell her? Share my experiences in bed with her?
"But HOW?" She insisted. She was a stubborn young woman who had been a spoiled girl. "Did you do it with a guy? Is it that?! Has it just happened? You tried it and--"
"Nothing has happened recently, Andara..." Fabrizio interrupted her. He had decided to lie about Helmut, having realized his loyalty for his ex-roommate and former lover remained intact. "I did it with a guy before I met you..."
"I don't believe you! You have been lying to me for four years now, and suddenly..." Suddenly, she had lost her temper. "You already have someone else!" She screamed her accusation. "Who is he? WHO IS HE?"
"I confess I still don't understand her reaction." Fabrizio shared with me. "Maybe she had known it already. Maybe Andrea had told her. I don't know. But it seemed she didn't care about me being gay. More than once during our final conversation, Andara said we could arrange things. She actually got mad when I insisted we had to break up for our own good. But she started losing her mind at the thought that I had someone else. It seemed worse to her that I was leaving her for someone else, but not so much the fact that it was another man..." Fabrizio took a deep in-breath before continuing. "I'm sorry for Andara, but I know I've done the right thing. She would not have loved me through a marriage of lies, no matter how hard she would have tried. She hates me now. But it was the right thing to do. Though all her friends have also deserted me. My personal number won't ring anymore, you know. Unless... it's you, Laurent! Or Patrizia..."
We kissed again, and feeling reassured, Fabrizio calmed down.
"It was even worse with my family!" Fabrizio continued. "I flew to Italy to visit them, having warned them that I had something serious to share. I'm sure they must have thought it was about business, for there is nothing more serious in my family than money."
Right on arrival, I met my sister on her way out to a party. Patrizia was in a hurry and I did not want to take her time. I was embarassed, I was ashamed of myself -- such a horrible feeling to have at an age when one is supposed to feel confidently adult. But I also felt courageous, or perhaps a bit suicidal, and after Andara's ghastly reaction, it was as if I did not really care anymore.
"Pati, I'm gay." I mouthed, after we had just greeted.
She blinked, and stood still for a moment. I had spoken so low that for a moment I wasn't sure if she had heard it. And suddenly she was screaming.
"Oh my God! You're gay!" She clapped her hands and cheered. "Woohoo! You're really gay, Fab?"
"Patrizia, please." I had started trembling at her shouts, afraid someone else might be listening. "I'm telling it to..." I had lowered my voice, "...you. Not to the world!"
"Ooops, I'm sorry..." She started whispering. "This is really a secret, isn't it? You're really gay, Fab?" And she was using the same tone of when we were children and had exchanged confessions. "Look at you, Fab! Wow! You had to be gay, of course! Gay men are so hot!" She laughed excitedly. "Can I confess something to you?" She whispered it in my ear, as if we were children indeed. "I rarely watch porn, but if do... it has to be gay porn! The guys are so hot! I know bunches of gay guys! The party I'm heading to now... I'm sure there will be some... Probably many! I can think of two I could introduce to you... This is so hot! Fab, this is Fabulous!" It had taken her no more than five minutes to go back to 'Fabulous Fabrizio', as she had nicknamed me when I was a teen. I was her favorite super-hero, she used to say.
I hadn't expected a strong rejection from Patrizia, my younger sister. I thought she might cry, she might worry, she might make a bit of a drama. But I guess it was a lovely and warm afternoon around us, and she was all dressed up and smelling to perfume and looking so pretty in her light, partyish mood, that she immediately embraced the secret that had tortured me for so long, as if it were some juicy gossip, dismissing the sad and heavy parts of it.
"Do you want to come with me to the party? Let's celebrate, Fab! I'd love to dance with my gay brother... Wow! And I can arrange that Yael goes, too... He is from Israel, and he is so hot!"
"Thank you, sis... But I'm not here for partying. I'm going inside the house to tell mom and dad."
"That you are gay?" Patrizia gasped. "Oh... my... God! Are you sure about that, though? Do you want me to come with you, Fab?" She was the darling of our family, and she had backed me up before with her most charming smile.
"That's so lovely of you, but... Of course not. There is no reason why you should miss your party! I'm glad you were the first one I opened up to... Your reaction was... sweet!"
"Oh, Fab, I'll always think you're Fabulous, no matter what! But of course being gay adds tons of Fabulousness to you! Oh... my... God! Who else knows it? Does Andara..."
"She knows it. But can we talk later? Mom and dad must be waiting. We'll talk after the party. Come to my room. Like in the old times..." Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind, and my heart was filled with fear again. "I mean, if I don't get kicked out of here..."
"Of course they won't do that to you, Fabrizio!" She only used my full name when she tought the matter was serious. "Remember when I came home with my piercing? Mom cried, and dad would not talk to me for days, but they never even forced me to have it removed... No, don't expect anything much better than that, but nothing worse, either..."
With my little sister's kind words in my mind, I went after my parents. They received me in the living room, and they had dressed formally for the occasion, which seemed odd.
"Are you ill, Fabrizio?", my mother asked me before I could say anything.
"Ill? No, I'm not ill. Why do you ask that, mother?" I wasn't expecting it.
"Andara has phoned..." My mother looked at me inquiringly. "She has given some alarming news... And she said you were ill. 'So sick' was the exact expression she used, in fact..."
"No, I'm not sick." I was fearful again, and that detestable feeling of being ashamed of myself took hold of me. I felt my courage abandoning me, and the suicidal tendency mentally taking over. "Did Andara tell you we are no longer getting married?"
"That's very... surprising!" My mother was so elegant, even in posing ironic comments. "Why have you postponed it?"
"We have not. We broke up. We are no longer together." I had to use short sentences because I felt breathless.
Both my parents were silent, and expectant.
"Dad. Mom. I love you both." I had rehearsed. "And I'm thankful for all you have given me in life. And I hope you feel I have been a good and loving son..." They just sat there, quiet and expressionless like judges from the movies. "And nothing changes, really, with what I'm going to say. It's just that from today on, there is a little detail added... to my biography. One of them is that I am single again, of course, and the other one is that I am gay..."
At that, my father slowly raised from the sofa, and almost fell again, as if he was feeling dizzy. My mother jumped to his side and helped him stand.
"Are you alright, darling?" She was alarmed. "Are you feeling anything?" But my father wouldn't say a word. Not one, since I had entered the room. Not one, when the subject was not business.
What led me to think that my father was going to hug me?
He seemed so calm. But what is it called, when the shock is so great? Catatonic state? He walked towards me, and my heart was pounding painfully, beating faster than ever, and I felt drops of cold sweat streaming down my back along the spine.
Then he walked past me, without glancing in my direction, towards the door behind me. My mother just observed him for a moment, and then ran after him graciously. She did not glance in my direction, either.
"Mom?" My voice had broken after my revelation. "Are you going to leave me here? Alone? Won't you say something?"
"Somethings are better left unsaid, Fabrizio!" Next, she was angry at me. "You should have known that. At your age! Really! Are you trying to rebel against us at this age? How can you be so inconsiderate? With your father and his heart condition... Darling, I'm right after you!" She shouted at my father, who was already leaving the room. "You should apologize to your father, Fabrizio!"
"Apologize?" I was taken aghast. "But there is nothing I can apologize about..."
"If you think so..." my mother grimaced, "Maybe you shouldn't visit us until you change your mind about that... fact."
"Which fact are you talking about, mother?" Now I was amused. "That I'm gay or that I have nothing to apologize about being gay?" I was being ironic on purpose. "What changes do you expect?"
"Goodbye, Fabrizio!" And she ran out of the living room after my father, who had just started ascending the stairs.
I could not clearly think, nor feel anything, except for the heaviness that echoed the emptiness in my heart. And dizziness, as if I had lost my way, making me collapse on the nearest divan.
I did not have time to cry, for next, Patrizia ran into the room and threw herself at the floor, next to me.
She hadn't gone to the party, after all. She had been sitting at the veranda just outside, watching the whole scene unfold -- having already made up her mind.
"I'm going after them and I'm gonna say I'm a lesbian, too!" I did not laugh at her remark just because I saw she was serious about it. "That should ease their reaction on you, don't you think?"
I gasped. "That would probably kill our father, sis... and next, they'll think I have influenced you, and blame me for you being gay, too..." I answered with the residue of voice I was left with, my throat feeling so tight and sore.
"Are you homophobic, Fab?" But she quickly quit the joking tone, when she realized how devastated I was. "You're not leaving, are you?"
"Your mother was very clear..." I whispered. It was an awkward side effect, losing my voice after coming out.
"Dad has not said anything about it, yet."
"His silence was very clear too, Patrizia, believe me..." I had not the tiniest straw of voice left to continue talking to her.
"Can't you stay in my room, then? Or do you want to come to the party with me?"
For a moment, we were both silent, listening to the natural symphony of the Apennines, as Carlo liked to call it.
"What did you do?" I asked, when I realized Fabrizio had nothing else to share. "Did you go to the party?" I tried to sound jealous, but actually trying to lift off the weight from his shoulders.
Just from sharing his story, his eyes had lost their brightness, and their blue had never looked so dark.
"Yeah, sure, and there I met the Jewish hottie... and that's why I'm here, Laurent, to tell you that I fell in love with that Yael or Ariel friend of Patrizia's..." Fabrizio grimaced. "I was actually flying to Israel to meet him this weekend, but I decided to make a quick stop in Italy and visit you in the Apennines just to tell you that."
I confess I was surprised.
When Fabrizio had shared with me about his 'crossing', and all the suffering which he was going through, I thought they were much inner issues, and that he was facing his own demons and ghosts, all his fears and prejudice and lack of self-acceptance.
And if I imagined -- and expected -- that he could break up with Andara before getting again at me, in no moment I had imagined that he was coming out to his family.
Of which I knew very little, so far. In the following hour he would tell me a bit more about his ancestors -- of a family tree dating back to the Roman Empire. Probably, they had been patrons of my family in the past. And it explained a mystery that intrigued me -- Fabrizio's beautiful coppery skin tone. Apparently, one of his most famous ancestors had been a Venetian merchant who visited India in the late sixteenth century, from where he had brought a wife -- an event that would be reenacted in the family, centuries later, by Fabrizio's maternal grandfather, who was made prisoner during World War II.
In 1941, with about 2,200 soldiers, he was sent as a prisoner of war in a special train to Bangalore, and from there to the work camps of Byramangala. As Fabrizio's grandfather was one of the few to speak English, he had had a prominent role during the time in prison, and later in the negotiations' committee for the prisoners release. His manners, his male beauty and witty presence had delighted one of Maharajas present at the negotiations, who had invited him to live under his favours and reside in the palace after the prisoners had been released. From war prisoner to the protegé of a king, Fabrizio's grandfather left India many years later, on a journey full of romantic details, with his wife -- a daughter of the Maharaja -- and a child, Fabrizio's mother.
Commercially, Fabrizio had not invented anything new in the Caprice family, which had long devoted themselves to dealing with luxury items -- but, unlike his ancestors, who for many generations had privileged the Italian and European markets, Fabrizio had, just like the old Venetian merchant, gone seeking new markets among the emerging Asian countries, where he had earned a lot of money.
And speaking of money, Fabrizio came to his greatest regret in life -- his elder brother, Franco Caprice.
"Imagine it, as a child he liked to torment me because of my skin tone, which I have apparently inherited from my Indian grandmother whom I never got to meet, however... He liked to say that I had been adopted! In hindsight, Laurent, I have also suffered bullying, from my own brother..."
"Disgusting! That's what you are!" Franco had phoned Fabrizio after having learned that their father had felt ill with Fabrizio's revelation. "A disgusting fagot! You bring shame onto our family! You've dropped our name in the scum of fagotry... You will pay for what you did to our father! He'll disown you, you will see! You can be so sure of what I'm telling you!" Franco was elated with the possibility of delivering a fatal financial blow on Fabrizio. "And Patrizia also... I've talked to her, and when she turns twenty-one next month, I will be chosen to manage her money!"
But that battle, Franco had not yet won. Fabrizio hadn't been disinherited, nor had Patrizia handed Franco the amount of money that traditionally the Caprices received when they turned twenty one. Patrizia had actually chosen Fabrizio to manage her money, 'Fabulous Fab' being the brother towards whom she cultivated an unconditional love -- increased now by both the fancy 'gay aura' that Fabrizio had acquired for her, and strengthened by the rejection and opposition he met from the rest of their family.
"Patrizia wants to meet you, Laurent! I had to tell her about us. Do you mind? And she wanted to come with me to the Apennines to meet you, can you imagine it?! Tonight I have to call her to tell her... everything!" Fabrizio laughed. I glanced sideways at him, guessing if his 'everything' was the same I was longing for.
The bell by the kitchen door rang, interrupting our kiss.