Enzo's father started going out to the tavern again, so Enzo was able to manage to go on his secret dates with Ruggiero a couple of times at the old oil mill.
His friendship with Cesare had strengthened, and yet neither of them made the slightest step to face the subject of their sexual lives. Enzo had the impression that his friend hinted and understood it, but was waiting for him to take the first step to initialize the conversation. He thought about doing it several times, but he always backed out at the last moment. More than a problem of courage, the real problem was that he didn't know how to face that subject. And after all, it was not so important.
One evening, back from the belvedere, Enzo went upstairs on the terrace to wash himself, then went downstairs to his bedroom and lay down to sleep. The weather was no longer so hot at nighttime, therefore he just slept with his clothes on, since he didn't need to use a blanket yet. He was about to fall asleep when he heard the house door open and thought it was his father coming back home.
But he heard a voice, which was not that of his father, asking almost in a whisper, "Where is your bedroom?"
"Up there... but I can manage by myself, thank you..." his father's voice answered,
Enzo stood up, curious, while the other voice said, "No, you can't by yourself. Come." And with a jolt in his heart, Enzo recognized that voice. He opened his door and saw Ruggiero holding his father with his arm under his father's armpits, guiding him towards his bedroom.
The young man, hearing Enzo's door, turned and saw Enzo's amazed expression, then said, "He drank a little too much tonight, so I brought him back home..."
"Wait, I'll light the lamp," the boy said with emotion.
Then, with the lamp in his hand, Enzo opened his father's bedroom door and Ruggiero took the man's body inside. Enzo put the lamp on the chest of drawers and helped the young man to lay his father on the bed.
The man looked at his son with an ashamed appearance, and grumbled, "I drank too much. Fortunately the young sir gave me a hand. I couldn't come home by myself..."
"Don't worry. Just sleep, now," Enzo said gently.
"Yes..." the man murmured and fell asleep like a log, snoring slightly.
Enzo took the lamp again, and while he was closing the door to his father's room behind his back, said, "Thank you, sir. He never got drunk before tonight..."
"It could also be my fault, I offered him some wine, and he probably already had some before..."
They went to the kitchen and looked at each other in silence. Then Ruggiero asked, pointing at the door to the boy's room, "Do you sleep there?"
"Don't you want to take me inside?" the young man suggested with a sensual smile.
"With my father here?"
"He is sleeping, and even a cannon can't awake him. Come on, Enzo. Take me there," the young man insisted, taking the boy in his arms.
The boy shuddered, then said with an accusation tone, "You made him drunk on purpose, sir, to take him back home and so..."
"No, I swear! But when I realized he was drunk... well, then I thought of it, honestly. Take me there, come on," Ruggiero insisted again, starting to caress him intimately.
Enzo put out the lamp, then murmured, "Come..." and while taking his hand, guided the young man to his small room. They undressed rapidly and their bodies tightly intertwined, filled with desire.
Part of Enzo was fully enjoying that unexpected union, but a part of him was sharply tense, trying to catch the slightest noise, fearing that his father could wake up. He was looking at the small window on the wall and was wondering if somebody could see them from the outside. At each movement, he could hear the rustle of the dead leaves in the sack that was his mattress, and felt as if it could also be heard from the street, in the deep silence of the night.
In a certain sense, that fear of danger increased his excitement. And the fact that he had the man he loved right there in his small room, on his bed, gave him a peculiar sensation of joy. The other times he made love with Ruggiero, he was never so conscious about the surroundings, like he was now. If his father came without them hearing him, and saw them united in intercourse, how would he react? Would he pretend that nothing happened and leave without making himself heard? Or would he raise a big scandal and report Ruggiero? Or would he chase him out of the house? Or...
"I love you, Enzo!" the young man murmured while taking him with virile gentleness.
"Say it again..."
"I love you so much!"
"Thank you," the boy said, happily squeezing himself against his man.
His eyes, once used to the darkness, managed to get a hint of Ruggiero's expression in the tenuous light coming from the small window. "To see us, they will have to climb on something..." the boy thought. "If Cesare sees us, he would probably think we are beautiful, but if it was somebody else..."
A dog barked far away. From somewhere came a creaking. Enzo thought that his acute consciousness of what was happening inside him and at the same moment around him was weird. "Kiss me," he begged.
Ruggiero bent on him and their mouths sealed. Enzo's eyes were staring at the small window, barely lighter than the dark wall. He was afraid, but hoping at the same time, that his father would wake up and catch them. He was caressing the body of the man tossing and rocking on him, inside him, enjoying with his fingertips the darting muscles and thought that it would be great if, instead of being there in his dark small room, they were on a lawn, under the sun, without having to worry if somebody could see them united in that way.
He felt their passionate embrace lasted much more than usual and he felt intoxicated, possibly because differently from the other times, he was so sharply conscious of all that surrounded him, even if he was completely abandoned to the sensations that the union with his man was giving him. His senses were merry. And he felt the emotion, agitation, pleasure, excitation and the enjoyment growing inside himself, until they exploded in him and in his man with frenzy in an intense, sharp and forceful orgasm.
They languidly relaxed, still intertwined, in tender exhaustion, in affectionate abandon, in sweet yearning. "I love you," Ruggiero whispered.
"Why?" the boy asked teasingly.
"For your grace, passion, tenderness, beauty, friendship, devotion. For your affection, ardor, warmth, fire, fervor, desire, fascination..."
"Hey, stop, don't exaggerate, now!"
"You wanted to know, didn't you?"
"It's beautiful having you here."
"I would like it if you didn't have to leave..."
"Do you love me?"
"Do you need to ask? You are beautiful, hot, strong, passionate, virile, and... you are mine."
"Am I too heavy, sparrow, being on top of you?"
"No, on the contrary!"
"But now I really have to go," the young man murmured.
Enzo, as an answer, held him tight against himself, almost to prevent him from moving.
"It's getting late... I have to go back home," Ruggiero repeated.
"Not yet, sir, please..."
"What if your father wakes up?"
"We will hear him, both doors are closed, and they squeak."
"But we would not even have time to put on our clothes."
"Do you fear that my father will catch us?"
"So then, you are right, sadly. Let's get dressed, but don't leave right away. I'll feel lonely, without you."
"The same for me, sparrow."
"You remembered what I said?" Enzo asked, pleased.
"Yes. Inside me, from then, I always called you sparrow."
"I like it. You can call me that."
"But not in front of others."
"It's a shame," the boy said with a light smile. Ruggiero caressed him. "If you have to go..." Enzo murmured.
"Yes, I have to. See you tomorrow, at work."
"I'll think of you all the time."
"See you tomorrow, then."
"I'll see you to the door," the boy said.
Before opening the door, they embraced and kissed again. Ruggiero slipped out and Enzo silently closed the door. He went to see his father -- he was still deeply asleep. He went back to his bed, and lying down, he searched for the scent of his lover's body. The strong smell of the vegetable horsehair was all he could gather, and he felt slightly disappointed. But he thought that he had traces of his Ruggiero inside himself, and embraced himself tightly, curling up and fancying to be in the arms of the young man. He waited happily to fall asleep.
On the following morning, his father was ill for the drunkenness. When Enzo met Ruggiero, he made him promise he would never make his father drunk again.
The young man smiled, "To tell the truth, I thought that last night had been so beautiful that..."
"No. My father was ill this morning. He likes drinking, but he never got really drunk before, at least for what I know. And I don't like for him to feel ill for us to be fine."
"Yes, certainly, you are right. I will be sure not to get him drunk. Also yesterday, I didn't do it on purpose."
"I believe you. But from now on, please be careful, sir, so that it won't happen again," the boy said firmly.
Ruggiero liked Enzo's determination, "Do you want me to swear?"
"No. I trust you."
Enzo noticed that Cesare was among the day's farmhands. During the lunch break, Ruggiero was absent, so Enzo went to look for Cesare. He saw him sitting alone in the shadow of a leap of crates.
"May I?" he asked his friend.
"Yes, sure," his friend answered. Enzo sat near him.
He started eating, then asked, "Do you have news from Ranuccio? It is been a while since he left our village..."
"He is fine."
"Does he like his job?"
"It's a steady job, safe and clean. And I don't think he works a lot, less than us, anyway."
"I see," Enzo said, then, he finally asked what he wanted to ask for a while, "Do you miss him?"
"You were close friends, weren't you? Besides being cousins..."
Cesare didn't answer. He looked at Enzo, trying to study him.
"You were really close, weren't you?" Enzo insisted, now determined to continue on that subject.
"We are cousins, we grew up together."
"I saw you, at the Moor House..." Enzo said almost in a whisper, without looking at him, and bit his piece of bread.
"Yes. One night, some time ago."
"And... didn't you tell the others?"
"Of course I didn't!"
"So then, why did you spy on us?"
"Spying on you? No, really not. I was just passing there by chance, and..."
"Come on! At nighttime? At the Moor House? Why did you go to the Moor House, and by chance?" his friend asked with some sarcasm.
"I was coming back from a secret date, and I didn't want other people to see where I was coming from, in case some of the neighbors were awake, so I cut through the ruins... and saw you."
"Now you know we are two faggots. Don't you?"
"If you like doing it with each other, that's your business. And anyway... I too... I too do it with a male."
"You? And with whom? With Alduzzo?" Cesare asked, astonished.
"No, not with him. Why did you think about Alduzzo?"
"Just so... When we were kids, he and I had some fun, and I got the impression that he liked it even more than me..."
"How can you manage now that Ranuccio is away?"
Cesare smiled bitterly, "As we all do, with this," he answered, showing his hand. Then asked, "And you? Who is he?"
Enzo shook his head, "I don't know if he would be happy if I told you. Forget it."
"You didn't tell him about us?"
"Of course not!"
"But you could have."
"Not without your assent, anyway."
"Why are you talking about that with me?"
"Because... maybe to feel less lonely, less different."
"But we are lonely and different, anyway."
"And yet... perhaps there are others like us, feeling lonely and different, and they don't know that maybe there are many of us."
"Many? I don't think so. Anyway, I don't believe that 'Trouble shared is trouble halved,' as they say."
"But who says it is a trouble?"
"Everybody. If not, we wouldn't need to hide, right?"
"The first Christians also had to hide or else the Romans would have killed them, and yet they did no evil. Right?" Enzo said with a self-assured look.
Cesare giggled, "But I don't want to become a martyr at all!"
"Therefore you always talk about girls."
"And one day I'll marry."
"How will you do that? All have to marry, sooner or later, or else become priests or friars. And I really don't want to be a priest!"
"To me, girls don't make me horny at all, at all!"
"A fuck is just a fuck."
"Don't you miss Ranuccio... or somebody else?"
"We can possibly carry on, even after marriage, if he comes back here, or if I move to Aci."
"Do you intend to go to Aci?"
"Ranuccio says that if he finds a job for me, he will tell me."
"But you two, are you in love?"
"In love? No, we just like doing it together. Well, we also love each other, but just because we are cousins. I like being fucked by him, and he also likes being fucked by me. But two males cannot be in love with each other, can they?"
"Why not? I am in love with my man, and he with me," Enzo quietly said.
"In love?" his friend asked with evident amazement, then added, "Well, if you say so... but I didn't think that two males could fall in love. Ranuccio and I just did it for fun."
"But in the end it was not just for fun, was it?"
"That's why you warned Ranuccio?" Cesare asked, changing the subject.
"Ah, he told you then."
"Sure. But I didn't think that you too..."
"Does it amaze you so much?"
"No. I am just asking myself how many of our friends..."
"I don't know, and possibly also among the married ones. Anyway, I am happy that you now know about me."
"At least among us we don't need to pretend any more."
"And what does that change?"
"It is a burden to me to have to always hide what I desire. Is it not to you?"
"No, one can get used to everything, right?"
"You, Cesare, have you done it with others, besides with Alduzzo when you were a kid and then with Ranuccio?"
"Just once, when the soldiers passed by here looking for the outlaws two years ago. A soldier from Naples took me behind the bushes in the chestnut wood, and there, we lowered our breeches, and... But what about you?"
"No, I did it just with him. But you... never with a girl?"
"No way! And you?"
"Me either. I am not interested in trying with girls."
"And what will you do when your father finds you a wife?"
"I'll say no."
"He will force you."
"No, not my father."
"Then you are lucky, as you don't like women. My father is not so. He married all my elder brothers and sisters in his way, and he will do so with me too."
"But it is not fair."
"Eh, many things are not fair, but they are so. What can we do? I told you, I don't have the character of a martyr."
"Each one is in his own way."
"Anyway, yes, I miss Ranuccio," Cesare said while looking at him straight in his eyes. Then added, "If you and I, possibly... I never thought of that, but..."
"I can't. I am in love with him."
"I see. Do you meet often?"
"No. You know, one has to be careful, not to make others suspect something."
"But Ranuccio and I did it almost every night."
"You were lucky. We can't even do it once a week."
Enzo was glad to be able to talk so freely with Cesare. It was like if a part of his life, an important part, his sexuality, had started to have a vital space, like a small window had at last opened in a dark room. He desired to tell Cesare who his man was, but he had to ask to Ruggiero first. He was grateful that his friend didn't insist. And Cesare told him that he could tell his lover about him and Ranuccio.
So, when it happened he could be alone with Ruggiero, he told him.
The young man nodded, "Are they the friends you hinted to me once?"
"And did you tell them about us?"
"Yes, but without saying your name, sir."
"I didn't know if it would bother you."
"No, since they are like us. Cesare and Ranuccio are two handsome boys, especially Cesare."
"More than me?"
"Don't talk nonsense, you are special to me."
"But isn't Cesare more beautiful than me?"
"I don't think so. And even if he was, nothing would change."
"They could make love almost every night."
"But now they are parted, aren't they? At least we can meet every day."
"We can just meet, talk, brush each other secretly."
"Better than nothing, isn't it?"
"Yes, but..." the boy said with a slight sadness.
Ruggiero brushed his hand and looked into his eyes sweetly. "I too would like to make love with you every night if it was possible. You know it."
"You don't go see those boys in Siracusa any more?" Enzo asked him.
"No, certainly not. I promised you, didn't I?"
"And don't you miss them?"
"I miss you," Ruggiero said thoughtfully, lowering his voice, as somebody was approaching, then with a normal voice he said, "Take those baskets and bring them to the warehouse, Enzo."
"Yes, sir!" the boy merrily answered.
That evening, at the belvedere, Cesare was looking at him with a special light in his eyes, and that pleased Enzo, who felt merry. He also looked at Alduzzo, and asked himself if what Cesare told him could be true. That time when the others gossiped about Cesare and Ranuccio, Alduzzo and Enzo were the only ones to defend them.
At a certain point, Luigi said, "My father decided that I have to marry with Angelina."
"Who, my cousin?" Manuele asked with a surprised expression.
"Yes. He already talked with her father and they agreed. We will have the engagement party on Sunday and you all are invited."
"Do you like Angelina?" Rosario asked him.
"She is a pretty girl," Luigi answered.
"Yes, but she is difficult..." Manuele said, giggling.
"Difficult, how?" Martino asked.
"She knows what she wants, and she is stubborn."
"I'll tame her," Luigi said self-assuredly.
"If you can, if it would not be her to tame you," Manuele said, and giggled with the look of someone who knew well how things would go.
"Inside the house, the woman is in command, but outside, it is the man. It has always been this way," Rosario said.
"Therefore you won't come to the belvedere any more after Sunday," Cesare said.
"No, of course."
"Who knows why? Who decided that?" Enzo asked.
"It has always been this way, isn't it?" Rosario retorted.
"Yes, but why? Who decided it? Why one is not free to live the way he wants?" Enzo insisted.
"It would be great, but we can't help it! As my father says, when fish grow wings, you can do as you please," Alduzzo said with a smile.
"And then, we would have to teach fish to fly!" Enzo said, and everybody burst into laughter.
Piero, one of the newcomers, a fourteen-year-old boy, said seriously, "But if we continue to say that everything is so just because it has always been so, we would still be living in caves, wouldn't we?"
Enzo looked at him with respect.
The boy continued, "Things change, it just need somebody having the courage to act differently."
"And then, you act differently, if you can," Martino said, ruffling his hair. Piero wriggled away and set his hair again. "What would you do differently?"
"Choose my own woman, for instance."
"But you still have your mother's milk on your lips!" Rosario mocked him.
"And you still don't shave!" Luigi laughed.
"But my head works properly," Piero retorted.
"And what about your cock?" Martino asked him.
"Do you want to try it yourself, or do you prefer it is your sister to try it?" Piero asked proudly.
Everybody laughed and Luigi said, "Let him say it. We all passed through that stage, didn't we? We believed we could change the world, but then..."
"To change the world! But we don't even have clothes to change!" Martino laughed.
"Anyway... Piero is right," another of the young boys, Tore, said shyly.
"Sure he is right," Alduzzo said, "just that changing things is not easy as it seems. It is like trying to dig a hole in the water with a gimlet."
"Just wait for the water to become ice," Tore said stubbornly.
"Eh, then wait, and wait!" Martino laughed at him in a friendly manner. Enzo thought that the kids were right, but his mates were right also.
On the next day at work, Ruggiero approached him merrily, "Enzo, the master's son will be engaged with the youngest daughter of the Count this Sunday."
"Ah, and so?" the boy said, wondering the reason for the news and that merriness.
"When they marry, they will go to live at the villa in Nicolosi."
"Yes?" the boy asked again.
"But the villa hasn't been used for ten years, it has to be cleaned, refurbished, so the master ordered me to go there and see what work needs to be done, to talk with him, and then to direct the work. Therefore for some months, I'll go to live in the Villa."
"Oh my god! But then, we will no longer meet?" Enzo asked alarmingly.
Ruggiero smiled, "On the contrary. I told the master that to take the measurements and for everyday matters, I will need a helper, and don Calogero told me to choose one of the men and to take him with me."
Enzo brightened up, "And did you chose me?"
"Of course I did!"
"And so we will be together for... some months, you said, sir?"
"If you accept to come..."
"Do you doubt it? God, it seems like a dream! You and I, alone, in the villa!"
"Is it not a lucky thing?"
"Lucky? Better than a dream, really! And when will we go?"
"I have to prepare some things. I think after the party, on Monday morning. But I'll tell you more precisely in the next few days. Are you happy?"
"And can we spend all the nights together, on a bed?"
"I'm happy, really happy, then!"
"Take the suit I gave you. You don't need anything else."
"But I wanted to wear it only on Sundays, not to ruin it..."
"I'll give you some others ones."
"I wanted to ask you this for a while -- how could you have it made so fit without taking my measurements?"
"The tailor's assistant is your size, so I had it made fit to him. And I'll have more clothes made for you."
"But what will others say when they see me suddenly so well dressed? Wouldn't they think it is strange if you give me so many new clothes?"
"No, you can keep that one to go to work, but I want you to change and be well dressed. And up there, nobody knows you, therefore nobody will think it is strange."
Enzo was excited. That evening he told the news to his father, who seemed to be happy, then to his friends at the belvedere.
When he was going back home, Cesare went with him, "You must be happy, don't you? You will be together, and alone," he said with a friendly smile.
"Sure thing! I'm really happy."
"I'm happy for you, Enzo."
"And you? Will you go to Aci Reale? Ranuccio didn't tell you any news?"
"He says he is looking for a job for me. I don't know. I got the impression that he found somebody else, and that he is not really interested in having me there."
"Why do you say so?"
"Just a feeling. I don't care, anyway."
"But you could be wrong," Enzo said.
"I don't know. But I don't care," Cesare repeated, but Enzo got the impression that in reality his friend was somewhat sad.
The day after, Ruggiero confirmed that they would leave for Nicolosi, and for all the time he had to work at the villa, don Calogero agreed to give half of his pay to his father so that the man wouldn't have any problem. He told him to go on Monday morning, early, at the Casale from where they would leave with the donkeys carrying provisions and things they needed.
Enzo spent those last days waiting for the departure, and on Sunday, at Luigi's engagement party, he said goodbye to all his friends whom he would not see for a while.
"I think you'll do well, my boy!" Rosario said when they said farewell.
"Just a few months ago you were a farmhand and now you are a regular worker and are going to prepare the villa for don Raffaele," said Martino.
"Well, it means nothing..." Enzo shielded himself.
"No, you'll see. If the master chose you among many, it means that he holds you in high esteem," Martino insisted.
Enzo smiled -- he couldn't tell his friends that in reality he was not chosen by the master, but by his lover, who wanted to have him near at least for some months.