In the following scene from All I Believe, Nico has just returned to Sicily on a vacation with his grandmother, and he's looking out at the fountain from his hotel room in the middle of the night:
I leaned on the balcony’s iron railing and stared at the fountain for a while. Then on impulse, I checked my pocket for my room key and left the suite. The hotel was perfectly still. Downstairs, the lone clerk behind the front desk glanced at me before turning his attention back to a computer screen. I cut through the lobby, pushed open the heavy door and crossed the worn cobblestones to the fountain.
It had seemed huge when I was younger, and it really was quite large. Disproportionately so, actually, for that not particularly grand piazza. The round base was easily twenty-five feet in diameter. In its center, three bigger-than-life horses bucked and reared up on their hind legs, ridden by angels with outstretched wings. I sat on the wide edge of the fountain and ran my hand over it. The stone was smooth and cool to the touch.
All of it was familiar: the smell of the sea and of the baking bread in the shop just a few feet away, the light breeze on my skin, the sound of the water splashing in the fountain. It was exactly as it had been on another August night, years ago.
I’d been fourteen. My parents had talked about bringing my brother and sister and me to Viladembursa for years, since we had a lot of relatives there and a family history that went back to the town’s founding. There was always some reason the trip got postponed. Often it was because of my dad’s job, which didn’t give him much time off. But that summer, we’d finally made it. I didn’t know it would be our last vacation as a family at the time.
My fourteenth summer was when everything changed. That was when Dad stopped living with us. It was when I heard my mom cry for the first time, and my brother started getting in trouble at school and eventually was sent to live with relatives in New York. It was when my sister started caring about her friends far more than her family and turned into someone I barely recognized. But our trip to Sicily happened just before all of that, and had come to symbolize the end of my childhood. It also encompassed my most precious memory.
I’d gotten up far too early on the last day of our family vacation, the day we were going to fly home to Marin County. Dawn was just beginning to color the horizon as I slipped out of my family’s suite and went down to the fountain. I wanted to say goodbye to the stone horses. I had gotten attached to them during my two weeks in Viladembursa. I was weird like that.
I closed my eyes and remembered that morning twelve years ago. It felt exactly like this one, the same sounds and smells, the same breeze stirring my hair. I’d replayed it a thousand times and did it again as I sat in the town square, watching it like a movie in my mind’s eye:
“What exactly are you doing?” The conversation had begun in Italian, but when I replayed it, I heard it in English, a trick of time and memory.
I’d jumped at the voice behind me, and turned to face a tall, thin, good-looking boy with thick black hair and a quick smile that showed off a chipped front tooth. “Nothing,” I answered automatically, feeling a blush warming my cheeks.
“You were talking to someone, but no one’s here.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Were you talking to the angels in the fountain, and if so, do they answer?”
“Of course not,” I’d said indignantly. “I was talking to the horses.”
Instead of laughing at me as I’d expected, the boy just asked, “Why?”
“Because I like them, and after today it’ll be a long time before I see them again.”
“So you’ve come to say goodbye.” I nodded and the boy grew serious. “Where are you going?”
“Home to California.”
He switched to perfect English at that point and said, “Oh. You’re American.”
I also switched to English. “Yeah. You too?”
He shrugged, which made one of the straps on his oversized tank top slip off his shoulder. I noticed three fairly prominent freckles in perfect alignment on his left collarbone, dark against his olive skin. “I’m not anything. I’m a citizen of the world.”
“What does that mean?”
“Mom and I travel around a lot. No place is really home. Or everyplace is, depending on how you look at it.”
“It’s too bad I’m leaving.”
His expression grew thoughtful, and I looked up into his eyes. They were light, but I couldn’t quite make out the color in the soft illumination from the street lamps that ringed the plaza. “Don’t you want to go home?”
I’d pushed my glasses further up the bridge of my nose and said, “I did. But, well, you seem like a nice guy and I have a feeling I would have liked getting to know you.”
“Based on what?”
“The fact that you didn’t laugh at me for talking to stone horses. Any guy that doesn’t make fun of me for something like that is clearly friend material.”
“But if you stayed, I wouldn’t want to be your friend.”
“Oh.” I stepped back awkwardly and looked at the cobblestones.
He went right along with me and tilted my chin up with a gentle touch until I was looking at him again. “I didn’t mean it like that. I meant I’d want to be more.” As I tried to make sense of that, the boy cleared his throat and broke eye contact. When he looked at me again, he asked, “Would you find it weird if a guy told you you’re beautiful?”
Now it was his turn to step back, releasing my chin and dropping his hand to his side. “Sorry,” he mumbled, clearly embarrassed.
“I wouldn’t think it was weird because a guy said it,” I quickly amended. “I’d think it was weird if anyone said that about me.”
He looked at me through thick lashes, and a little smile returned to his full lips. “You don’t think you’re beautiful?”
“Dude, what planet are you from that you’d think that, Krypton?”
The boy chuckled and lightly traced the frame of my thick, black glasses. “Clearly you’re the one from Krypton, Clark Kent.” He took them off and placed them beside us on the edge of the fountain. “Can you see without those?”
“Only close up. Everything more than a foot away is a blur.”
He stepped forward, so that our bodies were only a few inches apart. “Can you see me, Clark?”
I nodded and said, “If I’m Clark Kent, then who are you?”
“I always fancied myself as a Bruce Wayne type.” A slight British accent slipped in when he said that.
“Wow, modest,” I said with a big grin. “Rich, handsome, brilliant. Is that how you’d describe yourself?”
“Well, obviously!” He beamed at me and held his thin arms out to the sides, as if to display his worn out tank top, cut-off jeans and very Italian leather sandals.
“You’re a master of disguise, Bruce,” I told him. “No one will suspect you’re a billionaire playboy in that ensemble.”
“Barefoot boys in pajamas shouldn’t judge other people by their clothes,” he said, his eyes sparkling.
I looked down at my white t-shirt and plaid pajama pants and said, “I totally forgot I was wearing this.”
“I like it. Makes you look a little like you just escaped from the nut house. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and all that. It’s a good look for you.”
“First you call me Superman, then you call me a mental patient. You have an interesting approach to making conversation.”
I started to reach for my glasses, but he caught my hand and held on to it. “No, don’t. Not yet.”
“Because it’s easier to see your eyes if you leave your glasses off. What color are they? I can only tell that they’re dark.”
“They’re brown,” I told him. “Like mud.”
“I bet they’re gorgeous and decidedly un-mud-like. You’ll have to stay with me until the sun comes up, so you can prove me right.”
I grinned again and said, “I have no idea what to make of you, Bruce. That sounds like such a line. I’d almost think you were hitting on me.”
“Almost? The fact that I’m holding your hand in the middle of the town square doesn’t make that a definitely?”
“You’re not really holding my hand, you’re just trying to keep me from my glasses.” I started to reach for them with my other hand, but he caught that too and held it.
“I’m doing both simultaneously.”
“I’ll take them off again when the sun comes up, if you’re actually interested in seeing my eye color.”
“That’s not the only reason I want you to leave them off. As long as you’re not wearing them, I’m literally the only thing you can see, right?” When I nodded, he said, “I like that. I like being your whole world.”
I chuckled embarrassedly. “You’re an odd person, Bruce.”
“I know.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot and said, “Since you don’t think it’s odd that a guy called you beautiful and seem to have no problem with him holding your hand, how would you feel about him kissing you?”
My heart leapt at that, and I looked around automatically. I couldn’t actually see the plaza, but I knew we were all alone. “Is that, um, I mean, are you planning on that?” I stammered, stalling for time as my thoughts and emotions ricocheted wildly. I’d always been pretty sure I was gay, but I’d never acted on it. I’d gotten the impression it was something I was supposed to keep secret, but here was this guy, talking about kissing me like it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Only if I think it won’t result in me getting punched in the face.” He tried to make it sound like a joke, but obviously it held some real concern.
“It wouldn’t,” I managed as my heart raced. The conversation felt a bit surreal. I’d wondered at the time if I was dreaming. In the years afterwards, I wondered how much of it I misremembered as time passed.
The words might have been distorted and embellished over time, but there were two things I remembered with absolute clarity: the boy, and that kiss. As the sunrise colored the sky pink and orange, he leaned in and brushed his lips to mine, gently, tentatively. When I responded, he kissed me with a little more confidence as my heart pounded. He cupped my face between his palms, and my hands automatically went to his waist, holding on to him as if trying to ground myself.
It was my first kiss, and it was also the moment I knew with absolute, unshakable certainty that I was gay. It felt so right, so utterly perfect, that it left no room for doubt. The kiss went on for a long time, both of us melting into each other. It might have lasted for hours if we hadn’t been startled by the baker, who opened the side door of his shop and pushed a big, clanking metal rack out onto the cobblestones.
I stepped back quickly and grabbed my glasses, pushing them in place as a delivery truck bounced and rattled into the square. The boy stepped back too, blushing shyly. When he looked at me, I said softly, “They’re green. I’d wondered what color your eyes were.”
“Yours look like a wildfire, seen through a bottle of Coke. I knew they weren’t mud-colored.”
I chuckled at that description. We stood there awkwardly for a few moments, and then I murmured, “I have to go. My family’s probably awake by now and they’ll wonder where I am.”
“Not yet. Just five more minutes, please?”
“I really should get back.”
He grinned mischievously and took my hand. “You can’t go yet. You haven’t said goodbye properly.”
“Goodbye. It was great meeting you.”
“Not to me. To them,” he said, tilting his head toward the fountain.
I burst out laughing when he jumped into the water and started to drag me in with him. As I exclaimed, “What are you doing? We’re going to get in trouble,” I leaned back and dug my heels in.
“Totally worth it. Come say goodbye to the celestial rodeo.”
“It does look like a rodeo! I can’t believe I never saw that before!” He scooped me up in his arms, carried me into the fountain and put me down beside one of the horses while I flailed and protested.
“Oh my God, the water’s freezing!” I shouted as it soaked into my pajama pants.
“You’ll get used to it after a minute,” he said. “Now tell me, what’s this horse’s name?”
I forgot the cold and looked up at the bucking bronco. “Zeke.”
The boy burst out laughing. “Why Zeke?”
“I dunno. Seemed like a rodeo name. The other two are Clem and Billy Joe Bob.”
“You’ve never been to a rodeo, have you?”
“Hell no. Have you?”
“I’ve been to a bullfight,” he said. “It’s kind of similar.”
“It’s not at all!” While we debated the parallels between bullfighting and rodeos, I waded around the fountain to each of the three huge horses and gave them a hug. I then splashed over to the side of the fountain and crawled over the wide ledge. When I looked back at my companion, he was leaning against one of the horses with his arm around its hind leg. I grinned and said, “Aren’t you coming out?”
“In a minute.”
“I really have to go. I don’t want my mom to worry if she wakes up and sees I’m not there.”
I hesitated and said, “I hate to say goodbye.”
“This isn’t goodbye, it’s just so long for now. I don’t know when or where, but I’ll see you again someday, Clark.”
“I hope you’re right.”
He smiled at me and said, “Oh, I am. I’m always right about everything. You and I are meant to be, I’m sure of it.”
He nodded. “Absolutely. Who else besides Bruce Wayne would be good enough for Clark Kent?”
We got a brief check-in with Nico in Armor, the novella I published earlier this year, and he and Luca will both be back in a supporting role in Mike Dombruso's book, which I'll be writing after Take a Chance on Me. Quinn's book is coming right along, by the way, and I hope to publish it in late September. After that, it's time to turn the focus on the Dombruso family, with Nico and Luca as well as Gianni and Zan from Belonging all coming back for a substantial check-in.