"TI AMO, AMICO"


In the previous chapter

The rift between the two men seemed beyond repair. Grady, the heart-throb new movie Tarzan, and his Italian lover Mario, once inseparable lovers, had a bitter falling out.

In circumstances that Grady would later describe to Doctor Steve, they had each had repeated sex with other guys, an unpardonable act for both of them. Mario had left the house, seeking refuge with his best friend Jamie, as a raging Grady yelled after him, “And don’t come back!”

The news rocked the tribe and left the two boys who worked for them, Danny and Brian, distraught. Bob gave a tongue lashing to Grady and restored peace between him and the boys. But when Grady said he was going to stop working on the movie – “Fuck the movie … fuck them all” – Randy whipped him back into shape with a brutal workout and a savage fuck.”

Jamie and Mark comforted Mario and for a few days an uneasy peace reigned. But the hurt and anger gnawed at both men, the ache grew worse, and separately they came to a decision on how to handle their anger and grief.

Mario’s solution was the most drastic and it devastated Jamie. “I cannot stay here, amico. Too many memories, too much hurt. I have to shake it all off, make a clean break. I am going home to my family in Italy. I don’t know how long I will stay there, maybe for good. I will leave quietly as I don’t want to stir up any more trouble, so I am telling only you.”

Meanwhile, Grady went to consult with Doctor Steve, the tribe’s therapist (and Randy’s brother). Steve gazed with sympathy at the tormented man sitting restlessly on the couch facing him and listened while Grady poured out his troubles.

“No one knows what it’s like, doc, when I travel on those publicity trips – the back-to-back interviews, smiling, turning on the charm all day, trying not to make a mistake and say the wrong thing. Everyone wants a piece of you – the studio execs, the press, the foreign PR guys who talk to you like they own you. They’ve all got their angle, but there’s no one really looking out for me. It’s exhausting and often reduces me to tears when I finally get back to the hotel room.

“That’s why they let me have a personal assistant whose only job is to support me. I chose this guy Connor from the PR department, a guy I already knew. We got along well, had the same sense of humor. He’s real bright and did a great job, always pulling me away from the crowd when he could see I was exhausted.

“We had separate hotel rooms but he spent a lot of time with me after the day’s work. I needed someone to care for me, to hold me, to help me relax before the whole circus started up the next day. It was great when he slept with me, holding me and … well the inevitable happened and we started having sex regularly. I guess I wasn’t thinking straight. Mario was thousands of miles away … this was like a whole other world, separate, nothing to do with life in L.A.

“Well one night Mario found out in the worst way. He phoned me at the hotel at three in the morning, but Connor was in bed with me and he answered. The shit hit the fan and I confessed the whole thing. I thought he would understand.”

His voice rose in anger. “But instead, Steve, he went right out and punished me by having sex with our garage mechanic Rick. I mean, the guy is real hot and I guess Mario fell in love with him, or some shit like that, and saw him again and I guess he still is. Dammit, Steve, it makes me crazy thinking of him fucking that guy. It’s over, doc, I can’t see him again – ever.”

Grady was fighting back tears, but Steve said, “Grady, I understand your need for a personal assistant on these trips but …” he fixed him with his intense blue eyes … “but why didn’t you choose Mario? Seems like a natural choice from what you’ve just said. You need someone who’ll look out for you, someone bright, compatible, a shoulder to cry on at the end of the day … even someone you want to share your bed with and make love to. Mario’s the obvious choice.”

“But … but Steve I could never ask Mario to be my ‘personal assistant.’ He would have found it demeaning. I mean he already felt overlooked, living in the shadow of my damned celebrity. I couldn’t have asked him that even when we still loved each other. He’d have been insulted.”

“Hmm, are you sure about that, Grady? I’ve always found that if love between two people is strong enough, like yours used to be, you can ask each other anything.” Steve shrugged. “Well, I guess it’s a moot point now. Too late for that, especially now you’ve broken up. Anyway, you’ve already got Connor. You’re right – probably wouldn’t have worked.”

Just then Steve interrupted the session to take a call on his private line. It was a tearful Jamie, telling Steve of Mario’s plan to go back to Italy. “He’s going day after tomorrow – he’s booked and everything, afternoon flight to Rome on Alitalia.”

After Steve consoled him he put down the phone and sighed. “Well, Grady, that’s it, I guess this whole session is moot now. Problem solved. Seems Mario is leaving town, going back to Italy.”

“What?! Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah, it’s not just talk, it’s definite, all set. Alitalia to Rome, day after tomorrow.”

Grady’s mind was racing. “Doc, could I use your phone? Make a couple of calls?”

********************************

And so the day came. Only Jamie and Mario were at the house, two close friends locked in a tearful farewell and promises from Jamie that he would go visit Mario in Italy. “Oh, sounds like my cab,” Mario smiled through his tears. “No more stretch limos … those days are passed.”

On the drive to the airport Mario kept his eyes mostly closed, not wanting to be reminded of places in the city that reminded him of his former life with Grady. At the airport he lined up to check in and looked over at the almost empty line at the First-Class check-in desk, which he and Grady always used in the old days.

He sat in the departure lounge trying to make his mind go blank. For a moment he flashed on those corny final airport scenes in romantic movies where at the last minute the lover comes charging through the airport yelling, “No, wait, it was all a mistake. I love you. Don’t leave.”

Not this time, though. And he didn’t expect it … didn’t want it. This was the clean break he needed. They boarded, he made his way to the back of coach class and took his seat. After the usual pre-departure stuff they closed the doors and the plane pushed back from the gate. As it taxied Mario let himself look through the window to get his last fleeting look at L.A.

The pilot announced they were next for take-off, the engines roared and they sped along the runway. As they lifted off Mario felt he was leaving a whole chunk of his life behind, a life where he had found friendship, joy, laughter and love. Yes, he had been loved. He inhaled sharply so he wouldn’t cry, leaned his head back and closed his eyes, hoping sleep would come.

It did, of sorts, though the dreams of half-sleep kept haunting him. He had finally dozed off when he felt a nudge at his elbow. He opened his eyes to see the Italian flight attendant smiling down at him. “Scusi, signore, but could I please see your ticket?”

Confused he fumbled for the ticket and gave it to her. She looked at it and smiled again. “Bene, I have the right passenger. Would you kindly follow me, signore? You have been upgraded to first class.”

Mario struggled to his feet in a daze, thinking there must be some mistake. He grabbed his backpack and followed the flight attendant up the whole length of the plane and through the curtain into the opulent hush of the first class cabin.

She stopped, looked back with a smile and pointed to the front row. “Here you are, signore. This is your new seat.”

Mario looked down … and saw Grady staring nervously up at him, with an empty seat beside him.

*********************   CHAPTER 340    ********************* 

For a moment Mario’s mind went blank … he must be hallucinating. Then he panicked and said to the flight attendant, “No … no … I must go back to my old seat.”

“Really, signore?” she said in surprise, then smiled, “Free drinks up here, sir.”

“No, assolutamente no! I cannot stay here.”

“Great food too,” Grady said, managing a nervous smile. “More legroom.”

Much more legroom, signore,” the attendant said. “These are lie-flat seats so you will sleep well. It’s a 12-hour flight, sir, overnight.”

That last argument was persuasive as Mario looked back through the curtain at the crowded coach cabin. He had been dreading twelve hours sitting in that cramped middle seat, and the prospect of lying in a bed, asleep … He hesitated.

Then, clenching his jaw, he sat in the spacious seat next to Grady. But he didn’t look at him, and instead looked up at the flight attendant as if it were she alone who had arranged the upgrade. “Grazie signora. I’m sorry if I sounded ungrateful just then … I was taken by surprise … confused.”

She smiled, “Naturalmente, signore … capito. Er, would you gentlemen care for champagne?”

His mind still reeling Mario illogically flashed on something Adam had once told them. After all his years of experience working on flights from Sydney Adam said that flight attendants were good at picking up vibes from passengers, sensing their needs … and their stories. Did this champagne offer mean she had guessed that …?”

His scrambled thoughts were interrupted by Grady’s voice. “Thank you, ma’am, that would be great.”

Mario was jolted back to the unreal reality that Grady was sitting beside him. But he still didn’t look at him. Instead he leaned his head back, closed his eyes and asked, “What am I doing here? And more importantly, what are you doing here?”

“It’s not what you think, Mario,” Grady said in a rush. “I’m not trying to get back with you – I know you don’t want that and” (less forcefully) “neither do I. Well not in that way, anyway.”

The champagne arrived. “Grady grabbed his glass and drank it in one gulp and the attendant re-filled it. Thus fortified Grady continued, the words pouring out as if he were afraid he would forget his lines. “What you’re doing here is going home to your folks. What I’m doing is going to another of those quick publicity appearances – in Rome this time.” He frowned, grasping for the next sentence. It struck Mario that Grady was very nervous.

“See, I was talking to Steve – about us – and he wondered why, when I go to all these events that are so exhausting, I didn’t take you as my assistant … no, not assistant, that’s the wrong word …”

“What word would you use, Grady?”

“Um … friend, that’s it … friend.”

“Instead of Connor,” Mario said coldly.

Grady blushed sheepishly. “Er, Connor’s gone back to his boyfriend. But this wouldn’t be anything like Connor. No, I mean you and me we are … were … friends and …” He felt he was entering a minefield and let that thought drop. “Anyway, I heard from Jamie – via Steve – that you were leaving for Rome and I knew a PR trip to Rome was on my schedule in a week or so. So I called the studio and asked if I could bring it forward to today.”

Mario looked at him for the first time and saw the muted panic in his eyes. “See, the studio does everything they can to please me these days ‘cos they’re nervous after I took a day off. I called in sick because I was feeling …” Another minefield. “Anyway, they fixed it up for me to travel on this flight and I told them I was bringing a friend as my assis … as my friend … who speaks Italian, so they bought two first-class seats.”

Mario frowned, “But why all this … I mean … why didn’t you ask me before …?”

“Well, we weren’t speaking … And, anyway, if I told you in advance I knew you wouldn’t come. The only way was to wait until we were both on the plane and in the air when there would be no escape. Then I had that lady go back and get you and …” another nervous smile … “and here we are.”

“Stuck with each other for the next twelve hours.”

“Unless you have a parachute,” Grady grinned, less nervous now.

Mario looked at him and saw that old playful sparkle in his eyes that he had always loved. His heart melted a little … until he caught himself. No, that mustn’t happen. This shouldn’t be happening. He was going home, to his family, leaving Grady and all his anger and sadness. And here they were, side by side, for the next twelve hours. He was furious with Grady for tricking him … and yet … no, don’t go there, he told himself.

Apperitivo, signori?” The flight attendant was there with trays of hors d’oeuvres, silverware and crystal glasses. Meal service had begun. They both picked up their champagne glasses to let her set the table and Mario took a long drink. As he was lowering his glass Grady clinked his against it with an impish grin.

Mario looked at him sternly. “Fuck you, man.”

The flight attendant’s smile widened. Yeah, Adam had been right. She understood everything.

*********************************

Grady and Mario were given dinner menus and they made their choices. The meal was a long drawn-out affair with appetizers, several courses, coffee, brandy – the works. Fortunately the service was very attentive so they didn’t have many stretches of time where they had to make conversation.

Grady spoke most, talking about similar publicity trips he had already done, what was involved, how dense the schedule was. Over dessert he pulled out the schedule for this trip and showed it to Mario. “See, we land tomorrow about 1pm. We’ll be met by Warner Studios Rome office PR people and taken to the hotel. We have an hour or so to freshen up, then there’s a photo signing for ninety minutes at the, er, Galleria something or other.”

“Galleria Porta Di Roma,” Mario said. “It’s a very upscale mall.”

“Yeah, whatever. Well then we go back to our hotel, change, and there’s a cocktail party at the Warners offices. After that there’s a big posh dinner for the executives and their wives. Those dinners are the worst ‘cos the execs think they own me – which they do in a way, I guess – and they all get drunk and ask tons of questions and I have to be careful not to make a mistake.

“That’s where my assistant – er, my friend – comes in real handy. I can’t say I need to leave so I rely on you to signal in a subtle way that I’ve had it and need to sleep to look good for the next day.” He smiled. “See what I mean? All that – and don’t even think about jet-lag.”

“Grady, you keep saying ‘we’ and ‘our’ as if I’ve agreed to do this with you.”

Grady looked at him pleadingly. “I really need you, man. It’s so rough and I get so tired, I can’t do it on my own. We don’t have to do anything else … I mean be anything else … you know, like we used to be. I know you don’t want that. We’ll have separate hotel rooms and all. But I need you to help me, Mario. And you’ll be well-paid, of course.”

Mario bristled, “I don’t want your money, Grady.” Grady realized that was a mistake. “Grady, I feel like I’ve been kidnapped and pressed into service against my will, like I have no say in the matter.” He looked into Grady’s pleading eyes and saw that little boy look of his that always melted his heart.

“Look, since you’re on your own I guess I have no choice. And I do speak the language, god knows. My plan when we land was to take a train up to Tuscany and a bus to my village. But I guess I could put that off for twenty-four hours. OK, I’ll stay with you and be your dutiful assistant for the day, but that’s it … that’s all.”

“That’s all I want,” Grady lied. He wasn’t sure what he wanted but now that he had been with Mario again for a few hours he couldn’t imagine leaving him again.

So there was something like an uneasy truce between them as the meal came to an end. It had been served by the original flight attendant assisted by another, a fresh-faced young man. After he cleared the meal he offered to help them adjust the seats into lie-flat beds for the night.

“But before I do that signore,” he sad to Grady, blushing nervously. “We are not supposed to do this but …” he pulled out a copy of Ciak, a popular Italian movie magazine, this one with Grady on the cover. “Would you be kind enough to autograph this for me, sir? I’m sorry to ask, but …”

“Sure I will,” Grady said, rewarding the man with a dazzling smile. “What’s your name?” He wrote “With best wishes to Giorgio and thanks for the great service. From Grady – aka Tarzan.”

Giorgio thanked him profusely and took the magazine away, a prized memento. “See?” Grady said with a shrug. “It’s started already.”

*******************************

Not much more was said before they lay down for the night. The lights of the first-class cabin had been dimmed and, as he stretched out luxuriously in his lie-flat bed, Mario felt sorry for his former seat mates trying to sleep in the more cramped confines of the back of the plane.

There was a low partition between their seats and it felt strange to both of them to be sleeping so close but separated, after all the many nights they had slept in each other’s arms. But those days were gone and they turned their backs to each other and fell asleep to the sound of the other’s deep breathing.

In this limbo of frozen time and space Mario was not sure how long he had slept when he stirred, his eyes opened … and he slowly realized why he had woken. He had a major hard-on. He couldn’t remember if he had been dreaming, or what of, but he instinctively looked across at Grady, who was now on his side facing him, his eyes tight shut.

Many times in the past Mario had woken at night and gazed lovingly at that handsome face as Grady slept. He had always loved watching Grady sleeping like that with a slight smile on his lips and the innocent expression of a young boy. Sometimes Mario had got quietly out of bed and stood stroking his cock, staring down at his beautiful lover, then grabbing a towel at the last minute to catch his semen as it spurted from him.

Even now his hand went instinctively to his cock that was rock hard at the sight of Grady … but he caught himself and pulled his hand away, turned his back to him and muttered softly, “Fuck … fuck …” He tossed and turned, but he could hear Grady’s heavy breathing. Sleep wouldn’t come … and his hard-on would not go down. There was only one solution.

Quietly, carefully, he eased himself off the bed and padded softly to the lavatory, unseen by anyone, even the crew who were largely out of sight as the passengers slept. He closed the door quietly and looked at himself in the mirror in T-shirt and jeans.

He was angry with himself – he had run away from Grady and his life with him, but now, unbelievably, by some trick of Grady’s, he was trapped with him, sleeping beside him, hearing his breathing, staring at his face, nursing a huge boner. No! He had to get him out of his mind once and for all. He pulled his cock out and stroked it, still looking at the mirror. He needed to cum … spill his load and, with it, empty his mind of any last shreds of sexual feeling for Grady.

He concentrated on himself. He did not often jerk off admiring himself, as Jason did, for example. It was fun when the gorgeous fireman did it, but that was not Mario’s thing. But he had to admit the man in the mirror looking back at him was sexy, with his dark Mediterranean looks. He half closed his eyes to pretend he was looking at a handsome stranger, he pounded his cock fast … but, stiff as it was, and hard as he tried to concentrate, he couldn’t cum. Instead he flashed on himself with Grady lying beneath him waiting to get fucked.

“Damn,” he said softly. “Merda!” He searched for another masturbatory image … Rick! Fucking Rick had been an impulsive reaction to what he saw as Grady’s treachery, and Rick certainly was a hot number – black, curly hair, strong Irish features, dark eyes and a fat-free muscular body. He was the pornographic image of the garage mechanic, working shirtless, dungarees tied round his waist, his face and torso streaked with grease.

Yeah, that would do it. Rick! Mario felt his cock stiffen even more as he imagined Rick in the back room of the garage, bent over the hood of a car he was working on. Mario had pulled his dungarees down from behind and plunged his cock in his ass. Rick had been hot for Mario since they met and he responded passionately until they were rolling over the oil spattered floor of the garage, Mario staring down at Rick’s handsome face and fucking his ass.

Man, that was hot, hot enough to make him cum. Mario’s heart was pounding, his body was shuddering … and then suddenly the image changed … to Grady, lying naked on the bed looking impossibly beautiful, his playful face smiling up at him whispering, “Fuck me, amico … I love you so much … I love you …”

But it was Mario’s voice now mouthing the words, it was Mario making love to Grady … and it was Mario who blasted a stream of cum onto the mirror, then another and another. He stared at himself realizing what he had just done. In his imagination he had made love to Grady, the man who had betrayed him, the man he no longer loved, the man he was leaving. “Fuck,” he said disgusted with himself. “Vaffanculo!” he snarled to the image of Grady still in his mind.

Then he panicked. Had he shouted out loud? Had any of the crew heard him? He grabbed a handful of paper towels and tried to wipe off the seamen that was running down the mirror. He had to calm himself, get back to his seat. At least Grady would be fast asleep.

But he was wrong there. Grady had not been asleep since before Mario had left his seat. He too had woken with a raging hard on … he too had stolen a glance at Mario’s face, beautiful in repose … he too had tossed and turned, cursing his erection, then pretending to sleep when he heard Mario stir. The heavy breathing Mario had heard had not been deep sleep … it was Grady’s attempt to slow his heartbeats and banish his erection.

And then Mario had got up to go to the lavatory. Grady had to get release … he had to cum. So he stroked his cock under the blanket covering him, trying to do it as inconspicuously as possible, though there was nobody around to notice in the dim lights. He recalled him and Connor having fun on a long flight they had taken, jerking off side by side, gazing into each other’s eyes, trying to stifle their laughter as they both shot their loads under their blankets.

He tried to conjure that image again, then the vision of Connor fucking him in the hotel room. For a while it worked – Connor was quite the stud – but Grady couldn’t completely shake Mario’s face from his thoughts, his naked body fucking him in their bed as they used to do every night and morning. And it was that erotic vision that made him cum now. He stifled a gasp, caught his juice in his hand and reached for a napkin to avoid staining the blanket.

He now tried to erase Mario from his mind, just as Mario at that moment was trying to dismiss Grady as he cleaned up the restroom. Grady heard the soft click of the door latch, controlled his breathing and shut his eyes tight in feigned sleep. Mario came back, held his breath and climbed noiselessly back into his flat bed.

Now that they had both achieved sexual release they were able to relax and were soon asleep. But not before each of them had stolen a last look at the beautiful man beside him – though, fortunately, not at the same time.

**********************************

In the morning when the cabin lights came up brighter and they woke, both men tried to erase the event of last night from their minds. They told themselves it was an aberration, just a hangover memory of the past before their mutual lust shut down forever. They sat up, breakfast was served and they exchanged hesitant small-talk – “sleep well?”… “great breakfast”… “better than coach, eh?”

But as the time came closer to their arrival Mario sensed a change in Grady. Usually easy-going he was tensing up, with the same kind of focus Mario used to see in him before he went to work at the studio. Grady pulled out the schedule again and said, “Can we go over this in more detail? See, I’ll need your help every step of the way.”

“Well first of all,” Mario said, “what am I to be called? ‘Friend’ is a bit lame, and you don’t like ‘personal assistant.’ How about ‘personal manager’?”

Grady flashed a smile. “That’s perfect. Amico, I’m so glad you’re here with …” He checked himself … must keep this professional … and went back to the schedule. “Now you’ll find the arrival a bit dazzling at first. But the most important thing is to keep up with me. If we get separated you’ll find a door will be slammed in your face and everyone will think you’re just another fan trying to get in. Here’s my passport. You should deal with all that but it’ll be a breeze – they always just waive us through.”

An hour before they landed Grady went to the lavatory to change out of his loose casual clothes. When he came back he was wearing the same clothes he wears in the movie when Tarzan goes back to England as Viscount John – tight brown goatskin leather pants with a loose white linen dress shirt tucked into the pants at his slim waist. The shirt was open enough to give a glimpse of his tanned pecs bulging underneath.”

“What d’ya think?” Grady grinned sheepishly. “Corny eh? The studio said I had to wear what fans could associate with the publicity photos, and I could hardly get off the plane in a loincloth.

“I’m sure the fans would have preferred the loincloth,” Mario said with a slight smile, “but this outfit looks very … sexy.” He muffled the last word not wanting to suggest any personal lust, even though his cock had got stiff the minute Grady had appeared in the outfit. But when he saw Grady frown and tense up again he said, “Grady, you look gorgeous … when the fans see you you won’t have to do a thing except stand there and smile.”

“Yeah, and keep smiling for the rest of the day. Not as easy as it looks.”

Mario was beginning to understand the nervousness Grady felt at being in the spotlight, the center of attention, turning on the charm and the glamor, pleasing the studio and the fans. And he realized what his own job entailed – giving support to Grady that was logistical and emotional, and boosting his ego along the way.

So as they finally began their approach to Fiumicino airport Mario squeezed Grady’s hand and said, “Don’t worry, Grady, you look perfect … you’ll knock ‘em dead.” Grady looked at him and said, “Thanks, man, I needed to hear that so bad.”

When they landed and the doors opened they were asked to stay seated while the other passengers disembarked. Then Warner Studios’ PR manager came on board with a big smile and introduced herself as Lucia. “I am such a fan of yours, signore,” she said to Grady.

“Grady,” he grinned, “call me Grady. And this,” he said proudly, “is my personal manager Mario.”

Ciao,” Mario said informally, “Piacere di conoscerti.”

Ah, sei Italiano!” she smiled. “What a relief. My English is not bad but it’s so good to have an Italian speaker with us. You must find Mario very helpful, Grady.”

“In so many ways, “Grady grinned at them both. “OK, Lucia let’s go. Time to meet the press.”

When Grady had told Mario he might be dazzled by their reception he did not expect it to be literally. But that is exactly what happened. When they walked down the jet-way into the terminal they were met with a blizzard of flashbulbs, so many and so bright that Mario was blinded for a moment. He had the presence of mind to keep to the side, out of the shot, knowing instinctively that there should be few, if any, pictures of them both.

He watched Grady and marveled at how graciously and cheerfully he greeted the crowd that had gathered, his fun-loving personality shining through. He looked so totally glamorous in the camera flashes, with his wide smile and sexy stride that Mario had a hard-on and wondered how many of the other men there did too.

Passport and customs were a breeze as they were waived through as VIP’s but it took a long time to get through the crowd to the waiting limo. Once inside Grady sank back and sighed deeply. “Well, that bit’s done. How you like it so far, Mario? I’m afraid it’ll be like this all the time we’re here.”

“I think I can handle it,” Mario smiled, knowing that even if he couldn’t he should never let Grady know. This was all about the star and Mario was there to support him, even though they were … had been … devoted lovers. Mario winced at the thought and banished it.

Their reception in the lobby of their luxury hotel was the same circus as before as Mario was immediately surrounded by fans, with security hovering around them. And Mario got to learn the first of the tricks. He asked one of the security guys to hold an elevator open, then stood at a discreet distance but directly in Grady’s eye-line. When Grady glanced up at him with a desperate look Mario went to him and said loudly, “Excuse me sir, we have to go.”

It was a good-cop bad-cop routine as Grady laughed, “Sorry, folks, my jailers tell me I gotta leave. Thanks for coming to see me.” Mario pulled him quickly across the lobby to the waiting elevator, the doors closed just in time and they breathed another sigh of relief. Grady grinned at Mario. “You’re a natural at this, you know? You sure you’ve never shepherded any other celebrities around?”

“Oh, I’ve known a few,” Mario smiled. “Though it was never in the role of shepherd.”

*****************************

The security guy took them to their room – a two-bedroom suite. Their luggage had already been delivered and they found themselves alone at last in the suite’s foyer. Grady looked at Mario and said, “I’m so nervous about all this, buddy. I know I make it look easy but inside I’m all coiled up, careful not to make a mistake.” He paused uncomfortably. “Mario, I’m sorry to ask you this but … like … could I have a hug?”

Mario opened his arms and Grady fell into them. As they hugged tight Mario felt Grady’s body shivering against him, and he knew it was more panic than passion, a desperate need to be held, to be supported in the task ahead.

When at last they separated Mario said, “Grady, you don’t have to apologize for needing support. That’s what I’m here for.” He pulled out the schedule and said, “OK, we have two hours before they come and get us for the signing. What about wardrobe?”

“I’ll still wear these pants and shirt for the mall appearance, then change into something a bit more formal for the cocktail party and dinner. And, buddy, I know you didn’t bring many clothes … didn’t expect all this … but I’ve got a ton so take your pick.”

“Right,” said Mario. “OK, room service. Let’s order, then take a shower. Each bedroom has its own shower. We’ll have lunch on the terrace – great view of Rome – and relax before it all starts again.”

“Aye-aye, sir,” Grady grinned. “You’re in charge.”

It seemed odd to them both to be in the same place but to shower separately. They went to their separate rooms and took off their clothes, but the bathrooms were not far apart and they almost collided in the small corridor, each of them naked. Embarrassed they went quickly to their own shower but the damage was done … two huge boners.

In the past they always had sex together in the shower but now it was two solo performances. Mario had given up finding other masturbatory images. He had just seen Grady naked and it didn’t get sexier than that. Oh well, just once for old times’ sake, he thought, and had no trouble shooting his load.

Grady made no pretense and no excuses about it. In his mind’s eye he saw his former lover in all his Italian glory – those chiseled features, full lips and perfect physique, and he even breathed his name as he blasted a stream of cum on the wall, to be quickly washed away like a sad memory.

Later, as they ate lunch on the terrace, facing each other, not saying much, their minds went back to all the times they had eaten meals like this, knowing that sex would follow. Not this time though – a thing of the past. But Grady, as always, could read Mario’s mind and smiled at him. “Those were the days, eh, buddy?”

**********************************

The rest of this crowded, exhausting day, Mario really proved his worth. At the photo signing, scheduled for 90 minutes, there were long lines of fans in the mall but Grady’s good humor never flagged and he had the knack of making every fan feel he or she was the only person in the room when he spoke to them. Mario kept checking the line with security and when the 90 minutes were up whispered in Grady’s ear, “Have you had enough?”

“We can’t send people away when they’ve been waiting a long time,” Grady murmured. “I’m good for a while longer.”

When they eventually left, security hustled them out and they went back to the hotel to change. As Grady had predicted, the cocktail party and dinner were a trial as the executives and their wives did not have the deference that the public did. But at the dinner Mario was exceptional, charming the ladies as he conversed with them in Italian, and keeping an eye on Grady, rescuing him several times when one of the guests tried to monopolize him.

Mario watched in admiration as Grady turned on the charm, his beauty and kind-heartedness combining with his sense of humor to win everyone’s heart. As one of the security guards whispered in Mario’s ear later, “That guy could charm the birds out of the trees.” As Grady had said, he made it look easy, but Mario now knew how much it took out of him to be gracious for hour after hour, with hundreds of eyes on him, the center of attention.

More significantly, Mario now realized how Grady had struck up such a tight bond with Connor, depending on him so much and working in such close harmony. Mario understood how that affinity could, under all the stress, become ever more personal and, yes, even sexual. This was a world apart, in a different universe from their lives in Los Angeles. Yes, he understood now … but still could not forgive.

The dinner seemed interminable, and it fell to Mario to bring the evening to a close. He had already made friends with the nominal hostess of the evening and when he saw the exhaustion in Grady’s eyes he said quietly to her in Italian that he was worried about Grady being fresh enough to carry out tomorrow’s program.

Seduced by Mario’s gentle voice and smiling eyes she agreed and made a short speech of thanks that ended the meal. Grady and Mario were whisked away to the hotel and in the elevator Mario watched Grady visibly crumple before him, his eyes glazing over. Once inside the suite the tension overflowed and his relief found expression in tears. He turned away and tried to stifle his sobs.

Mario’s heart melted and he came up behind Grady, folded his arms round him and said, “Would you like me to order a drink? Brandy, whatever?”

Grady turned his tear stained face to him, frowned and said, “No thank you. All this right on top of the jet lag. I’m so tired. I gotta go to bed.” He stumbled in the direction of his bedroom but Mario impulsively called after him. “Grady … would you like me to sleep with you?”

Grady turned and said desperately, “Oh, buddy, I didn’t dare to ask you but … would you? It would help so much.

“Just sleep, mind you,” Mario said with a gentle smile.

“Oh sure, sure,” Grady said earnestly. “I mean no, er … well, I know what you mean, and I agree … I feel the same. I’m so tired, amico …”

So there was no drink, no shower, just the two ex-lovers getting naked and falling into bed … the same bed. Grady closed his eyes immediately and Mario gazed at him, watching the stress fade from his handsome face. He kissed him lightly on the cheek and said, “You were amazing today Grady. I watched them all fall in love with you.”

Grady’s eyes opened and he said eagerly, “Do you think so, Mario, do you really think I did OK? Near the end I didn’t know what I was even saying, but I don’t think I let anyone down, do you?”

“You were dazzling, amico, a real star, and you’ll be great tomorrow. But now you must sleep.”

Mario’s instinct was to fold his arms round him, but he was deterred by the thought of Connor sleeping with Grady in exactly this way, in similar circumstances … and fucking him. No, he would give Grady the security of a bed-mate and that was all.

They turned on their sides, facing away from each other, their backs touching, but that was all. Except for their erections. But even they eventually went limp as jet-lag finally overwhelmed them and they fell into a deep exhausted sleep.

***************************

The next day was easier, although the schedule was packed with on-screen interviews and appearances. But they were well rested and had now perfected their teamwork, so they worked smoothly through all the events scheduled for the morning and afternoon. They finished in mid-afternoon when the schedule gave Grady the rest of the day and the following day off.

“Day after tomorrow they’re taking me to meet the people at Cinecittà, the massive studio just outside Rome. We might be shooting some of the next movie there. In the meantime I guess I’ll just poke around Rome like a regular tourist – the one hiding behind big dark glasses.”

“And I will catch my train and then a bus to my village.”

“Oh, about that,” Grady said. “I can’t have my personal manager taking a train and bus. I’ve ordered a car and driver to take you there.”

“Grady, you didn’t have to do that,” Mario protested. “I’ve taken trains and buses all my life …”

“What’s your village called?” asked Grady, ignoring his protests.

“Piansano. My family has a small farm just outside the village. Very rustic, quite remote.”

“Sounds idyllic,” Grady said softly, letting the words hang in the air as silence descended, as if both were on the point of saying something. Eventually Mario took the plunge.”

“Would you, er … would you like to come … meet my family?”

“I would like that, amico,” Grady said simply, sensing that they had crossed some kind of bridge.

And so that’s what happened. An hour later they were both sitting in the back seat of a black town car being driven north through the unfolding landscape of Tuscany, with its olive orchards, vineyards and precarious hilltop villages. They both felt the modern-day stresses of flashbulbs and crowds draining away in the bucolic surroundings of this magical place. It was as if they were leaving one clamorous world for another far more peaceful one.

They didn’t speak much, but Mario was pleased to see Grady gazing out of the window looking like a young boy discovering a whole new and exciting playground. As they drove past fields of lavender he lowered the window and took in great lungsful of the heady perfume.

It was a drive of only an hour and a half and near the end Grady became nervous about meeting Mario’s family. It was a culture of which he knew nothing and, above all, he did not want his celebrity to dominate the occasion and make the country people tongue tied, as so often happened these days.

But he needn’t have worried, for one simple and surprising reason.

After a drive through narrow winding roads and a final dusty track lined with cypresses the car pulled up at the farmyard. They sat in the car for a moment and watched the hive of activity. A long table had been set up in a dusty courtyard under the shade of a sprawling carob tree and farmworkers were trickling in from a day in the fields for the family dinner.

But suddenly … Mario! The car had been spotted and people started running toward it. Mario leapt out of the car, ran joyfully to meet the crowd and was soon enveloped in the embraces of family members in a clamor of laughter and greetings.

In the car the driver turned his head and smiled at Grady. “That, signore,” he said in a heavy accent, “is a family of Tuscany … always loud, always emotional and always hospitable. Your friend is obviously a favorite son, and something exotic, coming from Hollywood. It is a faraway concept for them.”

Grady let the din die down before he too exited the car and walked nervously toward the throng. Mario pulled himself away, came and took Grady’s arm and announced, “Questo è il mio amico. Grady.

Ah, che bello!” Suddenly Grady found himself in a dizzying press of enthusiastic handshakes, hugs, and kisses on the cheek from the older ladies. It was far from the tongue-tied reception he had feared – and suddenly he knew why. The truth dawned on him that they had no idea who he was. The driver had said that Hollywood was a distant concept for them and apparently they didn’t keep up with movie magazines and social media.

The relief was enormous. They were welcoming him not as a movie star but simply as Mario’s friend. And their embrace of him was far more gratifying than the welcome of a thousand fans.

Mario gave Grady his most winning smile and shrugged, “Mia famiglia, amico.”

******************************

Mario was once again wrapped in the embrace of family and friends, and as Grady watched he felt a stab of acute pain. He had known this moment would come, the moment for him to finally part with Mario … for the last time.

He had postponed it as long as possible with his devious airplane stunt and their time in Rome, but now this was it. He had delivered Mario home to his family … it was over … the car was waiting … there was nothing left to do. He would leave unobtrusively … couldn’t face any tearful farewells. So as Mario talked to his excited friends Grady turned and walked quietly toward the car.

Except … He hadn’t reckoned with Mario’s hospitable family. “No, Grady – dove vai?” they shouted. They absolutely would not hear of Grady leaving right away. He was Mario’s friend … he had to stay for dinner. His protests were drowned in their effusive and noisy insistence.

Eventually it was the driver who came up with a solution. “I have cousins living only 20 kilometers away who I would love to visit. You call my cell phone when you’re ready to go back to Roma, signore, and I can be here in twenty minutes.”

The persuasive forces were irresistible, not least Grady’s reluctance to leave Mario. And so he found himself sitting opposite Mario in a place of honor at the table, dazzled by the noise and laughter of rural Italian voices talking over each other. The evening meal was a rowdy tradition enjoyed by family, friends, farmworkers, everyone at the farm, a colorful group gathered round the groaning table in the evening warmth, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.

And the food! It gave a new meaning to the term homegrown – everything produced, grown, picked on the farm, even to the wine that came from the vineyards visible from the table. Ancient culinary skills created tastes and flavors not to be found in even the priciest restaurants.

Of course Grady couldn’t follow the many conversations but seated beside him was Mario’s pert youngest sister whose English was good so she translated for him. In any case, Grady was happy to let the outpouring of love and laughter simply wash over him.

He gazed at Mario, more animated than he had ever seen him, his handsome face alive, tousled black hair falling over his brow, eyes sparkling as he smiled from one family member to the next, all bombarding him with questions that he answered in his sexy, lilting Italian. He had never looked more beautiful to Grady who choked up for a moment, feeling a knot in his stomach as he was seized by a love for Mario stronger than ever before.

Dinner went on forever until finally they were drinking grappa, the classic Italian liqueur that was distilled here on the farm. The meal started to wind down, the farmworkers being the first to drift away to their beds. Grady was engrossed in a slightly drunken Italian lesson with the young sister when suddenly he realized that Mario was not there. He looked up sharply and in his shaky Italian asked, “Dove è Mario?”

The little sister answered. “He always had a favorite place here – out in the meadow under a tree facing out over the valley. I am sure he is there. He always went there when he wanted … how you say? … solitudine per pensare … to think.” She smiled mischievously. “If you need him, you just follow that path past the barn and down the hill.”

If he needed him! Suddenly Grady needed Mario more than anything else on earth. He gave the sister a kiss on the cheek, making her blush, and quietly left the table. He hurried along the path and when he rounded the barn he saw that it sloped gently down through a meadow of long grass. In the light of a full moon it was a picture of breathless serenity.

At first all he could see was the grass waving in the warm evening breeze, and the hills on the far side of the valley. Then he saw the tree … and there was Mario sitting in the grass, his knees drawn up close, arms wrapped round them. As he came close Grady saw that Mario’s shoulders were shaking and, closer still, heard his sobs. “No,” Grady said softly and ran toward him. He came up behind him and sat down next to him.

Startled and embarrassed, Mario wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve and sniffed like a little boy hiding his tears. Grady put his arm gently round Mario’s neck. “Don’t cry, amico. I’m here.”

Mario turned his tear-stained eyes on him, eyes that a short time ago had sparkled with laughter. “Are you, Grady? Are you here? Are we?”

Grady kissed his eyes, licked his tears and gazed at him, their faces shining in the soft silver light of the full moon. It was as if the world were holding its breath. The breeze had dropped and the only sound was the insistent dry buzz of cicadas.

“Mario,” Grady said simply, “please come home with me.”

Mario stared at him. “You mean …?”

“I mean home to California when I go back. Oh, buddy, I know I have no right to ask you that after … after … everything. I know you love your family but you’ve got a family in L.A. too – me, Danny, Brian, all the guys. And we can always come back here and visit whenever you want.” He grinned, gaining confidence. “Long flight, but it wasn’t so bad in first class was it? And maybe we can even hitch a ride on one of the studio’s corporate jets. And there’ll be limos both ends and I’ll make sure …”

Mario cut him off by pressing his finger against Grady’s lips … and began to laugh. “Grady, Grady, you always say too much. I don’t need the first class, the private jets, the limos at both ends. I just need you, amico. I always have, always will. So I ask you again. Are we here? Are we here, you and I … together?”

“For ever and ever, Mario. If that’s what you want.”

And suddenly they were in each other’s arms. The floodgates of their love, suppressed for so long, now burst open and it was like the first time they had made love. Feverishly they pulled off each other’s clothes – shirts over their heads, shorts down their legs and they rolled over and over naked in the long grass, clawing at each other, kissing, licking, biting in a frenzy of lust that they had tried, and failed, to deny.

Finally, their breath heaving, Mario had Grady on his back, kneeling over him, pinning his wrists to the ground. Grady willingly surrendered and Mario stared down at his captive’s beautiful, sculpted features, his hair disheveled, eyes dancing, the muscles of his perfect body rippling as he took deep breaths beneath him.

Grady stared up in disbelief at the smiling Italian, his dark face almost surreally handsome backlit by the moon. “Oh,” Grady moaned, “I have missed you so bad … I love you so much … always did.” Then his eyes crinkled with the playful, mischievous look Mario loved so much. “You know what I want, amico … what I always want from you. You know something? … I jerked off in the plane thinking about it when you went to the restroom.”

“Me too,” Mario laughed … “all over the restroom mirror.” They laughed together, and then Mario’s expression became tender, regretful. “Amico, we have been so foolish … angry and obstinate … so foolish. Let us forgive each other, amore. We know how to do that, don’t we?” He dribbled saliva into the palm of his hand and stroked it up and down his long, hard shaft. He pushed Grady legs back, pressed the head of his cock between his ass cheeks and said softly, “Ti amo, amico.”

Grady’s heart pounded and once again the world held its breath. He opened his eyes wide as he felt his lover enter him, felt his long cock slide gently slowly inside him, pause teasingly, then continue into the warm depths of his ass. His head flew back and he heaved a deep sigh of utter bliss.

“Oh … oh … Mario, it feels so … I love you … I love you. Fuck me, amico. I thought I would never be able to say that to you again. Please, fuck me … show me you forgive me, Mario. Please forgive me …”

“Ssshh… Mario smiled. “All that is over. All that remains is this ...” He pulled his cock all the way back, then eased it in again, savoring the warm sensuality of his lover’s ass. He took his hands off Grady’s wrists and rested his palms flat on his chest. Grady reached his freed hands up and ran his fingers through his lover’s shock of black, curly hair, then traced the contours of his face, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, then stroked his neck and down over the mounds of his pecs, gently teasing his nipples.

And that’s how they made love – touching, stroking, caressing, sighing – losing all sense of time. The longer they made love the more they erased the pain of separation from their memory. The old cliché ‘love conquers all’ had never been truer than now as their lovemaking triumphed over all their recent anger and despair, banishing them to an ugly, forgotten past.

Grady sighed, “Oh, it feels so good. Don’t stop, Mario … don’t ever stop … please …”

As Mario’s body rose and fell over him he smiled, “I will never stop loving you, amico … I never did. Never again will I leave you.”

“Never again,” echoed Grady. By now tears were rolling down their faces, the only possible reaction to the overwhelming surge of love carrying them to their climax. Grady said, “Buddy, I’m real close … can we cum, and later make love again, and again, and forever?”

“You read my mind, amico. You could always do that.”

There were no shouts, no writhing, just two men under a tree in a meadow, pouring out their passion now reignited after being extinguished by a rupture that would never, ever be repeated.

*******************************

Emotionally and physically exhausted they lay in each other’s arms, licking each other’s tears from their faces, coming to terms with what had just happened, hoping it was real and not just a trick of the moonlight. The warm breeze wafted over them rustling the long grass around them, and the cicadas seemed to be buzzing more excitedly than ever.

“This was always my magical place,” Mario said dreamily.

“Well it worked its magic again amico,” Grady said. “Now it’s our magical place.”

“Grady,” Mario asked eagerly, “can we stay here at the farm tomorrow and I’ll show you all the places I loved as a boy?”

“Amico, we can do whatever you want … and I would love that.” He fished in his discarded shorts for his cell phone. “I’ll tell the driver. The Cinecittà thing isn’t ‘til the afternoon of the following day so I’ll ask him if he can wait with his cousins ‘til then and …”

“No, Grady, let him go back to Rome when he wants, and we’ll take the bus and train like ordinary folks do. Would you like that?” He grinned slyly. “Can you do without a limo?”

Grady’s eyes sparkled. “Idiota! To quote something I heard recently, ‘I don’t need first-class, I don’t need a limo … I just need you’. Taking the bus and train with you would be fun. Listen, before we sleep can I call Danny and give him the news? Those kids are feeling real unhappy.”

“Of course you must. Put the phone on speaker.”

It was lunchtime in Los Angeles and Danny and Brian were having a melancholy meal in the kitchen when the phone rang. “Danny, it’s Grady. I’ll be back on Saturday afternoon … and I’ll have someone with me … someone you know … someone you love.”

“Sir … do you mean … Mario, sir?” They too had the phone on speaker and the men could hear their cheers ringing round the kitchen.

“Buongiorno, ragazzo,” Mario said. “Yes we are coming home together, forever.”

“Sir,” came Brian’s excited voice, “can we tell the other guys? And can we have a party?”

“Of course we can,” Mario laughed. “Though the day after we arrive, please. Can you handle a big party for all the guys?”

“Of course we can,” Danny said, and Brian added, “We’ll ask Tommy to come and help us. We think he’s having problems with Lloyd and Steve … he’s having a lot of sex with Lloyd and Steve’s real upset. You’d think that him being a shrink and all he’d be able to …”

Brian stopped suddenly as Danny dug him in the ribs. “Oops, sorry, sir. Talking too much, I sound just like Eddie. It’s just that I’m so excited …”

“We are too,” Mario said. “I’ve missed your voice so much and when we get home you can talk for as long as you want.”

“But we have to sleep now – it’s late here,” said Grady. “Ciao bambini,” Mario laughed.

Grady shut off the phone and smiled at Mario. “You said ‘when we get home’. That sounds so good. Hey, it’s warm tonight. Do you want to sleep out here? We don’t have a blanket, but …”

“But we have each other, amore.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot that,” Grady teased. “Yeah, we do have each other … we sure do.”

And so they slept in the long grass all night, wrapped in each other’s arms.

***************************

TO BE CONTINUED in “A Trial Of Strength” – Chapter 341


 

Rob Williams

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