DISCLAIMER: The following story is a fictional account of young teenage boys who are in love. There are references and occasional graphic descriptions of gay sex involving minors, and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. With a few notable exceptions, all characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The opinions expressed in this story by known individuals are not necessarily intended to be representative of those of their real-life counterparts. Although the story takes place in actual locations and establishments, the author takes full responsibility for all events described and these are not in any way meant to reflect the activities of real individuals or institutions. The author retains full copyright of this story, and of stories based on these characters.
Please note that this is the twenty-eighth and final story in a series known collectively as Naptown Tales. The entire series can be found on my GayAuthors Page and on the Naptown Tales Page at Awesome Dude. Please see the Introduction for important background information.

'Til Death Do Us Part

A Naptown Tale in Seven Parts
by Altimexis

Part Five
Italian Sausage - Paul

Me and Cindy Cable were makin' out. Cindy was a girl in my school that I'd had my eyes on, practically since we started middle school in sixth grade, but I never thought she'd go for me. After all, why would one of the most beautiful, most popular girls in the whole school want to go out with a Down's kid?

Yet here she was, layin' on my bed with me and we were makin' out like there was no tomorrow. I wasn't even sure how I got her to look my way, let alone talked her into coming home with me. I even had my shirt off - when did that happen?

So here we were, going at it hot and heavy. We were Frenchin' and everything, and she started rubbing my chest and, Oh GOD, she was feelin' me up! I started feelin' her up, too. Oh man – those tits – those smooth legs!

But what was that squeakin' noise, and why did it feel like my bed was movin'?

And then I realized I was naked! When did she manage to get my shorts and boxers off? Oh wow - she was rubbin' me and it felt great!

As she continued to rub me, I could feel I was gettin' real close and I tried tellin' her to slow down, but all that came out of my mouth was a moan. Before I realized what was happening, I was spewing my load all over the place, but when I opened my eyes, Cindy wasn't there! Wha the . . . !

"That must have been some dream," I heard Sam say. It sounded like he was right next to me, but I was in a single bed, and it really was movin'. Then I realized I wasn't in my bed, but we were in berths on a train. Sam was staring at me from the berth across the way, with a huge grin on his face.

"A wet dream," I said. "I can't believe I had a wet dream. Aw man, I guess we're not foolin' around enough."

"You're just a horn dog," Sam said with a smirk, and then he asked, "So who were you dreaming about?"

"Cindy Cable," I answered.

"Oh yeah . . . she's hot," Sam agreed with me.

"Could you guys keep it down?" I heard Cliff's voice from below us."

"Yeah, some of us are trying to get a little sleep around here," Brad chimed in. Cliff and Brad had the lower berths in our four-person first-class compartment, or couchette as they called it. David, Jeremy, Trevor and Kurt were in a couple of two-person sleeper compartments in another train car. Us younger guys, however, wanted to all be in one large compartment - it gave us more room, and we could sleep straight across from our best friends.

"I need to clean myself up," I pointed out, not wanting my cum to dry in my boxers.

Sam broke out in a wild laugh, and Brad handed me a box of tissues and said, "Just take off your boxers for now. There isn't time for them to dry, so you'll have to wash them out when we get to the hotel."

"OK," I replied.

As I was wiping up my jizz, the lights suddenly came on and the voice of the conductor came on over the loudspeaker. Of course with it all bein' in Italian, I didn't understand a word of what he was sayin'.

Sam started to say somethin' - I think he was gonna translate - but then the conductor came back on, speakin' in French, and then finally in English. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we will be arriving in Venice in one hour. The dining cars are open now for those wishing to eat breakfast. Thank you."

Just then, my stomach made a loud growl, and all my friends broke out in laughter. I laughed, too. I was always hungry.

"You guys want to grab some breakfast?" Brad asked.

"I always wanna eat, don't I?" I replied, again getting laughs all around.

This was my first time ever riding on a train. We were on a high-speed overnight train, the 'Artesia de Nuit' or somethin' like that, to Venice. David said it was a shame we couldn't take the train during the day, 'cause we were goin' right through the Alps, which are supposed to be beautiful. But if we'd done that, we'da had one less day in Italy, and seein' Italy was what we came for.

The compartment was tiny, and there was no bathroom or even a sink or anythin'. Our older brothers had showers in their compartments, but we had to lug ourselves down to one end of the train or the other to use the toilets and wash up in the lavatories. Gettin' ready to go to breakfast was more like a dance as we all had to practically climb over each other to get dressed.

We all took turns usin' the toilets, washin' up and brushin' our teeth, once we were dressed. It was a good thing none of us needed to shave yet, except for Brad, and even he only shaved once every couple of weeks or so. We got ready in record time.

While we were gettin' dressed, Trevor called Sam and said they'd all meet us in the first-class dining car. When we got there, we had to wait a while to get a whole table to ourselves, 'cause they normally just seat folks as soon as there's an open place. The tables seat four, and so we four younger guys had a table to ourselves, and the older brothers had one to themselves, too, but nowhere near ours.

It's funny, but even though I'm not related to any of my friends, I still think of everyone as if they really were my brothers. Me and Sam are surely as close as any brothers could be, but I love Cliff and Brad, too, same as if we were related to each other. And David, Jeremy, Trevor and Kurt will always feel like they're my older brothers. I love all of them - an' I know they feel the same way about me - or I wouldn't be here.

I never could understand why some people don't like gays. I mean, people are people. Trevor and Kurt bein' in love with each other's no different than if it were a boy and a girl. Same thing for David and Jeremy. And man, they are sooo in love! I could feel it.

Now Sam's different. I know he likes girls, just like I do, but I think he also likes boys. I think maybe he even likes boys a little more than he likes girls, but I don't think he's ready to admit it just yet - not even to himself. Maybe someday. Anyway, he's cool, and I love him more than anyone else besides my parents. He's my best friend in the whole world.

The food they served us on the train was a whole lot better than the stuff we ate on the plane to Paris. We may have been in business class, but the food wasn't any better than eatin' a frozen dinner, if even that good. The food on the train was really good - it tasted fresh.

As the train made it's way across the causeway and bridge into Venice, we all went back to our compartments to gather up our luggage. It wasn't like we had to hurry or anythin' - not like the way you do when you only have a minute to get off a through train, from what I heard - but we only had a day in Venice and we wanted to make the best of it.

We were stayin' at a place called the Ca' Sagredo, a five star hotel located on the Grand Canal near the famous Rialto Bridge - at least Sam said it was famous, and I believed him. To get to the hotel, we had to take a boat - something called a vaporetto, which is like a waterbus! We could have taken a water taxi, but the vaporetto was right there. I guess they have gondolas, but those are just for sightseein' - and romance - and not for getting from one place to another.

Venice was really something! I'd heard they had canals instead of roads, and they really did. There were a few roads around the train station, but the only way to get around Venice was to walk, or take a boat.

It was still pretty early in the mornin' when we arrived at the hotel and, naturally, our rooms weren't ready, yet, so we had to check our luggage. The place sure was impressive, though, with gold trim and antique furniture everywhere you looked.

As we left the hotel, without thinkin', I said aloud, "Man, my boxers are going to be sooo encrusted by the time we get back to the hotel."

Sam, Brad and Cliff all burst out laughing, and the four older brothers all got a WTF look on their faces. Sam then leaned over and whispered into Trevor's ear, causing him to blush intensely.

"Oh man, TMI," he said, but when Kurt kept looking at him, he then whispered into Kurt's ear, causing Kurt to turn a brilliant shade of red. When David and Jeremy continued to stare, however, Trevor told them, "Believe me, you don't want to know."

It turns out that Venice is a very small island, so we could walk just about everywhere we wanted to go. We took gondola trips in pairs to see the Bridge of Sighs - the newlyweds sure didn't seem to be payin' much attention to the scenery, though! We spent a bunch of time in Saint Mark's Square, which was really pretty.

By the time it was early afternoon, I was starved, and we stopped for lunch in a little sandwich shop. We all ordered panini, and David had no trouble getting a vegetarian sandwich this time. The panini were kinda greasy, though, and so I reached for the napkin dispenser on the counter and started to grab a bunch of napkins.

The moment I took my third napkin, the woman across the counter got real mad and yanked the dispenser away from me and said, "NO, NO. One or maybe two is OK, but three is too much."

I almost felt like cryin'. Why'd she do that? They were only napkins, and we needed 'em. Frankly, I needed more than even three.

Placin' a half-euro coin on the counter, David said, "That should more than cover the cost of the extra napkins, but you really made us feel cheap when you did that. The fact is, the panini are greasy and there's no way we can clean ourselves with only two napkins apiece.

"I will be the first to admit that your food is excellent, but restaurants are a service industry and you live and die by the recommendations of tourists. The only thing keeping you from being driven out of business by chain restaurants is the protection you get at the hands of your laws. In America, where we have no such laws, people are more than willing to forego quality for consistency, and good service has a lot to do with that.

"Mark my words, but deregulation is coming to Europe just as it did in the United States. When the laws that protect you are stripped away, you'll never survive unless you learn to provide good service as well as good food. Otherwise, the big chains will bury you."

The lady behind the counter only had a scowl on her face, so I threw in, "I'd listen to David if I were you. Someday, he's gonna be the President of the United States."

After we exited the place, Jeremy said, "That was awesome, babe, but I somehow doubt that she really listened to what you said."

"I know, Jer," David replied, "but I had to do something, you know? I wish I'd have said something in that first restaurant in Paris. It might not have changed anything, but at least I'd have gotten what I was feeling off my chest."

"I'm curious, honey, but when did you become a supporter of big corporations?" Jeremy asked.

"It's not that I favor big corporations," David explained, "but protectionism is never a good thing. I do favor laws to ensure a level playing field . . . otherwise big business would run roughshod over small independent businesses, much as Wal-Mart has destroyed main street America. But that doesn't mean small businesses shouldn't have to compete against the big boys, either.

"In the food service industry, McDonalds provides a consistent, quality product. It's decidedly unhealthy, but their patrons can generally count on courteous, fast service and a meal that will satisfy most kids' appetites without breaking the bank."

"There are plenty of McDonalds in Europe," Jeremy pointed out.

"True," David agreed. Perhaps a better example would be Panera Bread, which provides quality food that's hard to beat, with impeccable service and free Wi-Fi access, too. Frankly, Panera's sandwiches are even better than the ones we just had and they cost less. If you're a tourist and you have the choice between an unknown restaurant like the one we just patronized, and a Panera, which would you choose?"

"I'll admit, Panera's very good . . . definitely a cut above the other fast food chains," Jeremy agreed, "but were it not for small independent restaurants, there'd be no incentive for Panera to maintain its quality."

"I agree with you," David replied, "and in fact there are plenty of small diners and family restaurants in America that are thriving. They can compete by providing courteous, personal service and home-cooked meals that chains like Panera can't deliver . . . and that's just what the independent restaurants of Europe need to do.

"To be sure, a lot of them, and perhaps even the majority, do provide excellent service and quality food, but it's places like the one we just ate at that drag all of them down and drive customers away. A level playing field is critical, but artificial protections only foster an inferior product."

I wasn't quite sure what the hell David was talking about, but he sure was passionate about it. It was no wonder he'd be the president someday. I know he didn't like it when I said it aloud, 'specially since I said he'd be buried at Arlington, but even David knew he was goin' into politics.

I was often getting visions of the future - premonitions, like Sam called them. I don't know where they come from, but I'm certain they would come true someday just as real as the past. I saw things that had already happened in my mind, but they happened later on. It was like a warning or something.

After the way everyone reacted to my premonitions about David, I wasn't about to tell them what I saw about Jeremy, Brad and Sam. It would've spooked them out. I knew they'd be ok and that's all I cared about.

It all started with David, though. He was the one who would pave the way for the rest of them. He was already doin' it. That's something else, I didn't know where I fit in - I never saw that part - but I was pretty sure I'd be ok.

After our experience in the restaurant, we spent the rest of the afternoon just browsing the many shops and we bought some souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home. A lot of the shops didn't open until late in the afternoon. Kurt explained that they closed for an afternoon nap, or siesta as he called it, but then Sam got into an argument with him. Sam pointed out that 'siesta' is Spanish, and that Italian's say, 'il riposino pomeridiano'.

The two of them went back and forth arguing which was correct until a shopkeeper who overheard us explained, "We often say 'siesta', just as you do, but the proper way to say it in Italian is, 'il riposino pomeridiano'. Of course if you use it in a sentence, you have to be careful to say it the right way, depending if you're addressing a man or a woman." So I guess they were both right!

We saw some really cool marionettes, but they cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, which was more money than I had to spend. There were also some really cool masks - masks they wore for somethin' called Carnival - and even the masks cost as much as a few hundred Euros. The four older brothers ended up buyin' a couple of masks to hang on the wall in their new condo.

"It'd be cool to come here during Carnival," Kurt said. "I've read that everyone dresses up in fancy costumes. Some people spend all year making their costumes . . . they're that elaborate. There's music in the streets and Saint Mark's Square is filled with people. It's not raucous like Mardi Gras in New Orleans . . . it's supposed to be nice."

Snuggling up with his husband, Trevor said, "It definitely sounds like something we should do, honey."

The four older brothers sure looked tired, but then they were on their honeymoon, and I kinda had a feelin' they didn't get a whole lotta sleep on that overnight train.

A lotta shops had this really cool multicolored glass called Murano glass. It was made on the island of Murano, which is part of Venice and reachable by vaporetto. I bought Mom a Murano glass necklace and I bought dad a paperweight.

Late in the afternoon, we checked into our hotel, and I was finally able to wash out my boxers. Because the only suites available were 'junior' suites with a single bedroom and a living room, instead we were staying in four separate hotel rooms. The two newlywed couples each had a room with a double bed, whereas each pair of us younger guys shared a room with twin beds. I couldn't have cared less whether I had my own bed or shared one with Sam, but Brad said he liked to have his space.

The place sure was luxurious, but my eyes practically bugged out when Trevor signed the bill and I saw that his parents were spendin' close to fifteen hundred Euros on us for just one night. That was over two thousand dollars!

When Trevor saw me starin' at the bill, he said, "Yeah, I know, Paul. It does seem wasteful. We were gonna stay in inexpensive pensions, but my parents insisted on this as a wedding present, and in thanks for bringing you guys along. Frankly, I'm glad you're here, regardless of where we're staying."

After we all got settled in, we went out to eat at an elegant-looking restaurant called a trattoria that was recommended by the hotel. I was learnin' some Italian words, especially when it came to food, but I had to tune out when I heard a group of them talking - it didn't make any sense; did that with French too.

Now I always thought that Italian food consisted of pasta and little else, but boy, was I wrong. It turns out that pasta in Italy is like an appetizer. There were four courses - a soup or salad, the first course, which consisted of pasta, the second course, which consisted mainly of meat, and the desert.

Needless to say, David and Jeremy were not thrilled that all the main courses contained meat. They had a lot of veal, some beef and a lot of chicken, but no fish at all and a limited amount of seafood. On top of that, the seafood was only available as a first course.

Jeremy was OK with getting a chicken dish, but David wouldn't eat chicken, and the server did not want to honor his request to order two items from the first course menu. Judging from the prices, they made their money from the second course, so I could see why he felt that way.

After David threatened to walk out, the server finally agreed. We really did want to eat there, as the restaurant had gotten excellent reviews.

So David and Jeremy both ordered minestrone soup to start, followed by a squash ravioli first course. Jeremy followed this by chicken cacciatore and David by linguini with clams. I ordered a salad to start, with spaghetti carbonara for my first course and veal Parmesan for my second course. David tried to talk me out of the veal, sayin' how bad the animals were treated, but I'd had it before and I knew it was delicious.

The trouble began as soon as the soups and salads arrived. Now I had no trouble with the fact that my salad arrived with little slices of meat in it, but no sooner had David dipped his spoon into his soup than he exclaimed, "This soup has meat in it!"

"Ouch, you're right," Jeremy chimed in.

The rest of us were nearly finished by the time they got our server's attention. "This soup has meat in it," David exclaimed. "I thought this is supposed to be vegetable soup."

"It is a vegetable soup," the waiter patiently explained. "It's full of vegetables."

"But it has meat in it," David countered.

The waiter just stared at David, seemingly dumbfounded, and then he said, "Of course it has meat in it. The recipe has been in the family for generations."

"But I already told you that my husband and I are vegetarians," David added. "Do you not understand that we do not eat meat?"

"You ordered the soup," the server said as if it were obvious.

"Yes, we ordered it, thinking that a vegetable soup contained vegetables . . . only vegetables, and no meat," David continued. "If you knew we're vegetarians and that the minestrone contains meat, why didn't you tell us?"

"I assumed that if it mattered to you, you would have asked," the server explained, "but seeing how big a deal you made of not ordering a main course with meat, perhaps I should not have assumed you understood. Let me take the soup back, and I will get you a salad instead. I'll do that at no charge."

"Thank you very much," David said. "By the way, I noticed the salad has slices of meat in it?"

"That's not meat, it's prosciutto," the server exclaimed.

"Prosciutto is made from pork," David countered, "and we don't eat it."

"It's a good thing you mentioned it," the waiter said. "I'll be sure to have it left out of your salads."

Sam and I couldn't help but roll our eyes at the whole exchange. How stupid could the server be? Even I knew that David and Jeremy would never eat soup with meat in it, or a salad with prosciutto, or whatever it was called.

Just when it looked like things were on track with the meal, the first course arrived, and David's and Jeremy's ravioli arrived, with a meat sauce on top of it. Before the server even had a chance to put the plates down, David asked, "is the sauce on our pasta what I think it is?"

"That's our traditional marinara sauce," he replied.

"But does it contain any meat?" Jeremy asked.

"It's an old family recipe," the server explained. "It would not taste as good if it didn't contain meat . . . but you don't eat meat." Recomposing himself and recognizing his error, the server asked, "Could I perhaps get you a nice pesto sauce, or maybe an alfredo?"

"The pesto sounds good," David said.

"And I'll have the same," Jeremy added.

It was another twenty minutes before the server brought out David's and Jeremy's first course, which was good, 'cause it probably meant they remade it from scratch, rather than trying to re-use the ravioli the way they would have in that restaurant in Paris.

The second course arrived without a hitch, and the server even told Jeremy, "I took the liberty of leaving the marinara sauce off the potatoes on your plate." I guess he was finally learning.

For desert, we all had something I'd never had before called tiramisu. It was sensational - truly orgasmic. In fact, all of the food was outstanding. I could see how the restaurant got such a good review, even with stupid servers. I guess I shouldn't say that 'cause it makes me feel real bad when I overhear someone say that about me just 'cause I'm a Down's kid.

That night in our hotel room, Sam and I took action to help prevent further wet dreams. Prophylactic action is what they call it, I think. By the time we finished, we were both quite satisfied, and fell right to sleep.

The next morning, we got up early, 'cause we had a train to catch. We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and then caught a vaporetto back to the train station. When we got there, everythin' was crazy. There were people everywhere outside the train station, and everyone was pacin' and shoutin' at each other.

David tried askin' some people what was goin' on, but they either didn't know, or didn't speak English. He tried talkin' to some people in Spanish - he and Jeremy both took it in high school, but either he couldn't understand what they were sayin, or they just didn't know what was goin' on, either. Trevor even tried to find someone who spoke Russian, which is what he took in high school, and Kurt's Latin sure wasn't gonna help us much.

It was Sam who found out what was up. He found someone who was wearing a uniform, and spoke to them in Italian, but it turned out they could speak English anyway. It seemed there was somethin' called a 'wildcat strike', and none of the trains were running anywhere in Italy.

"Fuck!" Sam practically shouted. "We're never going to get to Florence. Florence is the main reason I wanted to come to Italy in the first place. Some of the best museums in Europe are there."

"We'll get you to Florence, Sam," Jeremy said as he whipped out his iPhone. After looking at it a long time and tapping on it a bunch of times, he said, "Hmmm . . . this is going to be kind of expensive. I can get us all on a flight out of here at 3:15 this afternoon. We have to change planes in Rome, but even still, we'll get into Florence at 6:30 this evening, so we'll only miss the time we were going to spend this afternoon on sightseeing. It'll cost us $385 each . . ."

"That's over three thousand dollars!" Kurt exclaimed.

"Yeah," Jeremy countered, "but if you think of the time and money involved just to get to Europe from home, the cost of losing even a single day out of the trip would be far, far greater, and there's no guarantee the trains will be running tomorrow."

"Maybe you'd better book the flight right now," David suggested. "With so many people trying to get somewhere with the train strike going on, I have a feeling all the flights will fill up fast."

"Good point, babe," Jeremy responded. After a bunch more taps on his iPhone, Jeremy said, "There, we're all set. It looks like we got some of the last seats on the flight from Venice, too."

"Maybe we should get to the airport extra early, just in case they overbooked the flight," Trevor noted.

"Good point," Jeremy agreed. "You know they overbook all the flights, and on a day like this, there'll prolly be twice as many people show up at the airport as there are seats."

"How will we get to the airport?" Cliff asked.

"Good question, bro," Jeremy replied. After a lot more tappin' on his iPhone, Jeremy said, "We can get there by vaporetto or bus, but the vaporetto goes by way of the island of Murano . . . you know, where they make the glass. It only takes about a half-hour to get to Murano from here and another half-hour to get from Murano to the airport. There's a vaporetto leaving Murano at 12:14 that would get us to the airport at 12:44, two and a half hours before our flight leaves.

"What do you guys think?" Jeremy asked. "Would you like to spend the rest of the morning in Murano? We have the time to kill and we'd have two hours to see it, which should be plenty."

We all nodded our heads that we would.

"We'll have to take our luggage with us," Trevor cautioned.

"Maybe we can find a place to check it on Murano," Kurt suggested.

"Sounds like a plan," Jeremy concurred. After tappin' a bunch more times on his iPhone, he said, "There . . . all set."

As we were walking to the vaporetto station, Kurt suddenly said with surprising enthusiasm, "Look, there's Hebrew letters." He was pointing to an iron gate that looked like it was hundreds of years old.

"Some day, I'll be able to read it," he lamented. "I wonder what it says."

"It says 'Ghetto'," Jeremy proclaimed.

"I didn't know you could read Hebrew," his husband said.

"We were never very religious," Jeremy explained, "but my mom tried to get me to go to Hebrew school so I could be bar mitzvahed. I stuck with it for two years, but when she saw I was more enamored of Christmas than Hanukkah, she told me it was up to me whether or not to continue. Needless to say, I chose to stop going."

"Do you ever wish you'd stuck with it?" David asked.

"Now, I wish I had," Jeremy answered. "I coulda gotten a lot of presents for my bar mitzvah."

"You're terrible," David teased his husband as he gave him a noogie.

"Seriously," Kurt filled us in. When the Jews first arrived in Europe, they were considered unclean and were restricted to living in certain areas." Laughing, he added, "Knowing how fastidious they've always been, the Jews were prolly a whole lot cleaner than the Christians back then.

"I think this was the first Ghetto in Europe. Venice was an independent city-state at the time, and one of the largest centers of international trade in the world."

"Wow! How do you know so much, Kurt?" I asked.

Pointing to his head, he said, "Photographic memory, remember?" and we all laughed at his pun.

When we got to Murano, we did find a hotel that let us check our luggage for a fee, and then went on to do some sightseeing. We watched a glass blowing demonstration and did some more souvenir shopping, but a lot of the shops were closed 'cause it was Monday morning. After retrieving our luggage and before heading to the vaporetto stop, we bought some sandwiches to eat on the way to the airport.

When we got to the airport, the ticket counters were packed with people tryin' to get on one of the already oversold flights. It was a good thing they had a separate line for people who just needed to check their luggage. It took a long time to get through that line, but we got our seats. They tried to get us to give 'em up, though. They even offered us 400 Euro vouchers toward another flight, but like Jeremy said, it woulda cost us a whole lot more than that to return to Europe to make up for a lost day.

The flight didn't have first or business class, so we were shoved in together like sardines in a can. It wasn't as nice as business class, but we were gonna make it to Florence before sundown.

Man, the airport in Rome was crazy, but at least the gate for our connecting flight wasn't too far to walk. In less than a week, we'd be comin' right back through here on our way home. Right now though, I didn't want to think about that!

"Man, I'm starvin'," I said as we got off the plane in Florence. Well, we'd last eaten at noon, and it was gettin' kinda late for dinner.

"Can't you wait 'til we get into town?" Sam asked.

Oh course, my stomach chose that moment to let out a loud growl, makin' everyone laugh, and I followed that up by sayin', "Nope."

We all ended up getting' some sandwiches to tide us over until we could get into town and out to eat later on.

Motorcycles! They were everywhere. The streets of Florence were really, really narrow - almost too narrow for all but the tiniest cars, but everywhere we went, there were motorcycles. Everyone seemed to be riding a motorcycle. Everywhere we went, we could hear the constant drone of motorcycles in the background.

The hotel where we were stayin' was right across the river from central Florence. Called the Palazzo Magnani Feroni, it was a very luxurious, five star 'boutique hotel', whatever that means. All the rooms were suites, and we had a couple of two bedroom deluxe suites. The suites were huge, and had really elegant, old furniture and art on the walls. Sam sure seemed to like all the furnishings in our suite.

The bathrooms were real luxurious, too. There were two of them in our suite. Each one was large, and had marble everywhere, as well as pedestal sinks and full bathtubs.

It was nice that we were stayin' three whole nights in the place. I hated movin' around all the time.

After we were settled into our suites, we headed out to a trattoria nearby that was recommended by the concierge at the hotel. This time David and Jeremy knew to ask if there was any meat in the minestrone, or in the sauce, and they had no problems at all.

On Tuesday, we spent the whole day seein' a whole buncha art galleries and museums. Sam rattled off the names . . . The Uffizi Gallery, the Academy Gallery, the Bargello Museum, the Medici Chapels, the Archeological Museum and the San Marco Museum, I think. They all kinda blended together after a while, and everythin' was old. The art was pretty, though, but art was Sam's thing and not really mine. It wasn't just the art he looked at - it seemed every museum had a bookstore and there was Sam grabbing at every book until he found one that he was happy with. I think his luggage was gonna weigh a ton by the time we finally got packed to go home.

That statue of David was really somthin', though. I'd seen lotsa pictures of it before, but it's huge. The statue must be twice as tall as a real person, or maybe even more. Sam said that the guy who sculpted it, Michelangelo, was a bitter rival of Leonardo da Vinci, the guy that painted the Mona Lisa in Paris. He also said both artists were prolly gay, but no one talked about those things back then.

It was frustrating, not bein' able to read any of the signs or anything, 'cause they were all in Italian, but Sam kinda overdid it in tryin' to help me. He started translating all the information into English, and tellin' me about all the paintings and statues and the artists who made them.

Finally, I said, "Sam, just tell me the important stuff. I'm not gonna remember any of this shit ten minutes from now."

Sam just laughed and laughed, and we had a great time after that. I knew Sam wanted me to know everything he did, but it just wasn't in me to enjoy all the details. That one day on this trip when we went to Versailles without Sam, I realized that I really wouldn't have enjoyed this trip if it hadn't been for him bein' with us. One way, it was ok not havin' to listen to all his rambling', but on the other hand, I didn't get any of the highlights that he explained really good. I missed him that day.

Then when we found out he was in the hospital, I was almost sick with worryin' about him. The worst part was waiting in the hospital and they wouldn't let us see him - wouldn't tell us anything about him. Trevor and Kurt were as bad as me - just pacin' and sighin'. When he came out of the emergency ward, yeah, I was relieved, but I was ready to burst into tears. I just wanted to hug him and never let him go. He seemed like the first kid that cared about me as a person - a real person. My brother, my best friend, he's all that to me. The next day wasn't so bad -I went with the others, but I knew Sam was safe back at the hotel with Trevor. Sure glad it wasn't anything more serious.

On the way back from the museums, we browsed in some of the shops, and they sure had a lot of nice things. A lotta the stores sold leather, especially leather jackets. There were people out front of some of them too, and they tried to get us to go into their shops.

We did go into one of the nicer ones, but the sales people wouldn't leave us alone and after looking at several of the jackets, Jeremy proclaimed, "I sure don't see any designer labels. I wonder if this stuff is even real Italian leather."

The sales clerk replied rather indignantly, "I can assure you that everything in our shop is made only from the finest Italian leather. We carry nothing but the best."

Looking inside the jacket he was holding, Jeremy said, "Then show me the label in this jacket that says it was made in Italy."

Instead, the clerk pulled a cheaper lookin' jacket that cost a whole lot more from further down on the rack and showed it to Jeremy.

"That's not what I asked," Jeremy said with determination. "I asked you to show me where the label is in this jacket."

When the sales clerk didn't answer, Jeremy handed the jacket back to him while he simultaneously faced David and said, "I bet it was made in China. Let's get out of here."

As we left the store, Jeremy said, "I'm sure there are some legitimate shops selling real Italian leather, and prolly for a lot less than we'd spend back home. If everyone's interested, maybe I can look up leather shops on my iPhone when we get back to the hotel, or maybe even get some recommendations from the concierge, and then we can go out shopping tomorrow."

"I wouldn't mind picking up a new leather jacket if the price is right," Kurt added.

"Sounds like a plan," Trevor agreed.

On Wednesday, we saw another museum that was near the hotel, the Palatina Gallery, and then we spent most of the rest of the day at a couple of gardens, the Boboli Garden, which was ginormous, and the Bardini Garden. We did a lotta walkin', but I sure enjoyed the gardens a lot more than those stuffy old museums.

Sam loves the museums, though, and as much as I love Sam, I wouldn't have wanted him to miss the museums for anything. Just watching his face when he sees a real famous painting - the sheer joy, amazement and awe, makes all the time bein' bored worthwhile.

After we finished the gardens, we crossed over the river on a really cool bridge called Ponte Vecchio. There were buildings, shops and houses on the bridge, all the way across the river.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening, right up until we went for dinner, at a couple of leather shops that the hotel recommended. Even I could tell that the stuff they sold was much better than what most of the other shops had, and the prices reflected it. Spendin' 300 Euros on a jacket that sells for over a thousand dollars in the U.S. may be a bargain, but it's still a lot of money, you know?

Damned if everyone wasn't buyin' a leather jacket, though. Jeremy not only bought one for himself, but he bought jackets for David, Cliff and Brad, too. He also bought a leather backpack, a leather laptop case, a belt and a couple pairs of shoes each for himself and for his husband. My eyes just about bugged out when I saw how much he was spendin'.

"We're gonna owe duty," David pointed out to Jeremy.

"I already talked the sales clerk into writing out separate receipts for customs, listing the prices paid as being less." When David got an astonished look on his face, Jeremy continued, "People do it all the time, and sales clerks are only to happy to do it, particularly with such a large sale. You can't have them mark the prices down too much, however, 'cause customs is wise to this sort of thing and they know how much things cost.

"I had the clerk mark everything down by a third. Unless we buy something in Rome, we should be fine. We'll be under the limit, but barely. Keep in mind that the Carnival masks and glass items we bought in Venice don't count, nor does the sketch we had done of us in Paris. They're considered art, and you don't pay duty on art."

"Cool," David answered, "I'm glad I married a travel-savvy man."

"Since you guys don't eat meat," Sam asked, "why do you wear leather?"

Blushing a bit, David answered, "That's not a simple question, at least in my case. For one thing, leather has properties that can't be found in any other clothing. The alternative is vinyl, which comes from petroleum and has chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic. There are other leather substitutes, but they all have their drawbacks.

"There's also a big difference between wearing an animal's skin and eating an animal. The leather jacket, belt and shoes will be items of clothing I'll wear for years. There's probably less than half a cow in all the leather Jer bought for me today. When you eat an animal, however, that's a one-time deal, and you have to keep killing animals every day, just to supply your basic nutritional needs.

"At least with leather, the animal skins came from animals that were used for other purposes, mostly for food, anyway. I don't approve of using animals for food and certainly not mammals, but if they're gonna be killed anyway, it would be a shame to let the skins go to waste. I would never wear fur, however, since they have to kill several animals for one coat, and the only reason for killing them is for their fur.

"Someday, I hope there'll be a viable alternative to leather, but for now I wear it reluctantly," David concluded.

"And in my case," Jeremy countered, "I only gave up eating meat because of my husband, 'cause the smell of red meat makes him sick to his stomach . . . me too now, for that matter. I like leather . . . I like the way it feels and the way it smells . . . and I'm not giving it up."

In the meantime, I was admiring this one leather jacket that I really liked. Unlike most of the others, it was a light tan color that almost looked like gold, and the leather was sooo soft. Trouble was, it was 450 Euros, which was way more money than I could afford.

When Trevor saw me lookin' at it and lookin' at it, he said, "Why don't you let me buy the jacket for you, Paul?"

"I could never let you buy something this expensive for me, Trevor," I replied.

"Nonsense, Paul," he replied. "You're family. I'm already buying jackets for Kurt and Sam, and other stuff for Kurt, too. You might as well let me buy you the jacket. I know it's a lot of money, but it's something you'll have for years. Just be sure to get it one size larger than you need right now, so there'll be room for you to grow.

"Normally, I wouldn't spend this kind of money on clothes, but your jacket would cost at least $1200 back home. At these prices, we can't afford to pass them up. Please Paul, let me do this for you. Consider it a gift from Sam, Kurt and me."

I was so overcome with emotion, I couldn't speak. I just wrapped Trevor in a great big hug.

Loaded down with packages and with all our luggage, we left Florence on Thursday on a short, two-and-a-half hour ride on a high-speed train to Rome. Our hotel in Rome was the Hotel Gladiatori Palazzo Manfredi, a five star hotel located by the Colosseum. In fact, both of our two bedroom suites had views of the Colosseum.

Trevor was thrilled 'cause the Internet access was free. I guess all the other places we'd stayed charged extra for it.

After grabbin' lunch at a nearby cafe, we decided to explore the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. The Colosseum was huge . . . it looked like it could house half the population of Rome. It didn't look like it would be very comfortable to sit there, 'cause all the seats were made of stone, but otherwise it looked like any modern sports arena.

While Trevor went to get tickets to see the Roman Forum, I walked off by myself to look through the surrounding fence down into the forum. Suddenly, I was surrounded by kids. There were maybe seven or eight children ranging in age from maybe seven to twelve. They surrounded me.

One of the older ones, a girl, was trying to get me to look at some kind of glossy paper she had in her hand, while the others were pawing at me. What the fuck was goin' on?

In an instant, Sam was there and he was shouting at the kids real fast in Italian like he was mad. I had no idea what he was sayin', but they sure ran off in a hurry.

"Are you alright, Paul?" Sam asked.

"I'm fine," I answered, "but what was that all about?" I asked.

Before he answered, Sam asked, "Did they take anything?"

Checkin' myself over, I still had my wallet, my camera and my cell phone. "Everythin' seems to be here," I replied.

By then, everyone else had caught up to me and Kurt explained, "Those were gypsy children. The gypsies originally came from Romania, but they're a separate ethnic group, more correctly called the Romani people, and they've spread out around the world . . . even to the U.S.

"I hate to resort to stereotypes, but some Gypsy groups make a living by stealing. It's almost a part of their culture, but probably more by reputation than in reality. Still, being attacked by a group of Gypsy children probably doesn't enhance your feeling about them.

"Anyway, what they tried to do was to distract you while the younger ones robbed you blind," Kurt concluded.

"The oldest one had a shadow, but some of the other kids had the glow, you know?" I explained. I know it freaked my friends out, but sometimes I can see a glow around people who are good - an aura. People who are evil sometimes have a shadow that surrounds them. "They're not bad kids," I went on. "They're just kids in a bad situation.

"If I'd known what was goin' on, I woulda given them my wallet. They prolly need the money more than I do."

"If you'd have done that, most of your money would have gone to the adults who offer them so-called protection on the street, and to the older kids who entice them into a life of crime," Jeremy related. "The 'good' kids would have seen damn little of your money, so you shouldn't feel bad. What those kids need is a good home, rather than a life on the street."

"So shall we go check out the Forum?" Trevor asked.

"Certainly!" Sam smiled with genuine enthusiasm in his voice.

Man the Roman Forum is ginormous! It's like this whole downtown that's been left in ruins. Sam sure seemed to be in his element.

"Look at this, Paul. These buildings look like something you'd see even today in New York. There are columns, and archways. And look at the construction. They used brick . . . and concrete! These buildings look like they could have been occupied just a few years ago, rather than two thousand years ago. Their architecture, their engineering techniques, their use of mathematics were all techniques we used well into the twentieth century. They were that advanced."

"Actually, we copied their techniques," David chimed in, "and particularly their architecture. In fact, we didn't improve upon their techniques until we developed modern cranes, allowing us to build tall skyscrapers, and until we developed modern glass and steel."

"It's totally fascinating, and totally cool," Sam agreed with David. "This place is sooo sick. It's amazing to think there was an advanced civilization here, and that they built a vast empire, only to have it all collapse."

"Lessons to be learned," David said. I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but Sam seemed to be agreein' with him.

By the time we finished up at the Forum, the sun was gettin' low on the horizon, we were all tired, and I was starved!

For dinner, Jeremy said he wanted to take us all out to a really fancy restaurant, just like he did in Paris. Jeremy wasn't one to show off his wealth, but he was generous to a fault when it came to his friends.

This time we all got dressed up in jackets and ties, and we went to this expensive seafood restaurant called Sa Tanca Crostaceria. Man, the appetizers cost as much as a main course at most restaurants I'd been to, and there was a first course on top of that. We all decided to get something called the Tasting Menu, which included a raw platter, an appetizer, a first course, a second course and a dessert, all for sixty Euros. Compared to the place in Paris, it was a bargain!

Trevor also ordered four bottles of wine for the table, which was enough for each of us to have two full glasses. The legal drinking age in Italy is fourteen if served by a parent or guardian and, at eighteen, Trevor was our legal guardian while in Europe. We checked with our server - it was all completely legal. It was wicked!

Oh man, the food was outstanding. I wasn't too crazy about the raw oysters, but after drinking a little of the wine, they didn't taste half bad. The tuna tartar appetizer reminded me of sushi, which I love, and the shrimp and rice first course was heavenly. It was orgasmic. The second course was the fish of the day, which was fresh sea bass, and it was prolly the best fish I ever tasted - even better than the fish in Paris. Oh, it was good. Dessert was pineapple ravioli - it was like nothing I ever tasted in my life.

We were all pretty buzzed by the time we finished the meal. I'd never had that much to drink before in my life. Hell, I'd tried beer before and a little bit of wine, but that was about it. This wine was sure good - it was smooth and felt real warm goin' down. It wasn't sweet like other wines I tried. I guess they call it dry - I didn't know why - it was wet and I really liked it.

Anyway, Sam and Brad were giggling like schoolgirls, and Cliff looked like he was ready to go to sleep, right at the table. I guess maybe he shouldn'ta had all that wine with the HIV drugs he's on, but it was too late, now. The four older boys were certainly happy, but they seemed to be holding their alcohol a lot better than us younger guys.

As if we weren't already close enough to bein' drunk, Trevor ordered some dessert wine for all of us. It came in little tiny glasses, so there wasn't a lot of it, and it was real sweet, but it was strong. I wasn't sure how I was gonna stand, let alone walk back to the hotel.

We finished the evening off with cappuccino. I'm not ordinarily a coffee fan - certainly not the way Kurt is - but even I had to admit the cappuccino was real good. It was smooth, and sweet, and it really did help to sober us all up a bit.

Although we prolly coulda walked, Jeremy decided to call for a taxi to take us back to the hotel. As it was pretty late, it was probably a good idea.

By the time we got back to our suite, Sam and I were too drunk to mess around. That meal was one I'll never forget.

The next morning, however, I didn't feel so good. I had a headache and I felt kinda sick. Sam wasn't in any better condition, either. I guess we both had hangovers. Cliff was in the worst shape of any of us, and Brad was hardly sick at all, but we weren't gonna waste the day, no matter what. At breakfast, we all drank a ton of tea, and that really seemed to help settle our stomachs and to ease the pounding in our heads.

We spent all of Friday at Saint Peter's Square and the Vatican Museum. Man, that museum is sick. Even I had to admit it was really something. It wasn't as big as the Louvre in Paris, but it was big enough, and there were really a lot of cool things to see in it. We really did need the whole day, just for the museum.

The real highlight was seein' the Sistine Chapel. I'd seen pictures of the murals that Michelangelo painted there, but they're so much more real in person. Sam went nuts. The one thing that surprised me, though, was how small the Sistine Chapel is. It's beautiful, but tiny.

We had lunch at the museum, and dinner that evening was at a much more modest trattoria. The food was good, though.

Saturday was our last full day in Rome, and we still had a lot to see. Sam had a long list of museums he wanted to go to, but there was no way we could possibly see them all. There were also a lot of other sights we needed to get to, like several famous fountains and the world famous Spanish Steps.

We ended up visiting a couple branches of the Roman National Museum, which I guess has one of the most extensive collections of archeology in the world, and a couple of smaller art galleries, and spent the rest of the time seeing the beautiful sights of Rome itself.

Shopping? There was certainly no time for shopping, thank God!

The next mornin', we got up early, got our breakfast and the four of us younger kids took a taxi to the airport while our older brothers boarded a train to Barcelona. It was kinda sad saying bye to David, Jeremy, Trevor and Kurt. When they came back, they'd be livin' in Boston. We wouldn't be seein' them as much.

Man, checkin' in for an international flight in Europe is a lot more complicated than it is in the U.S. Sure enough, Sam's bags weighed too much, and we had to quickly repack all our stuff, right there in the airport, puttin' a few of the books he bought in each of our suitcases. The airport was pure chaos, and we had to wait in long lines forever, multiple times before we even got to Security.

Finally we were able to board our jumbo jet for the flight to Chicago. Again, we were in business class, but this time business class was on the first floor, rather than bein' upstairs the way it was on our flight to Paris.

We all kept ourselves busy on the flight home by makin' use of the built-in entertainment system. I watched a couple of movies and I played some video games with Sam. It was a much longer flight than the one to Paris, and by the time we arrived in Chicago, we were all really tired.

Goin' through customs in Chicago was a lot more involved than in Paris, too. We all had to fill out these forms listin' everythin' we bought in Europe, and the customs agent went over them in detail, too. Eventually, he let me go right on through.

Finally, we exited the customs area through a set of doors and found Trevor's parents waitin' for us. After hugs all around, we gathered up our luggage and our packages and got in the Austins' Escalade for the long drive home.

Gettin' outta Chicago took forever, but once we left the Indiana Toll Road behind, traffic smoothed out and we all drifted into a state of peaceful sleep. As I slept, I dreamt of Paris and Italy. It wasn't fun like Disney World last summer - it was the adventure of a lifetime with all my best friends. It was a trip I'd never forget because I shared it with my best friends - friends who cared so much for me - they were my brothers for life.

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of David of Hope in editing and Alastair in proofreading my stories, as well as Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting them.


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