Act III:

Races and Double-Crosses


Passo Lavazè

💔 💔 💔

Brian

. . . You deserve better. I cannot be what you need. I am too jealous, too afraid, and too careless. What we had, as wonderful as it was, should not be.

I can only poison you, my Brian. All who have tried to love me have ended in the same way. I do not want that for you. Please, be free of me.

Find the one you were meant for. This I beg of you.

Forget me.

Lumihiutale

“Signore, please to share my bread, si? You no look so very good!” The Italian accented voice is old and it is kindly, but it sounds so very distant. It sounds like it comes from another dimension . . .

. . . the dimension of the living.

“Grazie, Signora. Save it for yourself. I don’t need it.” I say hoarsely. I doubt she can believe me. I may very well need to eat. I haven’t in about three days. I don’t eat much anymore.

“Oh, but il mi giovane, I have more than plenty! You come my casa! I have make so good food! Anche, il miglior vino del Trentino e tale formaggio! Such will put the color back in your cheeks!” She is not what I typically think of as an Italian grandmother. No olive skin or black kerchiefs over her head and no Roman nose.

She has white hair, faded blue eyes, and ice-nipped pink cheeks of nearly transparent skin. She looks, kind of, German. She wears a fluffy dress with pale blue cross-hatching and lace. I’d never been to northern Italy before, so I had no idea what to expect. Everyone looks so pale and ghostly up here in these cold mountains. I should fit right in.

Not that I care. Nothing matters anymore. This is as unreal as that night I chased him back to my condo and read, for the first time, this letter that I now have memorized, but still read at least ten times a day. That’s down from a month ago . . . when I was reading it twenty times a day!

I try to smell the paper still hoping that I can get some last trace of his scent there. But, I must have breathed it all up a long time ago. The little bits of finger oil and epithelial cells that were once in this paper have all been worn away by my constant fondling, I’m sure.

The note will become worn through and crumble away soon. I may kill myself when that happens. My last artifact of what made my life worth living would be gone. Life would be pointless then.

Maybe it is pointless anyway. I am close to finding the man himself, now. Albert traced him here. I knew that Albert Cummings had been a detective for the SFPD for a long time, but I had no idea he was fucking Sherlock Holmes! He tracked him down, but it had taken a couple of months of sleuthing and Sabrina’s help.

So what if I find him? Will it change anything? Probably not, but at least I can give him a proper goodbye. Then I can go find a ski-lift somewhere and jump to my death. The thought of death brings me peace.

I can finally stop the gnawing anguish that has become my insides. The griping intestines, the nausea, the throbbing ache of the constant apple-sized lump caught in my throat. The pain of dried-up tear ducts worn out from overuse.

Snowflake has unmade me. I am no longer a man. I am dead inside. I just want him to see. I want him to know.

He also owes me the rest of my training. I don’t know if I even want it anymore, but it is an excuse to be here. One I can use. One to drive the point home . . . that this is all he is worth to me now! A teacher of a stupid sport most Americans are smart enough to shy away from! They shy away because it’s nothing but work and no fun!

Cross-country is a game of endurance. It’s a feat to accomplish due to its dullness and its pain. I have become a veteran of both in these the last few months. I persevere and I do so in pain. It is, as Snowflake called it, sisu.

Sisu!

The word he taught me is no longer a joke now. It is my reality. I persevere because I must. I persevere if only to avenge myself . . . or to see his beautiful face one last time!

Oh, my Snowflake! Why did you do this to me? I’ve torn myself to pieces searching for you! I’ve spent all I have! I’ve quit my internship and sold all my dreams just – to find you again!

I’ve hunted high and low just to be with you one more time before it all ends!

“Leave the man be, Mama. He lost his heart! Can you not see?” The elderly man sitting next to the elderly woman admonishes his wife. I hadn’t noticed him before. His broad cheeks, white beard, and hair call to mind pictures of Santa Claus from Coca-Cola bottles. His overalls and kerchief around his neck mark him as a man of the land. It doesn’t matter if you are from Texas or Italy, a man of the land is a man of the land.

“Oh, il povero bambino! But he is too handsome! What eh’stupid puttana would cast him aside, eh?” Mama asks her husband who attempts to shush her.

I look at them both.

“He loved me and then he ran away,” I say my truth in an attempt to dissuade the old couple from bothering me anymore.

“He was a very stupid little boy then! You find him and you tell him Mama Filippi thinks he is a’stupid!” Mama Filippi tells me with refreshing earnestness, wagging her finger for emphasis. Her husband nods in complete agreement.

I forget I am not in America. These people don’t care about my sexual orientation. My having a boyfriend is as natural for them as my having a girlfriend. It is disarming despite my bitterness.

“You are both too kind, but I know he’s not stupid. I know he’s . . . not that.” I say suppressing a crack in my voice as the apple caught in my throat gets bigger once more.

“Forse non è stupido, ma lui è sciocco.” Papa Filippi says. “No is eh’stupid, but maybe is a’foolish, no?” He clarifies.

I find myself smile despite myself and it seems to make my new adoptive Italian grandparents smile in turn.

“You need to smile again, Bambino. You face a’made for to smile! I can see il linee ridere. Please to come with us. You have far to go, yes?” Mama asks.

I am adopted I guess.

“Si. I have to go to the Sports Hotel in Passo Lavazè. That is where I have my reservation,” I answer. I expect another couple of hours on the bus. Things are slower up here.

“Ah, yes. It is near there I worked when young. Save bus dinare and allow me to take you, Giovanotto. We are of Varena. It is of the south of Passo Lavazè. I know where it is you want to go. You want the cross-country ski school there.” The Papa says with amazing discernment.

“How did you know that’s where I’d be going?” I ask, amazed and a little unnerved!

“You have the Nordic skis there, si? I have used for many years. I used teach the sport.” Papa says and I blink at him in amazement!

“HAHAHAHA! You think Papa always old fart. No always. Young I was. Strong! Virile!” He makes a muscle and his wife squeezes it affectionately.

I smile because indeed he reminds me of someone. A friend . . . or someone that used to be anyway.

“You remind me of my friend Victorio. He is like you say, though he sells suits.” I say remembering fondly happier times.

“Ah! Victorio, eh? He you e’stupid boyfriend? He must be of the Napoli. They so barbaro, eh. Bad news. Don’t like going down there. Smells of garlic and fish!” Papa holds his nose disapprovingly.

I chuckle.

“No. I don’t know what part of Italy his family comes from. He is Italian American is all I know. His last name is Camarada.” I say.

“Ah! Camarata! Fiorentinos. His family from Firenze. Florence!” Mama says brightly.

“Florence? Wow. I thought he’d be from Milan for sure with his suit-making and stuff.” I shrug.

“Meh. Milano overpriced and overrated. All good tailors come from Firenze. All good culture of Italy once come Firenze. Still best.” Papa says seemingly reminiscing about something.

“Is true.” Mama nods as she takes out something she looks like she’d been knitting. “This one for my bambina’s bambina’s bambina! Finest thread of Firenze. Veneto makes a’good, too. But, better of Firenze.”

It really is a beautiful work. She seems to be hand sewing a little gown of some kind. It must be taking her weeks if not months to do by hand! It is white and lacy and it looks like it might be a baptismal gown. I infer the child is not yet born.

“When is your great-granddaughter due, Mama?” I ask with real interest. The little joys of a simple family are things that I always secretly dreamed of, but could never have, for one reason or another. It is nice, sometimes, to live such a life vicariously through others like these two gentle people.

“Altri cinque mesi. Uh . . . five of months.” Mama smiles and nods with pride. Funny, she doesn’t try to break out a list of family photos. I wouldn’t have minded sharing them with her, but I guess they don’t do that sort of thing up here.

“Ah, acuto! Smart! You figure out our Sabrina no is yet born! You must be Doctor, Lawyer?” Papa asks . I am stunned by the name.

“S-Sabrina?” I ask avoiding the man’s question. Sabrina, he said that name! He said it was his Great Granddaughter! I know it is just a name and a popular one in some parts of the world, but why here and why now?

“You do not like of the name, Sabrina, Giovano?”

‘Papa’ asks rather pointedly.

“NO. No. I like it very much. It’s just that . . . It’s a name of someone I used to know who was . . . special. That’s all.” I say evasively trying hard not to cry again.

“Awww! But you too young to be so sad! I thought America happy place!” Mama says.

“Not always . . .” I say and look out the window as the bus starts to slow to a stop in the little town of Varena.

As I hesitate while the bus doors hiss open and I feel a gentle hand take my arm and attempt to lift me a bit.

“Come! Per favore! You need someone today. I can tell. Do this for Mama, no?” Mrs. Filippi asks with gentle care. I see a wisdom in those pale blue eyes that I’d never seen before in my life. The look of one older and wiser than me that actually gives a damn! What is more, she is right! I DO need someone today. As I get closer to Snowflake, the more my nerve goes away.

I could use a friend or two here. I have no more money. I hope these two don’t take offense to that. I have no money left. I spent it all getting here without thinking of anything more than seeing Snowflake one last time. Beyond that, I could see nothing.

We get out of the bus and I find that my legs are strangely weak from sitting for so long. They almost feel asleep except I don’t have pins and needles. At one point I nearly fall! What the hell? ‘Papa’ catches my arm before I go down all the way.

“Madonna, Giovanotto! You weak as a kitten? Now I look at you, you look like you are made of reeds! You are most unwell.” ‘Papa’ says to me and his pink mouth gapes a bit at me from under his white beard.

“How long ago you have the acqua?” With practiced hands, he feels my arms and around my neck and face. I wince as I’m not used to being manhandled like this except by . . . Snowflake during training!

“I don’t remember when I drank water last.” I shrug. I guess I have been thirsty, but for some reason, I just don’t care.

“You very dehydrated, Giovanotto. Your muscles are spasmodico. This is bad! How you get like this, even cross-country skier and all?” ‘Papa’ continues to examine me like he knows what he’s doing. He acts like he knows sports medicine!

“Eay! Portare l’acqua!” He calls to someone he seems to know, though perhaps everyone knows everyone in the little town. It doesn’t look very big at all.

Someone comes with a liter of the local gourmet bottled water. Instinctively, I grab it from ‘Papa’s’ hands, tear off the lid and begin guzzling it before I know what I’m doing!

“Easy, Giovanotto! Easy! You choke to your death taking it like that!” ‘Papa’ admonishes me, but I only slow down a little. How on earth did I let myself get THIS dehydrated and not know it?

“Ah, I see many athletes like this. They break from conditioning and forget they need more of things than they used to. Affranto, heartbroken you are, but you must live! You not done yet, Giovanotto. So, come.” ‘Papa’ takes and supports me as he summons the same friend who brought water.

“Portate la vostra auto. Egli non può camminare. Grazie.” The friend nods, touches my hair gently seemingly examining me, and then goes for his car. The little car can fit the three of us so ‘Papa’ puts me in the back, but he stays behind.

“I must help Mama a casa, Giovanotto. Romeo, he will take you to our villetta. Prenditi cura di lui, Romeo!” Papa admonishes Romeo, who looks to be in his early twenties with curly light brown hair and big beautiful light brown eyes. He looks the part of a Romeo.

“Si, Papa!” Romeo salutes ‘Papa’ and off we go. He does not immediately speak to me figuring I don’t know Italian very well being a foreigner, but he hums something that sounds like an operatic ballad or folk tune of some kind. So, even though we don’t talk, Romeo manages, somehow, to remain upbeat and companionable. He then starts to look back at me with a bright toothy smile and says something happily in Italian to me. He seems ok with the fact I don’t answer him at all.

Before long we arrive at ‘Papa’s’ villetta which I quickly gather is a small villa. It looks like a regular-sized house with ‘chalet-ness’ written all over it. It has a peaked roof, dark wood latticework over raw stone, yellow stucco, and white cross-hatched windows with flower boxes under them. The boxes still have cascades of pink and red flowers of some kind coming from them.

It’s weird, but I am reminded of those ‘bavarian’ looking buildings at Disneyland with the flowers and the Dutch roofs. It is a very comforting looking place and it reminds me that I am in ski country.

Quickly, Romeo parks, opens his door, and rushes around to get my door. He offers one of his muscular arms to help me up. To my partial shame, I’m very thankful for it. I seem to need it to get out of the car with any kind of dignity.

“Molto buono il mio bel signore. Se si unitevi a me nella casa.” Romeo blurts in rapid-fire Italian. I would be hard-pressed to decipher that with my limited language skills! By his actions, I get the gist of what he wants as he guides me gently by the arm and with his hand supporting my back rather like he might do with his grandma. We head toward the rather medieval-looking arched doorway complete with iron cross-beams and hobnails.

Holy fuck, Snowflake! What the fuck have you done to me! I can hardly walk on my own. What was I thinking coming way up here in my condition? I should have been in the gym every day instead of at home with my bottle of Maker’s Mark.

To my surprise, Romeo merely pushes the door aside on its well-oiled hinges. It makes not a sound as we enter. I am amazed that Romeo can just push the totally unlocked doors open and enter the chalet. It’s completely open to the public! Mama and Papa could be stolen blind or worse!

“Mamma e Papà, non hanno per bloccare le loro porte. Nessuno chiude le porte qui a Varena.” Romeo shrugs, figuring that explains it all. I’m sure it does . . . whatever he said.

“Grazie mille, Romeo.” I thank him to which he grins wide, bows, and charmingly says: “Sei molto benvenuto, Bello!” He then winks at me and closes the door behind him as he leaves.

Boy, us queens are all over, ya know?

I look around and see the place is very well kept. It is almost lavish in its decor. I have a few other gay-boy stereotypes to add to my drinking mixed drinks with a straw. I love tasteful decor! I like authenticity and attention to detail. I suppose I could always become an interior decorator if I never get back to the doctor gag I was on.

It is then that I get that sinking sick feeling again. The feeling, suddenly, like someone has died and I realize that person is . . . me! Remembering that I no longer want to be a doctor just drives home the fact that I have lost the will to live. I have no future as a doctor or as an interior decorator. I have no future at all now. Snowflake had my future and promptly threw it away! How did I ever manage to give my entire soul to another man? I was never that stupid before!

I suddenly start shaking and I become nauseated. I rush over to find the kitchen sink which is bright steel and finely polished. With added sadness, I desecrate that beautiful polish job with my barf. Fortunately, for the sink anyway, all that comes out of me is some discolored water. Then I dry-heave and cough.

I start to feel very weak and manage to catch myself on the beautiful rose marble counter before I fall down.

“Oh my God . . . I really AM dying here! Ohhhh,” I moan to the empty open kitchen.

“Madonna! Giovanotto! Qual è il problema? Sei malato?” Just then Papa comes through the door and sees me in my distress and rushes to my aid. He takes me by my arm and back and leads me to the big overstuffed chair next to the rock fireplace.

Let no one ever tell you that there are no angels in this world because there are. Funny-looking old people with hearts as big as the mountains: that’s what they look like!

“Ahhh! Troppo terribile! Mio povero ragazzo! Dobbiamo avere vino e spezie caldi! Madre di Dio!” Mama, seeing my condition, rushes into the kitchen. She ignores the horrible things I’ve done to her sink. Instead, she throws open cabinets, extracts jars of mysterious things, and gathers a bottle of wine from a beautifully made wine cabinet that looks like it’s been hand-carved by elves.

Papa lights a fire in the fireplace with the precision and mastery of a scoutmaster using only wood, paper, and matches. The warmth begins to soothe me. I didn’t know I’d gotten so cold. It must be why I am shivering so.

I smell mulled wine and figure that’s what Mama is preparing. She brings a hand-knitted throw and tucks it around me. Unfortunately, the design on it is inevitably . . . a huge snowflake. It’s finally all I can take. Adding water to my system was maybe not such a good idea.

I begin to weep as I loving touch the white embroidered snowflake against the blue blanket.

“Oh, hey! What’s the matter for you? Why you cry?” Papa turns on me rather crossly not understanding things and not used to seeing a full-grown man crying in his wife’s best quilt.

“I-It-It’s a . . . Snowflake.” My shuddering breaths manage to get the strangled words out.

“Wha’? You no a-like-ed the snowflakes?” Papa comes by me to rest a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“Wha’? He no likes the snowflakes? Is my best one!” Mama comes back a bit confused, but she takes and hands me a beautifully enameled German stein full of spicy hot wine. Despite myself, the smell is intoxicating and manages to bring my tears down to sniffles. Mama takes the stein so I won’t spill it and puts it on the mantelpiece above the fireplace.

“No . . . Mama. I actually . . . love Snowflakes. I love him . . .” But the words strangle away again.

“. . . Very much!” I break into sobs that wrack me. I haven’t allowed myself to grieve like this. But now, because I am so close and because I can feel he is near, I feel the loss of him all the more sharply.

“You love . . . HIM?” Papa says like a lightning bolt just hit him. I clear my eyes enough to look up at the old man. Does he finally get who I am and will he now throw me out of his house after being so kind? Why not? What else should I expect?

“He loves who, Papa?” Mama asks and then recognition dawns on her too. I figured it was too much to expect that two members of an older generation from a conservative place like Northern Italy would suffer one of my kind for very long.

“Il Nevefiocco!” Papa says with wonder. I don’t know the word he speaks. I’m guessing it’s ‘Snowflake’ or something, but he says it like a name and not a thing. How could this be?

“Ooooh! Ciò ha senso!” Mama holds her chin and nods in appreciation of what her husband is talking about. I wish I could appreciate what her husband is talking about!

“What is a nevefiocco?” I hope they can translate.

“He is not a what, but a who,” Papa says as he sits across from me in the opposite wing chair. Mama retrieves the stein of mulled wine and returns it to my hand. Though it is in my hand I am too dazed to do anything about it.

“A . . . Who? You’ve . . . SEEN him? You KNOW him?” I almost spill my wonderfully smelling drink and find I have to put it on the floor so I won’t spill it.

“Si. Why should I not? He is my student after all.” Papa says as if I should know such a thing. I’m shellshocked and my mouth gapes open at Papa!

“Is true. Papa taught Il Nevefiocco all he knows! He should have skied for Italy more than for his homeland.” Mama says rather derisively, but I am barely making sense of her words.

“You! You were Snowflake’s coach?” I want to stand and look at Papa Filippi more closely. It seems impossible that the rotund little man should be able to teach anyone anything athletic.

“Ha! Do not be so surprised Giovanotto. I can show my trophies and medals. I won a lot when I was a young man too. Even Olympics. First bronze for Italy in winter sports.” Papa beams proudly.

“It is why I can afford this pretty chalet for my lady and I and Romeo too.” Papa’s mystery only deepens.

“I need to see Snowflake. I need to tell him some things. Important things.” My attitude must darken because both older Italians look at me suspiciously.

“Giovanotto, talk good. Anything else, no so very too good. This is not Sicily. We do not do vendetta up here. We do things civilized ways and legal ways.” Papa warns me but I think he misunderstands me.

“Wha? NO! No. I would . . . never! Not to him! Not to anyone!” I feel the pain of unshed tears trying to well up in me again. The very idea of my ever harming Snowflake for real is insulting and horrifying. These months, I will not lie, I’ve thought about trying to get back at him in some way, but not unto death! Not even with physical pain. Not really! I love him far too much for anything like that. I just want him to KNOW what he’s done to me!

“Bene! I am glad of that! Now, drink you wine! It make you stop with this weeping! No more weeping! I cannot bring you up to the ski school crying like school girl! I will be laughing stock!” Papa commands like the gruff but loving father I never had.

I do as told and pick up Mama’s concoction and take a sip. The look of misery on my face must transform into one of sheer delight!

“Oh, WOW!” The surprised look of joy on my face just makes Mama light up like a Christmas tree!

“I told you! Best of wine in all of Trentino!” She takes her seat between us on her finely carved rocking chair.

The warm wine, with all its sweet and sour notes mixed with the soothing power of cinnamon and anise, just unwinds me. It is a magic elixir! Bottled happiness!

“Oh . . . It’s sooo good, Mama Filippi. You are so kind to make this for me!” I thank her in all sincerity.

“Oh, Prego, Bambino. No have had giovani to share with since Leonardo and Kristoff left for Firenza. Papa only like beer.” Mama says wistfully.

“Meh. Vino is for women, children, and giovani with broken hearts. Beer is for men! Prost!” Somehow, Papa has managed to conjure a bottle of beer from nowhere and downs it in a gulp.

After a while of peaceful chatting and sumptuous sipping, I find the wine does its magic. I fall asleep in the chair.

I awaken to the amazing smells of things being cooked. I lift my head and find a pillow has been placed behind my neck so that I wouldn’t get a stiff neck. Who are these people? Who thinks of doing things like that?

Parents, that’s who. These two old-timers are Mama and Papa for real. They seem to ooze home, hearth, and kindness. I wonder again if angels are real and if they either guide people like this into our lives or if these people are in FACT angels themselves!

I hear the clanking of dishes and turn to see ‘the parents’ setting up. It is dark out already and I can feel a vague chill around the edges from the falling mountain night.

Mama looks over to the chair picking up on movement.

“Ah! Il principe si risveglia!” Mama blurts good-naturedly. I guess I’m a ‘prince’ now.

“Era ora! He asleep three hour! Come, Giovanotto. Take cena. You need to eat. You are weak as kitten!” Papa comes and helps me up out of the chair with the Snowflake blanket still wrapped around my shoulders. I want to refuse as I’m not hungry and I’m scared of getting the not-so-dry-heaves again. But, as I near the table, the wonderful homey smells make my stomach grumble LOUDLY and, at last, my remaining survival instincts kick in.

I see a big bowl with a thick gravy-like sauce with what look like mazos balls, but with more ‘stuff’ in them.

“Canederli in goulash,” Mama says with pride. I am fascinated by the food. I’d never seen anything like it before really. These ‘candederlies’, or whatever, are more robust than the little cracker softballs they put in chicken soup at Steinbrenner’s deli.

She fishes some of the dumplings out of the bowl with a liberal amount of stew and puts it in the ornate Venetian glass bowl in front of me. The smell wafting up from my dish makes my mouth water despite myself.

I reach for my silverware and Papa cuts me off!

“No! Grace always first! No stealing food from God! Always ask and thank Him polite!” Papa admonishes me roundly as if I am an eight-year-old.

I fold my hands and remain silent while Papa makes his invocations in Italian. It’s kind of a beautiful little thing to do. I don’t hold much credence with it, but it’s refreshing to see this old respect paid to food if for no spiritual reason.

They cross themselves and begin slowly cutting and forking. I try to be delicate too, but in all honesty, something wolf-like and survivalist takes me over and I find myself wolfing down the food.

“Made Di Dio! You eat like a German! Rallenta! C’è più da fare!” Mama says to me with a touch of fear in her voice.

“This what happens when you starve il giovani too very much. They become animals. Poor kid. Let him eat. Manners we can teach later.” Papa says with a gentle sadness that seems to come from a long distant memory of difficult times.

It is not until I dig in that I realize just how very hungry my body has gotten. Losing Snowflake is REALLY physically killing me if I can’t even motivate myself to eat when I am literally starving to death!

This is concerning. Again, I wonder how I could have given away my very life to this fickle Finn! I’ve got to wonder how he is faring and if it is any better than I am. To be honest, if I find him and I see he is just as healthy and happy as ever, I’ll know that I’ve been played as a fool. It will be a good thing I didn’t pack a gun for this trip! Texans have a way with this sort of shit, ya know!

“Molto triste! So bello, but to be so left in this way. It is a sin, Papa . . . ” Mama says as she looks on me with profound pity. I try to ignore it, but I must seem like such a hopeless case.

“We will go in the morning. Giovanotto and I will go up to Passo Lavazè and find Nevefiocco. Ripareremo questo. I have a good feeling Nevefiocco no doing so very good either.” Papa says, mysteriously.

I look at him questioningly, but Papa returns to his meal and is silent through the rest of it. Mama brings out cheese, fruit, and more wine for dessert and I eat that too. By the end of our meal, I feel SO much different! I feel like I am capable of going on.

I feel like I am ready to accompany Papa Filippi to ski school and face my Snowflake once and for all. Whatever will be, will be. Que sera, sera! Better to live in the truth of it and move on then shrivel and die wondering.

A strangely peaceful night passes for me. I sleep a real night’s sleep maybe for the first time in weeks. I am allowed to sleep in the bedroom of one of Papa’s sons who was in Florence.

💔💔

It seems like I just closed my eyes when I open them again and see morning light streaming in through the curtained window. I find myself rise out of the comfy bed almost against my will, but with a strange need to look out the window at a new day.

A new day . . .

As I pad over to the window, I can feel the vague chill still hanging around the edges of the room. It must have been a pretty chilly night. When I peel back the curtains, the light of the sun, bright as it is, feels so wonderful on my face. I feel alive in a way I haven’t since that first night with the one I am going to see today. My fear and dread of doing this yesterday are completely gone now. I am excited to see Snowflake again. I honestly . . . can’t wait!

I focus my eyes to see out of the window for the first time, allowing my vision to adjust to the brightness. As things clear, I find myself suck my breath in and hold it!

The vision before me is like something out of a fairytale or The Sound of Music! Before me stretches a huge rolling dale of the greenest grass. Upon the edges of the dale are little high peaked houses and on the grass are little black and white dots that move about. I think they are Holstein milk cows in the distance. At the far edge of the dale, not even made hazy by atmosphere due to the ultra-clear mountain air, is a dark green coniferous forest. This forest of dark green then reaches further back and rises into the majestic snow-covered peaks of a young jagged alpine mountain!

The sun seems to shine brighter up here which makes all the colors more vibrant somehow. Also, I’m going to see the one I love today! Love makes everything brighter!

He can’t have meant those things he wrote in that letter. He must have gotten scared about something. Maybe something stupid like wanting to have sex with the Norwegian hunk or seeing me and Jimmy ‘play’ as Jimmy calls it. I told him it was meaningless. But, I guess it wasn’t meaningless for Snowflake. There is a part of him, I guess, that I will never fathom. He talks of his worldliness in Finland, but then he gets so jealous and guilty!

Whatever. I’m going to see my Snowflake today and that’s that!

It must have been the food, drink, and rest that finally got me to snap out of this depression I’ve been in for so long. Despite myself, I tracked Snowflake here. Despite myself, I dragged myself across miles and miles and miles of roads to reach this place. Now, like I was meant to find him, I befriend none other than Snowflake’s own Olympic coach!

None of this can be coincidence. It is like that first time I saw Snowflake in Tahoe. It was like that feeling I had that something was calling me to go there to find something ‘more’. Snowflake was the ‘more’. Now . . . I have come to reclaim what is mine!

No matter what it takes.

“Are you up yet, Giovanotto? It is time for the prima colazione. Wash, brush, do what you must, but then come to eat. We have a long trip today.” Papa yells at me through the door . . . just like the papa I never had!

“Yessir!” I find myself saying instinctively. It comes out before I catch myself. Where, on earth, did THAT come from?

I shower with a honeysuckle smelling soap-oil and then brush my teeth with a powdery toothpaste with a German name. Somehow, it makes my teeth gleam!

I dress in the clothes I had from yesterday. They aren’t clean, but they are all I have. I come out into the common room that is the open kitchen, living room, fireplace, and dining room combined.

I sit in the place next to Papa. The ‘breakfast’ is a little exotic for me. Never having been to much of Europe before, I’m not accustomed to the differences in eating styles between where I am and back home in America.

Mama plops a big steaming bowl of lentil soup in front of me and then some freshly baked bread and butter. I must look surprised.

“What? You no like’a zuppa di lenticchie? I use speck! Taste good! Try it with the pane! Italians have teach America how to eat for since Tommaso Jefersonna!” Mama proclaims proudly. I can’t disagree! If it wasn’t for Italian food, I’d probably have starved to death in San Francisco.

As it turns out, soup for breakfast may be my new thing! It was a perfect meal. I hardly needed any coffee to feel ready to go! The addition of the bacon-like speck in the soup was a stroke of genius! I’ll have to see if I can find some of this speck stuff in the Italian markets back home.

When breakfast is done and much of the soup, bread, and fruit at the table are gone, Papa moves me out to his little truck.

“She’s e’small, but I had her for since the 80s. Never broked down.” Papa pats the steering wheel of the bare-bones vehicle. I find it strange to be sitting on what amounts to a bedspread covering bare springs.

Rickety as she is, Papa’s little busted-up joint makes the grades up to Passo Lavazè from Varena without much pain. The little engine purrs along. I know, because my deathly silence in the cab of the truck allows me to hear every little nuance of Papa’s truck, rusty squeaks and all.

“You nervous? Why you nervous? Nevefiocco should be the one nervous. When I seeing him, I whack him good! No good what he do to you! No!” Papa remarks irritably and then slaps his steering wheel.

“Please, Mr. Filippi. don’t do that. It’s going to be hard for him to see me here. Probably as hard as my seeing him. We shouldn’t make things any more weird than they’ll already be.” I find my voice is small in the cab like I’m daring to say something hard for someone else to understand.

“Ah, but you no know Nevefiocco as I do. He need a good thwacking sometime! He very testardo . . . er, stubborn. He is very strong in his body and his will is like iron, but, his brain is like’a the concrete!” Papa admonishes me while knocking on his head.

I figure I know Snowflake better than anyone and, in all honesty, so does Papa, it would seem. It’s true, ‘Nevefiocco’ can have a head of granite. Sabrina warned me as much.

“Just . . . Please?” I plead.

“Yeah, ok. Yeah, yeah. But you see, like Cemento Romano! Yeah.” Papa goes on and then we both fall silent for a time.

After about an hour of driving up and up to where my ears pop me into near deafness, we finally reach Passo Lavazè. It is a lot more Spartan than I thought it would be. Varena was much more inviting. Passo Lavazè is very ‘utilitarian’ though it still shares the common ‘Alpine’ architecture of other places in this part of Italy.

We come to a crossroads in front of a small lake that looks like it is trying to dry up. Why, of all the beautiful places in this area did Snowflake choose this place to hide?

We pull up to a large alpine-peaked building with a big sign saying “Sports Hotel Lavazè” in big yellow letters in English. For some reason, the place gives me the feeling like it should have been in The Shining. Actually, it is the feeling of dread returning to me as I wake up to the fact that I am imminently going to have to confront Snowflake for the first time in months.

Papa pops out of his truck and waddles over to open the door for me. His white beard shines so brightly in the sun that it sets off the redness of his old, weathered face.

“Andiamo! Let’s go!” He helps me down out of the cab since he’s still not sure how steady on my feet I am. I appreciate it because I’m not too sure either. My nerves are suddenly making me that ‘weak kitten’ again.

I suppress a shiver due to the chilly air as we walk over and through the front double doors into the hotel’s receiving area. A pretty girl stands behind a dark wooden counter looking like a little blonde Heidi all grown up. When she starts talking in Italian it’s a little disconcerting for some reason. I expect Austrian German to start coming out from behind her pretty little lips.

“Nevefiocco. Portatelo qui. Voglio vederlo. ” Papa says and the girl politely shakes her head and says something that makes me think Snowflake isn’t here. I feel a great well of disappointment rise in me, but also a great deal of relief too. I feel the need to sit down because of the opposing nature of these feelings.

A little table and two nicely carved wood chairs sit next to a picture window looking out over the last few flower boxes left blooming there.

“You ok, Giovanotto?” Papa shuffles over to me and rests a heavy hand on my shoulder. I assure him I’m ok, just tired from the trip. But, this seems to set Papa off again.

“Nevefiocco non è mai troppo occupato per vederlo! Invia per lui o lo porto qui stesso! Dai!” He waves his hands in the air and raises his voice in a big staccato bluster. I smile despite myself. There’s something about this man that is so endearingly loud!

“Si, Maestro! Mi dispiace! Un momento!” ‘Heidi’ runs off apparently to get her boss or whatever. I continue to focus on the flowers outside and how they wave in the cold breeze. Doing this helps me in not focusing on my nerves. Dr. Klein, the resident Psychiatric Neurologist back at the Institute, called the technique ‘Mindfulness’. It has worked for me a lot for the last little while.

In fact, I get so lost being ‘Mindful’ that I don’t immediately register the soft shuffle of heavy boots and then their abrupt scrape as their owner comes to a sudden screeching halt.

“B-Brian?” The voice is like cold water hitting me suddenly. I wasn’t expecting him so soon! I am not prepared!

I turn and at first he is hard to recognize, but the patterns of love in my eyes reconstruct him as I once knew him. Then again, I’m amazed at what stands before me now. I am astonished at what a few short months can do to a person. Despite myself, my heart squeezes in worry. He has let himself go . . .

“Oh . . . Wh-what are you ~cough~ doing here? H-how did you find me?” He says in a voice a bit huskier than I remember and with a deep rattling cough that scares me a little.

His face is puffier than I remember it and much redder around the cheeks and nose. His once beautiful eyes now look like two pissholes in the snow as my dad used to say, so bloodshot and red-ringed that they look like two open wounds in his head.

He’s gained a bit of weight, though, I’m sure the muscles are still there behind it all. He seems pudgier than I remember like someone puffed him up with too much air. It looks more like bloat than fat, honestly. Frankly, he looks ill and I recognize the kind of ill it is: alcoholism. He’s deep into a binge and has been for a while now.

Apparently, I’m no sight for sore eyes myself because I see the same look of concern cross his half-inebriated face. I must look as bad if not worse.

We’ve done this to each other or rather . . . he has done this to us both!

The bitterness returns in a sudden flash and I can’t contain it. I just can’t hold it in check anymore, just like the vomit from yesterday. It’s been too hard for too long and I’ve never been this hard up before. So, I reach into my pocket and find my precious piece of paper there. I crush the note into a ball in my hand and then I take it out and toss it at Snowflake’s shoddy boots. It was his note, after all. He should have it back!

“You need to explain some shit to me, ‘Nevefiocco,’ and you need to do it RIGHT NOW!” I say with an unexpected angry sob that I can’t help. Neither can I help the hot tear that trickles down my cheek as I say it.

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