Hello, my dear readers,
A few of you had been pointing out the formatting issues my first few chapters had and I again, apologize for that! It was an embarrassing moment for me to realize I seriously forgot some formatting rules over the years...*covers face* I looked that topic up and opened up some of my books and was like, "Oh...OH!" So...I tried to fix that problem in this chapter as best as I could and hope your reading experience will be better now. Anyway, please let me know if this is better now and if there are still things that I could improve :) I might edit the formatting in the first 3 chapters one by one eventually as well.
Aaaand last but not least, if you enjoyed this chapter, leave a like and a comment. Or not :D just kidding. But I would be happy to hear your feedback nonetheless.
Oh and of course, as always, have your Italian fun fact!
Fun Fact number 4. (the first thermometer was designed by Italian inventor Santorio Santorio)
It was early noon. Giulia, Alberto, and Luca were on their way into the center of the town to sign up for the senior Porto Rosso Cup. As the trio crossed the street, they came across a tail of children and young teens. Remembering, all three smiled fondly.
"Man, it feels like forever since we participated at the children's cup!" Alberto shifted his arms behind his back as he walked.
"Oh yeah, feels weird actually. It's not that long ago yet still ..." Giulia tilted her lips.
"What really gets me is how small they all are. I mean, did we really use to be that short?" Luca lifted one brow.
"Hey, I was never short!" blurted Alberto.
"But shorter than you are now. I was short!" Luca gestured with his hand to a wooden pillar. "See, I used to reach up till here, now I'm here!"
"Guys, it's scientifically proven, that an average human grows until their eighteenth or twentieth birthday. That means you two have most likely reached your full height by now!" Giulia explained.
"Yeah, only that we are no humans!" Alberto objected.
"So Seafolk grows longer?" Giulia tilted her head in curiosity, "how come I don't know that yet?"
"As far as I know, Seafolk grows until they've reached their mid-twenties." Luca puckered his lips as he thought. "That also includes tail length, teeth, claws, backfins..."
"Wait, your teeth grow? Like, you already have razors in your mouth, what is there to grow? Sabers?" Giulia twisted her face.
"I already have my sabers! Look!" Alberto gulped water from his bottle and opened up his mouth in front of his sister, who yelped.
"Gah! Would you stop doing that!" she snapped.
"Luca, look how awesome my teeth are!" the blonde turned to his best friend who, unimpressed, shoved him at the shoulder.
"I know what your teeth look like Berto. Also, I have teeth myself. Besides, I'm not a dentist!" he said.
"Dentist?" Alberto frowned.
"Yeah, dentist!" Giulia replied, "you know, that person who regularly checks your teeth?"
"Uh..." Alberto seemed to get a bit nervous.
"Wait...haven't you ever been to the dentist? Like... didn't Papa sent you there?" Giulia crossed her arms. As her brother pressed his lips together, it dawned on her. "Alberto...Don't tell me you never went again after your first visit back in 1970." He still didn't answer, his lips puckered up and she could clearly see him becoming uncomfortable. "Alberto..."
"Ok, ok! I didn't go! It's freaking scary alright? They put you on that weird chair and this big light above you and then all those horrifying steel things that sting and poke you! And those loud vibrating ones are the worst! I was terrified!" Alberto wildly gestured while Giulia suppressed a laugh.
"Oh yeah...how could I ever forget? You panicked so bad, the water sprayer went off and turned you half into your sea form. Then those poor dental nurses tried to calm you down. Your tail smashed the drill to the ground, which scared you even more, so you flailed around like a scared cat. They had to hold you down and you only calmed after Papa promised you to buy you as much gelato as you wanted for a whole week."
Alberto shuddered. "Don't remind me! I had nightmares for months!"
"It really was that bad?" Luca tried not to snicker.
"It was that bad!" Giulia nodded. "So what? You told Papa you're going and then you never went?" she chuckled.
"He never found out, did he? Besides, I've got great teeth!" Alberto crossed his arms expressively.
"But it's important to get them checked!" Luca added, "you could get cavities. Sugar does that. And we do eat more candy and sweet stuff since we're living here."
"I know that too smart brain! I brush my teeth every night and morning. Sometimes I even floss! Can you believe that!" Alberto rolled his eyes.
"Ok, next time I'll come with you. It's not that scary actually. If your teeth are as well as you say, there's nothing to be scared of. The dentist won't have to do anything." Luca suggested.
"Oh no! No, no. I'm not going! Never in a million years!" Alberto shook his head violently.
"What about Silencio Bruno?"
"Not when it comes to this!" Alberto exclaimed, "no way I'm going!"
"I'll go first so you can see it's not dangerous ok? Giulia and I can even hold your hands!" Luca smiled.
Alberto had his lips pressed together even more. "I..."
"Alright Ragazzi, if you're not busy with talking about your teeth, I would like to remind you, that we're there!" Giulia gestured at the door that belonged to the small building that was responsible for the Porto Rosso Cups, festivals, and tourism information. "Got the money, Luca?"
"Yep! Got it!" he took the wallet out of his backpack and handed it to Giulia. Everyone had to pay their own part since they weren't children anymore.
"Ciao signora Marsigliese!" Giulia called as she opened the door and entered first. The boys followed as well with a friendly, "Ciao!"
"Ciao Giulia, Alberto. Oh, and Luca!" the brunette smiled. "I assume you want to participate this year?"
"Yes, we wanted to check what's in it this year!" the red-haired replied.
"Of course, here you go!" signora Marsigliese handed Giulia a paper sheet.
Alberto and Luca stepped next to Giulia and looked at it over her shoulders. On the paper were listed all rules and activities that were to be done in the triathlon. It started with a running race then swimming from the main beach to the northern bay. Then, a parkour through the woods with added difficulties that consisted of a riddle that required mastering different tasks that would get you forward, followed by climbing. Then a cycling race to the cliffside with an ending race swim back to the main beach.
"Seems easy!" Alberto shrugged his shoulders.
"Oh, I wouldn't be so sure!" Signora Marsigliese leaned forward on her desk, "as you know, each year it gets a bit more difficult. The swimming part requires strong swimming abilities since you'll come across waves and currents. It's the same with the running. You'll need great endurance. The parkour is most likely the hardest part. We choose difficult riddles. And, you do remember the rules about the swimming part!"
"Yeah, yeah. No Seafolk is allowed on the swimming parts. Ma certo!" Alberto leaned on the desk with a grin. "Only because everyone would lose against such amazing swimmers. And I am considered an incredibly good swimmer, even under my own kind!"
Giulia rolled her eyes with a slight shake of her head.
"You could change that rule up. Make Seafolk race against each other!" Alberto suggested.
"But that would still be unfair against all the other participants that are human, Alberto." Signora Marsigliese rose a brow, "no matter how you turn it, sea people will always be faster because it's their nature, their element. I'm sorry Ragazzo but you still have all the other parts."
"Alright, I get it. But Giulia here is a very awesome swimmer too. At least she became one. Compared to Seafolk that is." Alberto smirked and wrapped an arm around his sister's shoulders who blushed slightly.
"Is that true? You practiced your fear of heights and waves?" signora Marsiglise eyed the red-haired with suspicion.
"Eh..." Giulia furrowed her brows nervously.
"Pffft, yeah, of course, she did! She's awesome! We'll practice even more! You'll see!" Alberto pulled his sister, who grinned uncomfortably, even closer.
Signora Marsigliese sighed, "well, I hope you haven't forgotten about your archenemy. He's won the senior cup more than once and as far as I'm concerned, he's not up for losing this year either!"
Alberto and Luca groaned in unison while Giulia face palmed herself.
"Did you have to bring that up?" Alberto nagged.
"Well, we're not keen on losing either! Right boys?" Giulia turned around, fire in her red-brown eyes.
Luca furrowed his brow in worry, "Uh, I thought we agreed on doing it for fun this year. No pressure and no competition against Ercole."
"Yeah, we did say that, but we also agreed on participating with full energy and heart. Of course, we want to win if we're going to participate!" Giulia gestured.
"You're getting upset Giulia..." Luca objected gently.
"I am not upset!" she crossed her arms reluctantly, "I am just eager for the competition!"
Luca didn't seem to fully buy it but he decided to let it go. "Ok." he sighed.
"So are you guys participating as a team again?" signora Marsigliese opened the drawer that held all the entry forms and placed three of them on the desk.
"Are we?" Alberto looked at his sister and then at Luca.
"Giulia?" Luca tilted his head.
The red-haired took a deep breath. Reading over the rules and activities once more. It wouldn't be easy. Or at least, they should be prepared for it to become hard. As much as she hated to admit it. The fact that they didn't train for a whole year and hadn't participated last year, threw them back. And Ercole wasn't eight times champion for no reason. He was a great athlete, if she liked it or not and he wasn't an easy opponent. He never was and as long as they would participate, they would have to face him.
"Giulia?" this time it was signora Marsigliese, who snapped her out of her trance. "Are you participating or not?"
"We are!" Giulia took out the money and placed it on the desk.
"Good, here are the entry forms. the security rules and information in case of emergencies or if you can't participate because of sickness or other serious reasons." Signora Marsigliese shoved the papers to the trio, who took them.
After a few minutes, everything was written down and double-checked. Signora Marsigliese checked them for a third time as well, found it all to be correct, and then placed the stamp and her signature on each of the papers. "Everything seems fine." she said, "well then, good time practicing and preparing!"
"Grazie, we'll do our best!" Luca replied, causing Signora Marsigliese to smile. "A dopo!" she lowered her head again to go through some more paperwork.
"I can't believe it, we're really doing it!" Luca grinned openly.
"Yeah, this will be amazing! And a lot of fun!" Alberto agreed.
"And boys, no competition against Ercole! We do this for fun. Promise?" Giulia held her hand out.
"No Ercole! Just us! Promise!" Luca and Alberto placed their hands on top of Giulias.
"Great!" she giggled in excitement, "since the parkour will be in the forest, we can combine our hiking trips with training. And our sailing trips with swimming. No pressure. I can't wait!"
"Yeah, this will be the best summer so far!" Alberto declared.
"Definitely!" Luca agreed.
Happy, eager, and full of anticipation the three walked the street down towards the port center. Suddenly, Luca stopped. "Uh...guys...I think I forgot my backpack!"
"Are you serious?" Giulia opened her mouth, "the building is literally all the way back up that hill and it's getting hot!"
Luca's expression changed into that of an abashed puppy. "I'm sorry...I was so excited and we just ran out so fast..."
"Hey, it's alright, let's go back. No problem!" Alberto was about to turn around.
"No, I run back on my own, you guys go ahead. Meet me at the gelateria. I'll hurry!" With that, Luca turned and dashed off.
"He's too cute to be upset with him!" Guilia smiled and shook her head.
"Depending on what he did, but yeah, I got you!" Alberto smirked as he watched his best friend disappear behind the next corner.
As told, Alberto and Giulia kept on walking towards the gelateria and past the fountain. Their happy mood, however, was about to change.
"Oh, look who's coming! Spewlia and her freak pet!"
"Oh, santo cielo...!" Giulia sighed in annoyance, "not today! Come on Al, let's go!"
Ercole gave it a mocking laugh, "Let me guess, you signed up? Che fantastico! So I can watch you lose?"
Giulia turned around, "I am not going to lose this year!" she growled, and furrowed her brows as the tall brunette came walking towards her and her brother.
"Si, si, chiaro. And then you vomit or you faint or you retreat like two years ago because you couldn't jump from the sixteen feet tower. Because you were too afraid. Not as brave as you pretend to be are you?"
"Ok, that's enough! Stop it, Ercole!" Alberto shoved his sister behind himself and straightened up protectively in front of her.
"Get out of the way freak boy, I'm not talking to you!" Ercole scoffed, "I'm talking to Spewlia!"
"For the last time, stop calling her that! Or else ..." Alberto glared at the brunette, tightening his fists.
"Or else what? What will you do? Eh? fish boy?"
"I don't care what you call me, but you leave my sister alone!" Alberto demanded.
"Your sister?" Ercole scoffed, "she's not your sister. You're not even human, how can she be your sister? Oh, wait, yeah, I forgot, freaks belong together!" Ecole laughed again.
"I mean it Ercole, do not call her names!" Alberto took a small step forward.
"Al, stop, he's not worth it!" Giulia gently tried to pull him back, "we don't have to put up with his!"
"No, this has been going on for way too long! I can't take it anymore!" he removed her arm.
"Yes, fish boy, better listen to Spewlia. You remember what happened each time you tried to cross me!" Ercole opened his arms, "so come on, try! I'd be delighted to finish you off!" and his tone became seriously low. Right at that moment, Luca came around the corner, closing his backpack.
"Guys...you won't believe..." he stopped, looking from one to the other in confusion. Ercole turned his head and straightened back up again.
"Ey, Piccoletto! I was wondering where you'd been hiding."
Luca frowned deeply. Somehow he'd already counted on coming across him but since this day had begun so great, he didn't want to spend his energy in fighting the young adult. In general, he never wanted to fight him. It was exhausting and unnecessary.
"Leave them alone Ercole!" he declared.
"Aww, adorable. Are you threatening me too? If anything, you'll kill me with your stench!" Ercole waved his hand.
"Shut up!" Alberto suddenly snapped, "don't you dare harass us any longer!"
"Oh ho, look who's getting angry!" Ercole lifted his hands in amusement. "delightful! Come on, punch me if you dare!"
The muscles on Alberto's jaw tightened while he bit his teeth together. He could already feel the anger boil up in him.
"What happened?" Luca hurried to Giulia's side.
"Ercole is provocing Alberto, again!"
"Yeah, I got that. Wait, let me handle this!" Luca carefully placed his hand on Alberto's shoulder, "hey, Berto, come on, it's ok! Let's just leave!"
"No Luca, it's not ok! It's never been ok!" Alberto removed Lucas's hand as well, "I am sick and tired of this jerk running around like he owns all Italy and treating us like trash!"
"Then just ignore him! We're better than that! Silencio Bruno, remember?" Luca smiled, "please, Berto..."! Finally, Alberto dropped his shoulders and relaxed.
"But..." the blonde looked at his best friend whose expression was pleading. "Fine!" he sighed and turned, "Andiamo!"
"Hah! I knew it!" Ercole snickered, "you're still a coward. Can't stand up for yourself for real even once. Even Picoletto has to tell you what to do. Freaks you are and freaks you'll stay!"
Alberto's jaws grinded in anger.
"Don't listen to him!" Luca pushed Alberto forward.
"Yes! Walk away!" Ercole called, "walk away as your real father did on you! I would have left too! No wonder. Who would want such a cowardish freak like you?"
In the split of a second, Alberto suddenly twirled back around. Blazing fury in his eyes, he ran up to Ercole and flung his fist at him hard. Giulia let out a scream as Ercole stumbled backward and forcefully fell. Luca's jaw dropped in shock. Bewildered for a second, Ercole blinked and then rose his hand to his bleeding nose. As he examined the red liquid on his hand, his face twisted into real anger.
"Oh, now you've got it. You'll regret this!" he got to his feet.
"For the last time, my sister's name is Giulia! Leave us alone!" Alberto walked up to the fountain, "the only one regretting anything today will be you!" and with that, he let the water flow over his whole body.
In seconds his human skin changed to purple-blue scales, his nails grew to claws and his tail smashed to the ground. Revealing his sharp teeth in a hiss, Alberto dashed forward. Ignoring the screams of Luca and his sister.
"Alberto, No!" without hesitation, Luca ran and threw himself at his best friend. "What are you doing?" he trying to yank him off of Ercole but got pushed away rather roughly.
"Luca!" Giulia dashed forward and helped her best friend get back up. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah..." Luca lifted his head back up, his expression changed into horror.
"I'll show you freak!" Alberto lifted Ercole at his collar and flung him to the side where he crashed into a pile of boxes.
"Stop it! Please!" Giulia cried but then Ercole gathered his strength, got back up, and punched Alberto back. "Ercole stop!"
"Don't you think I'm weak!" he barked at his opposite, reached back, and let his fist crash down on Alberto's cheek.
That's when the real brawl started. Both teens were hitting at each other furiously, rolling on the ground, getting back up, and going at each other again. Alberto clawed and growled, his jaws wide open like a mad carnivore. They crashed into another corner of piled-up wood, which shattered loudly. By now, heads had turned to them. Ercole landed another punch at Alberto's eyebrow, then he rammed his knee into his opposite stomach, grabbed him at the throat, and pressed him up against the wall. Alberto wheezed, gasped, and kicked but Ercole's grip only tightened. "I've warned you more than once, no more playing around!"
Alberto's feet slit across the wall in an attempt to free himself, then his tail whipped at Ercole's back, cutting through his shirt. The brunette yelped and loosened his grip. Using the moment, Alberto lifted his legs one more time and pushed the older one away. Ercole however, was quick on his feet again. Grabbing one of the wood pieces, he flung it at Alberto and it shattered at the impact of hitting the back. The blonde gasped, coughed blood, and stumbled.
By now, a big crowd had gathered at the port center, watching horrified as the two teenagers fought, entangled, caught in a deadly serious and bloody haze. The screams of Giulia and Luca didn't reach Alberto's ears anymore. His mind was clouded by burning rage. With each of his fast heartbeat, his blood pumped adrenaline through his veins. An unknown instinct had awoken in him. Something wild, untamed, something feral. Roaring, he flung his hand forward and ran his claws across Ercole's arm, cutting him. Blood instantly leaked out of the cuts, flowing down. The young man yowled in pain, tumbled for a second but then reached out again. Gritting his teeth, Ercole grabbed Alberto's arm and twisted it, causing him to scream. Then another punch hit his jaw, his cheek. Alberto stumbled and fell backward. Ercole on top of him. Pinning him down. Alberto saw the fist coming and turned his head. Trying to get a hold on Ercole, he flailed and kicked. His mouth wide open, he tried to bite anything he could get between his jaws. Ercole's face was twisted in cold anger, as he pressed down, wrapping his hands around Alberto's throat once again. Alberto's eyes widened in panic. Gargling and hissing, he scratched, hit, and boxed desperately as much as he could. His tail slit back and forth like those of an angry cat, but Ercole didn't let go. "Finally, I'll prove myself!" he muttered.
Meanwhile, the local police had arrived. Massimo too had come. Yelling he tried to get closer, pushing through the crowd. The police as well shouted and pointed guns. "Don't shoot! Don't you dare and shoot! That's my son!" Massimo demanded.
Stars started to dance before Alberto's eyes as the oxygen became lesser. The bitter fact, that he'd completely underestimated Ercole dawned on him. They were no children anymore and no young teens either. For a second, he feared to die but everything in him fought against it. He couldn't give up.
"Ercole stop!" Giulia screamed, "you're killing him!"
Luca stood frozen, his expression blank horror. His mind became twirling chaos. He'd always known, that Ercole wasn't to be underestimated, but never had he thought that it would actually, one day come this far. He'd feared it. And he'd feared Alberto losing it. Now it had happened. It was not only terrifying to see his best friend like that, but it was also painful. And the fact, that Alberto fought not for himself but for Giulia and him, made it even worse. The last thing Luca wanted was for Alberto to get hurt because of him.
On the sun-heated ground, Albertos' sea form quickly vanished and switched him back to human, which left him ever so slightly weaker than before. Glancing up into Ercole's face, he could suddenly see something in his eyes. Something, that even his immense rage couldn't conceal. There was fear, doubt, and remorse. That tiny glimpse revealed it to Alberto. Ercole would and could never truly kill. With all his last strength, Alberto pushed forward, hurling the brunette off of himself with a loud scream. Gasping and coughing, and with shaking limbs, he got up.
"Oh no, this is not over yet!" Ercole panted, sweat dripping from his forehead, his dark bangs hanging loose around his face. He grabbed Alberto yet again. Now clearly more exhausted, the blonde tried to get away but Ercole gave him no chance to do so. Knowing he would be stronger in his sea form, Alberto twisted himself and Ercole towards the fountain. Just enough water tripled on the blonde's back, transforming him again. Swiping his tail under Ercole's feet, he made him slip and fall. Using the momentum once more, Alberto built himself up over the bully. Glaring at him with wide eyes, pupils as thin as slits. His jaws bared, blood dripping from his eyebrow, nose, mouth, and the cuts on his body. Ercole's eyes suddenly widened in terror. Giulia too seemed horrified. She'd never seen her brother like this. Not even back then when they weren't official siblings and he'd tried to scare her with his true form.
Albertos voice got low between heavy huffs, "This is over! You'll be very sorry for ever crossing our ways!" and lifted his hand one last time to finish his opposite off but the punch never came. Confused about the strong grip that had wrapped itself around his wrist and kept the punch away, Alberto turned his head.
"Enough, Alberto!" It was Luca. A furious, deadly serious Luca. More serious than Alberto had ever seen him. Whimpering, Ercole hurried to his feet to quickly get as much space between him and the sea creature.
"You, you're a monster! I...I've always known you're monsters!"
"Harass us one more time and this monster will do more than just scratch and punch you!" Alberto barked.
"Alberto!" thundered Luca, lower than ever, "come on, that's enough for real!" and he pulled his best friend away, back to his sister who was totally losing her nerves.
"Dannazione! Have you completely lost your mind? What in the world were you thinking?" she yelled.
"I was defending you! Us! That's what I was thinking!" Alberto snapped back.
"But starting a fight? Turning yourself into your sea form? You could have gotten seriously hurt and you could have fatally harmed Ercole! And I don't mean those scratches! Have you for once thought about the consequences if that happened?"
"So what? He deserves it! He almost strangled me! Don't you care how he treats us? It's been five years!" Alberto shook his head.
"Alberto you almost killed each other! I understand you're angry, I really do, but a fight like that isn't a solution!" Giulia threw her hands up.
That's when Alberto spotted Massimo at the other side of the street. A look of shock and disappointment on his face. Swallowing, Alberto pressed his trembling lips together and turned his face away. He felt deeply ashamed and upset.
Luca examined his opposite face, "Berto you're bleeding!" Taking out a handkerchief, Luca aimed to wipe the red trails that ran down Alberto's brow and jaw away.
"Stop it Luca!" the blonde turned away completely, "just...leave me alone ok?"
"Al, come on, we're just trying to -" Giulia started.
"Yeah, trying won't change anything! But thanks for your appreciation!" ironically he shrugged his shoulders.
"We do appreciate it Alberto, but don't you get it?" Tears started to gleam in Giulia's eyes, "do you think we want to see you hurt? Whatever Ercole will tell his father now..."
"Ok, ok, I get it! I just..." he sighed, "I want to be alone!" Alberto started walking away towards the beach.
"Alberto!" Giulia reached out to stop him but got stopped by Luca who gently pulled her wrist back down.
"No, let him! He just needs to cool down." He said and gave her a soft smile. Dropping her shoulders in defeat, she sighed. Massimo had crossed the short distance and now stood in front of both.
"Dio mio, what happened?" he frowned.
"Ercole happened. He provoked us...like he always does but then...for some reason he brought up that Alberto's birthfather had left him. I don't even know how he got that information. Of course, Alberto lost it and then they started beating each other up like crazy.
Massimo sighed sadly, "I knew this was about to happen one day."
"What now? Ercole's parents won't be happy about their son coming home all bloody and beaten." Giulia frowned in worry.
"If they come to complain, they will have to face me and then I'll give them a good reasoning about their son!" Massimo put his hand on his daughter's shoulder.
"I only hope Al's going to be ok," she murmured as Massimo led her and Luca back home.
A few hours had passed and the sun was getting lower. Alberto had taken a long swim to calm down but he was still left with frustration. Now he sat at the edge of the little stone cliff, his knees pulled to his chin tightly. A familiar shadow appeared next to him but he didn't look, didn't even say anything.
"Hey..." Luca sat down next to him.
"Hey..." Alberto murmured quietly.
"Are you ok?"
"No! I'm so stupid Luca!" tears welled up in the eyes of the blonde and he sniffled. "What if I get into serious trouble now? What If I ruined it all and people will start to think I really am a monster?" Alberto surly wiped away the tears before they could run down his cheeks.
"Al, you're not a monster!" Luca lovingly put his arm around Alberto, "you're my best friend. You're the big brother I never had! I know you! You would never seriously hurt anybody. And the people of Porto Rosso know that too. You're a lifeguard, you save! Also, our kind has proven that we are no danger. Ercole provoked you, he had it coming. If anything, they will make him responsible for that fight. Yeah, I mean, violence isn't the way but...I would defend and fight for you just as much until I bleed!" Luca smiled as Alberto's eyes widened and filled with tears yet again.
And just like that, Alberto pulled Luca into a tight hug and sobbed.
"Thank you!" after a while of Lucas comforting, Alberto wiped over his face and sighed deeply. "Oh man, Dad will be so mad and disappointed!"
"Massimo knows you just as much! And he knows how Ercole has been towards us for years." Luca tilted his head, "you know what? I think I've got an idea. I know exactly what will cheer you up!" He eagerly got to his feet again, grinning widely.
"Wait...Luca...what are you...?" Alberto turned around slightly, looking up to his best friend.
"Stay there, don't go anywhere, I am back in a few!" Gesticulating, Luca hurried away, leaving Alberto dumbstruck.
Sighing, the older one stretched out his legs, let them slide into the water, and watched how purple, blue and light pinkish scales appeared. A few minutes later, the blonde heard a familiar engine roaring behind him. Turning his head, he spotted Luca on their teal Vespa, waving. Alberto couldn't help but chuckle.
"Come on!" Luca called, "what are you waiting for!"
A bright smile formed on the blonde's face, getting up, he hurried up to the street.
"You're amazing Luca, you know that?"
"I know! Now come on!" Luca waited for Alberto to get on and then started driving.
"What's the plan?" Alberto called.
"A drive around the island, that's the plan!" Luca replied.
It was nightfall as Alberto and Luca returned home. They were greeted by Machiavelli at the gate, who meowed and rubbed his head and body against their legs. Luca recognized his best friend's discomfort and put his hand on his arm.
"You'll be fine!" he said, encouraging.
Alberto just grinned insecurely. Before they could even enter, the door got opened and Massimo stood in the frame.
"Uh...Dad, I'm sorr-" Alberto gasped, as Massimo pulled him into a hug with his only arm.
"I was afraid for you!" he whispered.
Fresh tears started burning in Alberto's eyes, "I'm sorry..." he whimpered, burying his face in his father's chest. "I am so sorry!"
Giulia had gotten up from her chair in the kitchen and now shared some smiles with Luca.
"I'm so sorry Dad! I lost it...I was so angry...and Ercole-" Alberto blurted.
"I know son! You don't have to justify yourself. Come in!" Massimo lifted his gaze and nodded at Luca to follow.
The blood had been washed away from the smaller cuts by the water but a light crust of salt and clear scab had formed on each scratch. The bigger ones were still bleeding here and there. Alberto sat down on one of the chairs.
"Diamine! Look at all those wounds!" Giulia hissed compassionately. "I will help you clean and patch them up!" she turned and collected everything she needed. A bowl of warm water, a soft cloth, band-aids, bandages, medical alcohol, iodine, and healing ointment. "Can you remove your shirt so I can check on that cut on your back, where the wood broke"?
Alberto nodded and pulled the shirt over his head, wincing slightly.
Massimo walked around and behind Alberto, taking a glance at his son's back. His brows furrowed in anger.
"Is...is it bad?" Alberto shyly asked.
Luca too, took a glance, biting his teeth together as if he could feel the pain. "Oh!" he made.
"What? Is it that bad?" Alberto widened his eyes.
"It's not bad, bad but pretty bruised!" Giulia replied, "and there are a few cuts. I will bandage that one first ok?"
"It might sting a bit, if it gets too bad, tell me ok?" Giulia waited for her brother to nod, then she dunked the cloth into the warm water and started dapping the wound carefully. As expected, Alberto hissed slightly.
"Ouch!" he winced, as the alcohol hit the wound.
"Scusa!" Giulia bit her teeth together, dapped some of the iodine on, added the healing ointment, and put a large bandaid on the cuts.
"Did Ercole's parents show up?" Alberto lifted his gaze at Massimo, while Giulia continued on his left arm.
"They did...!" he replied.
"Something was off though. His mother looked and smelled odd. Like alcohol...I've never seen Ercole's father close up but he was scary..." Giulia turned to Alberto's right arm.
"What happened?" Alberto asked and flinched again as his sister treated another scratch on his shoulder.
"I'll tell you!" Massimo began.
Lound knocks on the door, followed by storm ringing, made Giulia flinch.
Massimo got up, "stay here, I'll handle this!" he nodded at his daughter, went into the hallway, and opened up the door. "Buona sera!" he greeted.
"Save your buona sera, my son was nearly mauled by this sea monster you keep in your house! I've always known they were dangerous!" Carlo Visconti pointed at Massimo.
"My son is the kindest boy I know, if he snaps then only because he got provoked as much."
"I don't care who provoked who. Your sea monster pet almost killed my son!" Carlo bared his teeth.
"This is outrageous!" signora Visconti whined.
"Is it?" Massimo stayed calm, "may I remind you that it was your son who aimed to stab my son with a harpoon more than once. I could have reported you to the police for attempted murder, yet I did not. Everyone in Porto Rosso knows my son wouldn't harm anyone. I am convinced they would all stand up for him. Do you really want to go that far? So, I suggest you take on responsibility for taking care of your own problems before searching for mine. And now, leave my property before I become disgruntled!" Massimo rose his brows.
"This isn't finished yet Marcovaldo! You'll see!" Carlo growled lowly, "avanti, Donna!"
His wife glanced at him insecurely and then at Massimo. "S-si, si! You heard him! This isn't finished!"
Massimo watched the Viscontis leave and then closed the door with a deep sigh.
"Papà?" Giulia looked frightened.
"Non preoccuparti tesora!" Massimo sat back on his chair.
"Signora Visconti she...she looked odd, and that smell..." Giulia poured some water into two glasses and handed one to her father.
"Yes, I noticed that too. Grazie!" Massimo took the glass, "she might have a problem with alcohol."
"Signor Visconti looked scary. Like...really scary!" Giulia too sat back down, "but Papà, he's threatened us...do you think he'll do something?"
"Nothing too serious happened besides a brawl," Massimo shook his head, "and as I said, everyone in Porto Rosso knows Alberto isn't violent. He protects and saves kids, teens, and adults every day as a lifeguard. Besides, all the Sea folk that has been coming and going the last few years has proven they're no danger. No, I don't think they'll do something!"
"I hope you're right!" Giulia looked out of the kitchen window and spotted the boys coming through the gate. "Finally!" she wanted to get up to welcome them but Massimo was faster.
Luca gulped, "Boy am I glad I didn't have to meet them!"
"Sorry, Dad...if I hadn't lost it, this wouldn't have happened..." Alberto lowered his gaze.
"I told you not to feel sorry about it! You defended yourself!" Massimo leaned forward.
"But I attacked Ercole first..." Alberto pressed his lips together.
"All of this isn't your fault, Alberto! Enough people saw how Ercole provoked us, provoked you!" Luca objected.
"Yeah, and if anyone should doubt you, they'll have to face us!" Giulia put her arm around her brother.
"Thanks, guys, really!" Alberto smiled.
"You're welcome!" both exclaimed.
Giulia went back to examining her brother's wounds. Starting on his chin. "This will definitely turn bluer!"
"Great! Alberto sighed. "Ouch!"
"Sorry!" Giulia continued on his cheek and brow. "I am glad you haven't broken anything. Contusions are painful but they will heal quickly if you cool them."
"Where are Sara and Zoe by the way?" Luca looked around, "are they asleep already?"
"Stefano found a place for them to stay, so they left earlier," explained Massimo, "but you'll still see them. Both agreed to help out at the restaurant."
"That's great Papà!" Giulia grinned, "I bet this will be a good year! Oh, before I forget it, we signed up!"
"Signed up?" Massimo frowned.
"For the triathlon. The Porto Rosso Cup," Alberto took the papers and put them on the table.
"We'll be a team again. As always!" Luca smiled.
Massimo however, didn't seem convinced, "Giulia, are you sure you want to do this? You know it's getting harder each year and the year before last year you..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know! Don't remind me! But this year is different. We're doing it just for fun. If we win, we win, if we lose, that's also ok. One year without any pressure!" the red-haired crossed her arms.
"One year without feeling the need to beat Ercole!" Luca added.
"Urgh, yeah! I think I've got enough of that guy for the next who knows how many years!" Alberto rolled his eyes.
"This triathlon isn't just a fun game figli! This isn't the Porto Rosso Cup for children anymore. You'll have to train seriously to have a chance. If you're not out to seriously win, I think there are better ways to spent your summer!" Massimo exclaimed.
"Papà, you know how much fun we had each year and we did not participate every single time. Of course, we want to win, just this time we won't pressure ourselves!" Giulia explained.
"Well then, I will, of course, support you!" Massimo smiled at the three.
It was about eight pm when Ercole entered the huge front yard of his parent's small mansion. He had been dreading coming home all day because he already knew what was awaiting him. He'd tried to wash away as much blood as possible but the cuts, scratches, and bruises were clearly visible. And he hadn't been able to change his clothes. Hesitating for a moment, he finally opened the door.
"Sono a casa!" he called. Passing the kitchen, he found his father standing in the hallway to the living room. Leaned against the doorframe, his hand to his lips. He was clearly upset.
"Ma dai, you look awful!" Carlo glared at his son. "Did you at least kill that sea monster?"
"Of course not. Can't get one thing right! Vergognati! And this is my son? Let's himself get beaten up like a weak dog!" Carlo shook his head.
Ercole pressed his lips together, ignoring the stinging pain in his chest. His mother, Monica, was laying on the couch, a glass of wine in her hand. For a moment, she looked back at her son but soon furrowed her brows, seemingly suppressing her emotions, and turned her gaze away. Ercole knew he wouldn't get any help or support from her.
"Perdonami padre..." Ercole lowered his gaze, "I tried to-"
"Zitto! Levati di torno!" Carlo interrupted him and waved his hand, sending his son upstairs.
Without another word, Ercole walked past his father and past his drunk mother, and up to his room. Even though this situation was bad enough, he was glad he didn't get his father's hand. After twenty years, he should have gotten used to his home situation but the reality was that he would never get used to it. He had become colder over the years, number. Nevertheless, it still hurt. Only, he was very good at concealing it. So much in fact, that no one besides him knew about his problems. Opening the door to his room, he glanced around. He didn't care to turn the light on. The moon let in enough light for him to see. In his room, there was almost anything, any child could wish for. A couch, a huge bed, a television. A tall glass cabinet held all of his trophies and accolades. On his walls hung certificates and pictures of himself but the only ones that made him smile a little were those of his grandmother. Marcella Visconti had been the only one who had ever shown true affection for him. She had always been loving and nice and Ercole knew she'd loved him. He'd loved her too. But in the end, she hadn't done anything to stop her son from abusing her grandson either. Turning away from the pictures, Ercole laid himself down on his bed. Starring at the ceiling, he thought. How could he ever please his father? Would he truly be pleased if he would kill a sea monster? His body hurt. The cuts burned and his head pulsed a headache. Something deep inside him wanted to cry but he was so exhausted, he fell asleep before he could even give in to his emotions.
"Do you like it"? Stefano had his hands rested on his hips, as he watched how his daughters examined the small house.
"It's not big but it's nice." Sara turned around, leaning against the kitchen table.
"Couldn't we get something bigger?" Zoe asked and quickly widened her eyes, waving her hands. "I'm not ungrateful, I am just curious!"
Stefano let out a soft laugh, "It's ok tesora, I know how you've meant it."
"She's not wrong. Our restaurant back in Rome was running well, wasn't it? Shouldn't we've been able to afford a bigger one?" Sara looked at her father whose expression changed slightly. The smile faded a bit. "Papà?"
"Massimo had helped me find this, it's good enough for as long as we're here. Now, how was your day?"
Sara and Zoe shared quiet looks.
"It's been good. We've been out swimming a bit," Sara began "also, we visited that historical naval museum. Right, Zoe? You know Zoe loves history. It was pretty educational. All those artifacts and old things."
"Yes, it was a lot of fun Papà, you need to see it too!" Zoe smiled.
"I would love to tesora, now, you must be hungry, here, I brought you something from the restaurant!" Stefano placed the still-hot pizza on the table.
"Pizza!" both girls beamed at the delicious dish.
The whole dinner, Stefano seemed oddly quiet for Sara's taste. She didn't ask about it though. Zoe happily continued about their day and about the fancy-looking diving suits from the past. From the scary-looking uniforms of navy soldiers, to ancient harpoons and weapons. How beautiful the seashell collection was and about other things. Sara had listened and added something here and there. However, she couldn't shake the feeling, that something wasn't right. She knew her father well enough. She and her sister had always been very close to their parents but after that fatal day, they'd grown even closer to their father. He seemed stressed, something was bothering him and Sara thought of getting to know why.
Both girls had helped wash the dishes and clean up, before telling their father goodnight and going upstairs to their room.
"Papà was odd, wasn't he? Zoe quietly asked, earning a concerned nod from her sister.
"I've noticed that too. He's been like that for a few weeks now, I thought he needed a break because of all the work back at home. I thought he would become more relaxed around Massimo but..." Sara sighed.
"Will you ask him about it?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Maybe he's just exhausted from work and we are seeing things. I will keep an eye on him!" Sara was just about to open the door to their room when the phone rang downstairs. She heard how Stefano took the call.
"Sara? It's Giulia!" he called upstairs.
"Ok, I'm coming!" Sara turned back around, Zoe followed her.
"Ciao? Giulia?" Sara put the handset to her ear. "What?" her eyes widened as she listened to Giulia tell her about what had happened.
Zoe leaned her head closer so she could hear it too.
"Santo cielo! How's Alberto? Is he hurt much?" Sara exclaimed.
Stefano confusedly furrowed his brows, tilting his head questioningly.
"Alberto got into a fight!" Zoe explained.
"What? Is he ok? How did that happen?" Stefano turned to look at Sara.
"Dio...Oh man, that sucks, well good to hear he's ok. I knew this guy was dangerous. I have a sense for things like that. Yeah, don't worry. Oh, yeah sure, wait I ask." Sara lowered the handset, "Giulia and the Ragazzi are inviting us for a barbecue tomorrow evening!"
"Tell them we're coming! And greet everyone!" Stefano exclaimed.
"We're coming. Papà says to greet you all. Grazie. Greetings back!" Sara smiled at her father and Zoe. "Ok. Buona Notte!" she hung up.
"Alberto got into a fight?" Stefano lifted his brows into a frown.
"Yeah, a local bully provoked him. But he's alright. A few scratches and bruises but nothing too bad." Sara explained.
"Mannagia...boys eh?" Stefano laughed slightly, "girls won't do such things! Well then my little angeli, buona notte!"
"Buona notte Papà!" Zoe and Sara went back upstairs.
"I can't believe this boy would do that..." Zoe lowered her gaze as she sat on her bed.
"I knew he was bad and I told you. Anyway, if we happen to come across him, we'll ignore him. And I mean it Zoe, no talking. Don't even look at him!"
"Ok..." Zoe pressed her lips together, "Sara?"
"Can you sing Mammas song? You know, the song she used to sing when we couldn't sleep?" Zoe looked at her sister expectingly.
"Of course I can! Come here!" Sara let her little sister come over to her bed and cuddled close. Stroking Zoes blonde hair slowly, she began to hum the melody, that she knew by heart and would always remind her of the strongest woman she'd ever known.
Lay down your head and I'll sing you a lullaby
Back to the years of loo-li lai-lay
And I'll sing you to sleep and I'll sing you tomorrow
Bless you with love for the road that you go
May you sail far to the far fields of fortune
With diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet
And may you need never to banish misfortune
May you find kindness in all that you meet
May there always be angels to watch over you
To guide you each step of the way
To guard you and keep you safe from all harm
Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay
May you bring love and may you bring happiness
Be loved in return to the end of your days
Now fall off to sleep, I'm not meaning to keep you
I'll just sit for a while and sing loo-li, lai-lay
May there always be angels to watch over you
To guide you each step of the way
To guard you and keep you safe from all harm
Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay, loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay
Letting the last notes fade and her hum become quieter, Sara looked down at her sleeping sister. A bittersweet pain stung her heart. Oh, how much she missed her. Leaning her head on her sisters, Sara soon fell asleep as well.
Downstairs, Stefano stood pressed against the wall. His eyes were closed, his expression hurt. A single tear made its way down his cheek. That song, that lullaby. Sara's voice was so similar to hers. Just as soft and heartbreaking, only higher and younger. It brought back memories he'd fought to keep at the back of his mind. Because it was too painful to think about them. Even after all those years, that pain hadn't changed and it would never.
Sneaking upstairs, Stefano quietly opened the door to his daughter's room. Finding them both on Sara's bed. Leaning on each other. A fond smile spread over Stefano's lips, then he gently took Zoe in his arms, laid her into her own bed, and placed a kiss on the top of her head. Turning back to his eldest, he lowered her down and covered her with a thin blanket, and kissed her as well.
Just as quiet as he had come, he left. Closing the door behind him, he went back downstairs. There was a lot he needed to think of.
Italian words you might not know used in this chapter
Ma Certo - however
A Dopo - see you later!
Santo Cielo - Holy heaven or sky
Dio mio - My God
Chiaro - of course
Avanti - forward (a rushed way of saying, let's go!"
Figli - children
Zitto - shut up!
Levati di torno - get out of my face!
Perdonami - forgive me
Sono a casa - I'm home
Mannagia - damn
Tesora - treasure
Buona note - good night
Ma dai - (Is an Italian expression and can mean different things depending on the situation )
Ciao - can mean both hello and goodbye. It's the informal version and is only used when you are familiar with someone.
Song Sara's mother used to sing - Sleepsong from Secret Garden