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Something so flawed and free

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Nobody thought Martino could actually pull this off.

‘You’ve got the worst poker face in the world, zì.’ Giovanni reminded him, sure that Niccolò would know something was up as soon as he opened the door. That might be true, but Gio was definitely underestimating how good his best friend could be at sidetracking Nico. He wouldn’t even remember his own name, once he was done with him…

‘If you manage not to give it away tonight, and that’s a big if… you want me to believe that you’re gonna tell him that you’re busy and that you really can’t stay, when morning comes?’ Elia rolled his eyes, disbelief written all over his face. The plan could work, because it wasn’t something you’d ever expect from Martino… but it was hard to imagine this boy would really let Niccolò spend most of the next day alone.

‘Aren’t you gonna feel guilty about keep a secret from him?’ Luca asked, genuinely surprised by this new – stealthy – side of Martino. ‘I feel bad already… so maybe you better text me the details at the last minute. I can’t promise I won’t say something I shouldn’t, if he asks me…’ 

Yeah, he had taken that into account.
Maybe he should have told Luchino that there wasn’t anything to feel sorry, or guilty, about. That as soon as Ni would find the first clue inside the ukulele, he’d know he has been sent on a treasure hunt.
He wouldn’t really care that asking for help from his friends could be considered cheating – let it be known that he still is the Greatest Fucking Cheater Ever Existed – but he’d try not to involve them just because it’s their game…

Marti should have told Luchino, sure. But it implied talking about the handwritten notes, the flipbook, the antidote, the giraffes… About things that he didn’t feel like to share that with anyone, because they were just theirs.

Contrary to everybody’s expectations, indeed, Martino managed to surprise Niccolò.
He had him running and cycling all over the city – including their school terrace, were Chicco Rodi and Rocco Martucci were waiting for him – to collect clues on where to find him… Which ended up being the most obvious place, if only Niccolò had taken a moment to stop and think: in that same swimming pool where they first kissed, without any Renato to interrupt them now.

He let him think that they were going home to make up for lost time, alone… And then got a bit frantic when Niccolò turned on the light and looked at him and then at their friends, like he couldn’t believe his eyes…
Was it too much? Was he overwhelmed?

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!”Trust Luchì to break the ice and hug Niccolò so tight that he couldn’t help but hug him back and start laughing.

Silvia came to the rescue, handing out slices of cake to everyone. It was barely more edible than the one she had prepared for the first meeting at Radio Osvaldo but he ate it with such gusto that one would think it was the best thing he had ever tasted.

He was gifted with pictures and embarrassing stories of his boyfriend’s first year in high school by Eva, shared travelling tips with Eleonora and went off on a rant about the upcoming maturità with Edoardo and Federico. If there was one good thing that came out from Covitti being a jerk, in the end, it was that it showed Incanti and Canegallo could be pretty decent people. Who wouldn’t side with the homophobic asshole out of fear of being called gay themselves, as most other boys at school seemed to do.

Who would break a bottle on someone’s head, if it came down to it, before their friend could be seriously harmed.

He discussed about some stickers and pins he had designed for Pride this year with Filippo, and explained to a very intrigued Luchino what pansexuality was with Sava’s help.

They were both very kind and patient and answered each one of his inappropriate questions, and Filippo even went far as shutting down Martino’s groans when Luca said “So, bi and pans do have something in common: they could both pass off as straight if they wanted, right?” with a “That’s rich, coming from you.”

“I mean… I remember you thinking being ace was equal to being celibate, until what… Last week? Didn’t you say they were ‘straight-passing’ too, Rose?”
“I’m still learning, okay?” Martino mumbled, pouting. Both Niccolò and Filippo were older than him, so of course they knew more about this stuff!

“We know you are.” Niccolò conceded, walking over to his boyfriend to kiss him on the lips. “So am I. So is Filippo. So is everyone here in my house, today.”
“What they’re saying is just that we can all learn something from each other, Marti! That’s why I like to ask questions, you know? I like to learn…”
“Yeah, but it’s not their responsibility to educate you, Luchì.” Elia butted in, getting an impressed look from Filippo – not that he gave a damn about that, not in slightest. “I hate to be the one who breaks the news to you, bro, but the Internet is for more than just porn.”

Sana cornered him in the kitchen, half an hour later, to stress that they all agreed his house was the best place to have this party because he could kick them all out whenever he pleased.

“You didn’t ask for this, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to entertain your guests, you know?” She casted a glance to their friends, who were now in the middle of a ridiculous game Federica had suggested. “Don’t let us overstay our welcome, okay?”

So he doesn’t. It’s like being aware that he has a way out, that he can call this off whenever he wants - and they won’t hold it against him, they won’t be thinking “What’s got into Fares, now? – is enough to put his mind at ease. Having Martino by his side, soothing his nerves and grounding him with the lightest of touches upon his shoulders, helps a lot too.

As the birthday boy he also gets to have the last word on the party games, vetoing strip poker and spin-the-bottle. They were fun when he had been in middle school, and he can still hear his old friends cheering when the bottle pointed to the girl he had been crushing on for weeks – he can’t even remember her name, now, how pathetic is that? – but a trip down the memory lane is the last thing he needs, tonight.

“Truth or dare?” Eva suggests, as both Giovanni and Martino roll their eyes.
They would rather be humiliated at another round of beer pong against her and Silvia, than play that.

“Maybe later.” He says, laughing at the ‘yes, please’ looks from the girls and the ‘thanks, but no thanks’ glares from the boys. “I’m not drunk enough for that yet…”

It’s nice of Martino not to freak out, turning the suggestion down on his behalf because it would be too ‘dangerous’ (dares do tend to escalate quickly, when he is involved). It’s such a welcome change that he wants to savor it, honor it by throwing in his own proposal.

“What about ‘Never have I ever?’”
A drinking game that favors the youngest and most inexperienced among them, doesn’t force anyone to embarrass themselves – they set the ground rule that not drinking doesn’t necessarily mean you never did what has just been mentioned, but that you don’t feel letting people know anything about it.

It was either that or demanding his guests not to get too personal, which can’t really be expected when some are already so inebriated that they are having giggle fits playing peek-a-boo with each other (and Edoardo and Eleonora have no right to make such a silly picture look so endearing, haven’t they?).

The first rounds are rather tame. No one has ever been to Japan, apart from the Savas. No one ever tried to eat insects, apart from Luchino. Some admit to stealing candies when they were younger, some others reveal they went skinny dipping after seeing it on TV. It doesn’t feel as thrilling or liberating as TV shows made it look, though.
Sana plays dirty by asking about porn, to which everybody has to take a drink.

“Never have I ever had sex with a girl.” Luca says, knowing that for once he’ll get the upper hand on half of the Contrabbandieri and the boys from Villa. Well, isn’t this interesting.

Fede, Sana and Eva do not drink but Eleonora does. She grins at her brother, who looks at her with such fondness that Niccolò almost feel like he’s intruding.
Elia is pondering whether to drink or not, but in the end he surprises everyone by leaving it untouched.
Before anyone else can react to that, however, Martino grabs his beer and chugs it down.

“What? When?” Giovanni sounds more outraged than Niccolò could ever bring himself to be. He doesn’t really mind what Martino did in the past, he’d rather revel in the fact that he chose to be with him in the present.
Gio immediately backtracks, when he notices that Marti is still staring at the bottom of his glass.
‘Sex’ is a broad definition, indeed, and who is he to say ‘no, if it isn’t penetrative it doesn’t count’ ?

“I’m sorry. Forget I even asked, it’s none of my business.” He drinks one more of his shots, saying that it’s his penalty for breaking the rules. “We did agree that we shouldn’t ask questions about why is drinking or not, didn’t we? My bad.” He shrugs, as Martino mouths an ‘Apologies accepted thanks.’

“Never have I ever kissed a boy.” Sana admits, diverting the attention to herself.
Elia and Gio drink at the same time, and then rush to say “No! It wasn’t him! Ew, he’s like a brother to me!”
The more they deny it, the less they sound believable, so they just drop it and look at Niccolò expectantly.

“Never have I ever used make up to hide hickeys.” He says, proudly, earning a punch in the shoulder from his boyfriend. Who is now down to 3 beers, not quite being the ‘boring gay’ most assume him to be.

“That’s because I’m considerate enough not to leave you looking like you were mauled or something.” Martino mumbles, ignoring the knowing smirks from his friends. They were well aware of how much Niccolò liked his neck, and hadn’t been fooled by the disappearance of scarves and turtlenecks.

“I wouldn’t mind if you did. I love when you claim me as yours.” Niccolò whispers, brushing his nose against Martino’s and then nuzzling his cheek.
“You do?” It’s just the two of them in the room, now, as he cups Nico’s face in both his hands and sighs contentedly when the other boy nods and kisses his fingers.

“Guys! Please! Either stop it or get a room!” Someone hollers, breaking the spell.

“Never have I ever eaten ass.” Filippo states, just to see everyone squirm. It’s way too personal, too intimate, for anyone to dare and drink.

“Hey! No cheating!” Elia complains, getting up to point his finger right into Filippo’s chest. “You are a cheat and a liar. You’re out. And so am I, ‘cause this is getting old and boring and if we don’t get out soon those two will start fucking in front of our eyes.”

“And you know he’s lying because…?” Eva insists, intrigued by this new turn of events.

“TOO MUCH INFORMATION, GUYS!!” Giovanni shakes his head, covering his ears. “If we’re playing truth or dare, now, please leave those things where they belong. In the bedroom.”

“Getting a taste of your own medicine, Gio?” Nice to know that not even a heavy make out session with Niccolò would stop Martino from passing up the opportunity to tease him. “That’s fine by me. I’ve heard more than I ever asked for, already. Things I’d rather forget, thank you.” And if Elia wants to come clean about being with Filippo, it shouldn’t happen through a stupid party game.

Niccolò dares most people to eat what he cooked, of course.
Luca dares him to see who can fold himself faster into the biggest suitcase he owns – and loses, but he beams when Silvia kisses his cheek and tells him that he just needs to work on his flexibility, but that it was a valiant attempt nonetheless.
Edoardo goes for ‘truth’, of course, knowing that Ele would love that. It would be easy to take advantage of it by asking what if he ever felt ashamed of himself, or to whether or not he ever fell in love before meeting Eleonora. They are all better than that, after all they’ve been through.

“What’s the most idiotic thing you ever spent your money on?”
“Marco’s eighteenth?”
“How can you say that when you’ve got a horse?” Federico reminds him, slapping his neck.
“Hey, I happen to like horse riding. You know that. I’d rather spend a thousand euros on Furia than 10 on Covitti. What about you, Nico?”

“Louboutins.” It didn’t feel stupid, at the time. When she got those shoes, though, she told him he was crazy to waste so much money on shoes. She did appreciate the gesture, but it was imperative that he returned them as soon as possible.
He doesn’t quite know how Martino would react if he got him an expensive gift. Better than Maddalena, that’s for sure, but… Well, there’s no point in speculating: he’s gonna find out in July, when they’ll leave for their romantic getaway in Paris, isn’t he?

Martino dodges dares for a while, going for ‘truth’ even when it means confessing that:
a) Nico and him aren’t big on pet names (“Have you ever heard yourself when you start going ‘oh, you idiot’ ‘shut up, jerk’ ‘you wish, asshole’ ‘wanna a piece of this, wanker‘ ‘you know I do, dickhead’?” Giovanni points out “ ‘cause you ‘insults’ are totally pet names, guys)
b) he had a crush on Gio, though it never compared to what he feels for Niccolò – “you’re giving us all cavities, Marti, have you got no shame?”.
Eventually, though, those fuckers get him to sing a duet with Nico. Of course they choose Vattene Amore and sing along when they get to the ‘ci chiederemo come mai il mondo sa tutto di noi… magari ti chiamerò trottolino amoroso e dudu-dadadà e il tuo nome sarà il nome di ogni città…’ part, filming everything with their smartphones.

By the end of the night, no one is sober enough to walk home. Let alone drive.
The girls set up a blanket fort in the living room, claiming that they cannot kick Niccolò out of his bed and wouldn’t feel comfortable sleeping in his parents’ bed. He argues that they are gonna regret that in the morning, when their back is gonna remind them why it’s not a good idea to doze off on the floor.

Edoardo and his friends insist that they can run on caffeine alone and they are more than happy to crash on a chair. Whatever.

Niccolò is too high on the love he got from everyone tonight, to care about logistics.
So what if he has to share his bed with four other guys. Who cares if they constantly complain that he’s bony, that he snores and has got cold feet – “seriously, Marti, now I get why you're always so tired on Mondays…” Luchino whines, trying to smother himself with a pillow and put an end to his misery “how can anyone get any rest, with him in their bed?” – or if it’s such a tight fit that they all have to lay on their sides and nobody has got room to turn in their sleep?

It’s still the best birthday he ever got.