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Small Things

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“Do you have the tickets?”

“Yes Marti, for the millionth time, I have them.” Nico kissed the tip of his nose in a swift movement. They were walking in direction of the metro station.

Marti had given Nico two tickets to see Ben Howard live as a graduation present. He triturated his mind for many days before coming up with a great idea for this gift. Admittedly, buying presents wasn’t his forte, never had been. Gio would gladly attest to that to anyone who listened – yes, he did buy him a calendar for his 13th birthday, and what about it? But he really wanted to find something that would make Nico happy. He deserved it, he really did. Coming up with the idea of a concert was relatively easy – Nico being the biggest music nerd he knew – the ordeal was to find an artist that he loved and that was performing during the summer in Rome, all for a relatively cheap price. He searched for days until he came upon this Ben Howard concert. Frankly, Martino had never listened to his music, but he vaguely remembered Nico talking about him in one of his tireless tirades on all things music. It’s not that Martino didn’t pay attention to what he was saying – he really did love listening to Nico babble excitedly about the things he loved, even at 3am when they should be sleeping – it’s just that he couldn’t remember every little thing from these onslaughts of information. Martino had checked quickly what kind of music Ben Howard was doing. Folk music with a modern twist. Alright, that should do it. Nico did like folk, that he was sure of. Turned out Martino hadn’t been wrong at all, Nico loved Ben Howard and burst into a gigantic smile that he couldn’t contain as he crushed his boyfriend’s lips after Martino handed him the two tickets a few days after graduation. Martino was proud of his gift for the first time in his life.

Nico was walking too fast for Marti to keep up, “we’re not late Nico, why are you running?”

“I’m not running. You’re just too slow,” he retorted. His smile wasn’t leaving his face. Marti scoffed for good measure. Seeing Nico so excited made Marti feel so incredibly warm and content.

They got into the metro and Nico couldn’t stay still, he sat for two seconds before standing up, and then sitting next to Martino again. He was stomping his foot absentmindedly. 

“Amo?” Marti said softly to him to get his attention.  

“Hmm?” Nico turned to him. It did manage to get him to focus.

 “What was your first concert that you remember?”

“Uhmm… It was the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma, I think. I went with my mom and my dad. I was about 11.”

“Were you already playing the piano then?” Martino thought of little Nico in between his mom and dad, looking at the orchestra with awe in his eyes.

“No, I started not long after that actually. During the concert, I was so mesmerized by the piano parts,” Nico remembered. “I kept thinking about it every day after. I went on and on about it to my parents that they finally got me into piano classes… And, believe it or not, this ‘obsession’ actually stayed with me,” he concluded with a nod.

“That it did,” Martino agreed, “so how long did you take piano classes for?”

“For about 5 years. I stopped because I thought my teacher was… too constricting? If you know what I mean.”

“Yeah… you wanted to play Celtic music while your teacher wanted you to play Chopin or whatever.”

“Chopin?” Nico repeated with a chuckle, his shoulders shaking. It was visibly amusing him to hear Martino try to talk about music.

“Nico,” he rolled his eyes, “you know I know nothing about classical music.”

“I’ll take you to see an orchestra someday,” Nico said, this time serious.

“Yeah?”

“Yes. I mean if you want to of course.”

“Honestly, yes. I’d love to,” Martino smiled to him. Of course, he wanted to, if only to look at Nico as he watches and listens intently to the plethora of instruments. A glimpse at 11-year-old Nico who saw an orchestra live for the first time and fell in love. He would no doubt fall in love with him a little bit more at the sight.

“And we can also see Jamie XX or Apparat or whatever you want, don’t worry,” Nico bumped his shoulder playfully.

“I wasn’t worrying,” Martino chuckled. He thought for a brief second before adding, “you know one artist I would really love to see live?”

“No, which one?” This piqued Nico’s interest. His body was a lot more still than a few minutes ago.

“Guess.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know!” he exclaimed, confused, “do you listen to it a lot?”

“No, not that much,” he said with a pout.

“Why would you want to see an artist live if you don’t listen to them that much?”

“I don’t know, that’s what you have to figure out.”

“Is it a riddle or something?” Nico chuckled.

“No, just think about it,” Martino had a hard time keeping a straight face.

“Is it something to do with me?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

Nico frowned, looking deep in thought, before his eyes lit up with understanding, letting an excited “Cesare Cremonini?”

“Yes,” Martino laughed. “I heard he’ll be doing a tour next year, we could go then.”

“I can’t believe I made you a Cesare Cremonini fan,” Nico shook his head cheekily.

“I’m not a fan, I just thought it would be fun to do this together.”

“You’re a fan Marti.”

“I’m not!” Martino exclaimed, incredulous.

 

Nico almost jumped out of the train when they got to their station. He was back to buzzing with excitement. They made it to the venue about 15 minutes before the door opening time, a small queue waiting in front. As they were waiting in line, Marti rearranged one wild curl that was peeking out from Nico’s disorderly dark mope. He knew little touches like these made Nico feel relaxed and helped him stay in touch with reality when he felt a little too overwhelmed. It wasn’t long before the doors opened, and they were able to get inside and claim a perfect spot near the stage. Marti went to the bar to get them beers as they were waiting for the concert to start.

He raised his glass to Nico’s after handing it to him, “cheers Ni, to your graduation, to the end of walking inside the walls of our shitty high school, to your grandma’s apartment which is slowly starting to not look like your grandma’s apartment anymore, and many more.”

“Thanks amo,” Nico responded warmly. “But you forgot something,” he added with a head wiggle.

“What’s that?”

Nico raised his glass again, “to my perfect and beautiful boyfriend who supported me all throughout and who bought the tickets to be here with him tonight.”

They bumped heir plastic cups again before raising them to their lips. Even the cheap watery beer tasted delicious to Marti in that instant.

The lights finally went off on the intimate venue that was now filled with spectators, but not so much that it was uncomfortably crammed.

The musicians came up on stage, among them a tall blond guy, who looked a whole lot like he could be a surfer from the Australian cost and who Martino recognized as Ben Howard. He walked up to the acoustic guitar in the front and lifted it up. Without much ado, he started strumming the strings gracefully. Martino was pleasantly surprised by the sounds that came out of the wooden instrument. He had only listened to a couple of songs before the concert to get a taste of his music. He turned to look at Nico who was staring at the way Ben’s fingers strummed swiftly on the guitar chords. Martino had imagined Nico at a concert exactly like this. Stunned. Bright. Almost enchanted. He snapped out of his near-trance state to nudge Marti, his face really close to his, he whispered:

“Do you see that? The way he plucks at individual strings with his fingers? That’s fingerstyling. He has a special way of doing it, a mixture of picking and strumming, he calls it ‘pick and go.’”

“I’ve never heard sounds like these. It’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah. His guitar is tuned weirdly too. It makes for unique and personal sounds. Also, you see all these pedals on the floor? That’s for altering the sounds.”

“How do you know all that? You can’t even play the ukulele,” Martino teased him. In reality he was quite impressed.

“I’ve read a lot about guitars,” Nico shrugged in response.

He turned his attention back to the stage. They listened in silence for a while. There was a stillness and quietness among the audience that emphasized the intensity of the sounds coming from the instruments and Ben’s voice. Martino felt a sense of serenity that seemed to have impregnated every atom around the venue. He turned to look at Nico and the feeling grew even stronger. He could have looked at him like this for hours – him standing there entranced, his shimmery eyes reflecting the flashing lights, and mouthing the lyrics almost unconsciously.

Martino felt the urge to take him in his arms, to feel his warmth. An unwelcomed voice in his head warned him that this wasn’t a good idea. But there was another voice, this one was telling him: fuck it, they’re on a date. If he couldn’t touch his boyfriend on a date, then, when could he ever. The room was dark enough that Martino couldn’t see past the few people in their vicinity. He thought back to the number of times he saw straight couples holding each other at concerts, completely lost in each other. He always thought it was utterly disgusting and cheesy. Little did he know he would want this as well, but here he was, stepping closer to Nico and placing himself right behind him before tightly embracing his small frame with his arms. He rested his head on his shoulder, Nico’s curls tickling his cheek in a pleasuring way. His eyes still fixated on the stage, Nico raised his hand to squeeze Martino’s two adjoined hands on his middle, a silent sign of appreciation.

A new song started, more upbeat than the previous one, Ben strumming his guitar more fiercely. The audience cheered loudly and whistled – they must have recognized the song, probably a popular one. Marti glanced at Nico again who had an infectious grin plastered on his face.

“Darling you're with me, always around me
Only love, only love
Darling I feel you, under my body
Only love, only love”

He wasn’t sure what was in the air that possibly spurred him on, but Martino began to sway them both to the rhythm of the song. Nico turned around to look at him with an even bigger toothy grin.

“Give me shelter, or show me heart
Come on love, come on love
Watch me fall apart, watch me fall apart”

Ben’s voice then softened to a near whisper. Martino slowed the pace to match the rhythm, he felt like a middle schooler slow dancing with his lover.

“And I'll be yours to keep
A wind in the shadow, a whale song in the deep
A wind in the shadow, a whale song in the deep”

The song turned faster and angrier, Ben repeating “watch me fall apart” with a gritty voice and going crazy on his guitar, which prompted Nico to bop his head while Martino kept on swinging them gently. As the song geared to the end, they were both chuckling like the dorks they were.

The next song started out hollower. There was a stark change of atmosphere in the air, a heavier and solemn aura spreading all around.

“Oh my mind!
I walk down Mayflower Road again
The wailing sun
Echoes from the park seem so absurd”

Martino and Nico were completely still again. He tightened his grip and rubbed their cheeks together lightly, their helix piercings bumping into one another.

“If buildings fell
At least we'd be in matrimony
I can't control
The words kaleidoscope inside my head”

The way the guitar sounds were ricocheting like a mantra was hypnotizing. Nico was listening very intently again.

“Has the world gone mad
Or is it me?
All these small things they gather round me
Gather round me
Is it all so very bad?
I can't see
All these small things they gather round me
Gather round me”

Martino noticed that there were tears welling up in his boyfriends’ eyes and he squeezed him even tighter.

“All in my mind
The anvil and the weight upon my back”

What was he thinking about? He had the urge to comfort him, to tell him everything was ok. He couldn’t do much right now, so he gave him a tender kiss on his temple. He felt a wave of love taking over him, of love for his boy. He wished he could communicate to him without words how much he loved him. How much he loved his sensitivity and the way he perceived the world around him. How much he loved the way he loved things with passion. How he would listen to a song or look at a painting and be so greatly impacted by it. Just like the time they went to Galleria Barberini and he stared at the painting Judith Beheading Holofernes for long minutes. Martino had never seen him so still and focused. A beautiful statue that could have belonged to the gallery. He wished Nico could see himself the way Martino was seeing him in those moments.

Ben sang higher and louder for the last chorus, his voice resonating in every corner of the room and in every fiber of his body.

“Has the world gone mad
Or is it me?
All these small things they gather round me
Gather round me
Is it all so very bad?
I can't see
All these small things they gather round me
Gather round me”

And I can't see my love”

As the song was ending, Martino gave Nico another sweet kiss, this time on the cheek. His smile was slowly returning as the atmosphere was getting lighter. By the end of the concert, Nico was cheering loudly and clapping with the rest of the audience, screaming for Ben to come back for an encore, which he obviously did. Martino had been enjoying himself quite a lot as well and was glad to see Ben’s disorderly blond mop coming up on stage for one last song. I Forget Where We Were.

 

They were walking back to the metro station, both with a post-concert glow. Nico was babbling on about the parts he loved during the concert. Everything was blissful. Quiet. Still.

 Nico looked deep in thought. “Do you know this feeling of when you listen to a song and suddenly you get hit by this overwhelming wave of emotion? The words and the sounds, it all hits you so hard, like your emotions suddenly materialize in front of you. You could have never spelled it out yourself but somehow it feels like it was written for you?”

“Hmm… yeah, I think I know what you mean.”

“That’s how I feel when I listen to Small Things. You know the song that goes ‘has the world gone mad…?”

“Yeah, I remember,” In fact, Martino had been wanting to ask about that but wasn’t sure Nico wanted to talk about it now.

“I don’t know what he had in mind when he wrote it, maybe it was something completely different than my interpretation. But what matters is that, when I listen to it… it feels like it belongs to me, in a way, you know?”

“What is it about it that impacts you so much? If you can explain it.”

“Because… it reflects my state of mind. How I’m always battling something in my head, and how it makes it difficult to make room for other ‘trivial’ things in life. It might look like nothing to other people. You know how people say things like – ‘it’s not the end of the world, some people have it way worse than you. We all experience that one day or another.’ Because to them they’re just… small things. Small inconveniences. But they’re not to me. If you add up one small thing, with another, and then another, and yet another etc. each small thing being amplified by a 100. Suddenly, it’s all you can see. Some days I feel like I can’t see past all those thoughts in my head. I can’t even see myself. Some days… I can’t even see you.” Nico swallowed with difficulty. Martino could see that he was on the verge of crying.

“Hey, Ni…” Martino stopped in his tracks and gently grabbed both sides of Nico’s jean jacket, looking right into his eyes, “listen, I know that as much as I want to, I can’t be the one to get rid of all those ‘small things’ in your head. Trust me, I really wish I could. But you have to know, I’ll always be here no matter what. Even when you don’t see me, I’m here.” Martino had learned how important it was for him to spell out to Nico how much he meant to him. How Nico needed to hear the words every now and again. That it wasn’t enough for Martino to be sure of his feelings for Nico in his head and heart. Nico had to hear it.

“Marti…” Nico took a deep breath, “you do much more for me than you realize. When I’m with you, all those bad thoughts, they become small things again. They’re still here, but they’re not as big or as numerous. I’m able to see more clearly. … I don’t deserve you.”

“Of course, you do. Plus, what does deserving someone even mean? Do you have to take a relationship test to assess your romantic worth? No, no you don’t. And I’m really glad for that.  Like, imagine the grade I’d get on that test. E+ at most – ‘will probably act like a dumbass many times and might not even realize it. Doesn’t know one thing about dating. Date at your own risk.’”

Nico laughed with wet eyes. Martino responded with a lopsided grin.

“But you do know a thing or two about dating, see, tonight is a proof of that. And… I like the risk I took.” Of course, Nico had to reassure him now, even though he didn’t need to.

“So far,” Martino raised a finger playfully. They resumed their walking and stayed silent for a moment.

Nico broke the silence, looking mischievous, “you know, I can’t believe you actually got the meaning of this conversation, you’re getting good at reading subtext.” So he was back to teasing mercilessly, that’s great.

“You little shit…” Martino poked his shoulder. As he was letting his hand back down, Nico took it surreptitiously, linking only one finger with one of Martino’s. They looked reassuringly into each other’s eyes for a brief moment. Nico was right about one thing, this date was a success. Anything was as long as they were together.