6. The house in the Northern Woods

Along the course of the river, about five miles north the town of San Martino, there was an area of wild woods that no building company had still dared to touch. No farmer had never thought about clearing that land and cultivate wheat on it. Though there were ancient rights to collect wood, herbs and fruits from the forest, only a few people ventured there to actually do it and even fewer have dared to build their country homes around its borders. Strange stories used to go around, about the northern woods of San Martino.

One day, a young couple, who was wandering around the woods searching for a shelter, had discovered an abandoned house at the end of a road that ventured a little inside the forest. It was all empty but for a library on the ground floor and a huge bed in a well-preserved room upstairs. After the lucky finding, the couple had told about it to their friends and the youngsters of San Martino started to call the place the Fuck House and to use it at such. Older people, accustomed to lie, called it the Red House.

Indeed, the house was red. Narrow and tall, the house was made of red bricks, had a metal roof and wooden frames and doors, painted white.
The house had some basic rules that all the town youngsters knew, such as “no dating couples”, “no needles”, “no violence”, but there were other rules that only regulars knew. Day and night volunteers kept the place quiet and the assholes away. You could not see the bouncers until they were there, telling some guys to pick up their pants and go to hell. When the business started someone said: “no girl would ever come here”, but the girls came. It turned out girls were interested in sex just as much as guys.

At any moment of the day, at any day of the week, the house was open and someone was in the waiting room at the ground floor. The walls of that room were covered with white bookshelves. The oldest books, covered in leather and printed in French, were part of the house and took no more than one-third of the shelves. The rest of the space was taken by paperback editions in the current language, comics and music tapes. Sometimes, people just enjoyed hanging out in the waiting room, reading the coolest things around and smoking joints, but the real treasure was the huge bed in the room upstairs. If you wanted some sugar, all you had to do was going upstairs, speak to the guy at the door and enter the room.

One day, a regular guy was walking to the house when he spotted a nice girl he remembered from school standing hesitant in front of it. He didn’t know her name but recognised her fluffy pink sweater.

“Hey, miss!”
She looked at him a little shocked and pale.

“Unsure to enter? I guarantee you no one is going to eat you there”
Said him smiling as he was approaching.

“Ahem, I… Someone told me about the other room.”

He stopped beside the girl and looked at her again. She had something childlike in her face, but she should be about his age. He stretched out one arm to invite her to walk in with him.
“The waiting room?”

“Ehm… yes! The room with the books.”
She started to walk, regaining colour at every step.

“Yeh, it’s a nice place – he smiled again – you can find really cool stuff there.”
This time, she answered with a smile too. They walked side by side to the door and she entered the house with a more relaxed expression on her rounded face.

“Here we are – said him looking around – follow me.”
He turned right and entered a big room, which walls were covered with bookshelves. A tall chubby boy, a little older than them, was already seated on the floor and raised his head as the two entered the room. He gazed upon them as they reached the opposite side of the room, moving his eyes from him to her and back. Finally, he said: “No couples”

“I know – answered the guy taking off a backpack from his shoulders – I was just escorting her inside.”

The other one nodded and looked at her again. The girl was now seated on the floor.
“Hi! – said to her the chubby guy – I never saw you around”

“Hi, I… I don’t go around much.”
And she looked away from him to speak to the guy she had met outside. He was telling her something about a garden.
“What garden? Sorry…”

“Never mind. I was explaining. They don’t want couples here. Couples must find their own place…”

“Yeah – she nodded – but the garden?”

“Uhm, yes. My granny has left her old house. She lives with us now. And she had this beautiful rose garden in her house. She taught me how to tend it and… Do you like roses?”

“Oh yes, roses are great!”

“Yeah, they smell so good – he came closer to her, touched one strand of her long hair – almost like you…”

She looked away.

“I mean it. But… sorry. Don’t mind. So… I’m tending her garden this summer. There’s a lot of work to do.”

“Oh, I know. My parents are in the garden down on their knees all the weekends from spring to fall.”

“Yeah, don’t tell it to my poor back! But there are good sides too. I’m getting quite a tan!”
He raised his sweatshirt up to show his tanned chest. The girl was embarrassed but looked at his lean body anyway, tempted to reach out a hand and touch his lightly designed abs. A noisy snort came from the other side of the room and he put down his shirt.

“And when it’ll get really hot I plan to buy one of those inflatable pools to bath in the sun.”

“It seems like a good plan.”
Smiled her.

“Could be better.”

“How?”

“I could have company – he grinned at her – your skin will become gold under the sunlight”

She was struggling to find the right answer when a big book crashed between them abruptly.

“What the fuck? – Shouted the guy to the chubby boy that now was standing – You are an asshole!”

“No couple, no names, no personal details!”

“I didn’t tell her my name, moron!”
He threw the book back at the tall guy, who bounced it away and was ready to fight when a loud whistle stopped the action.

“Wow, wow! Stop you guys! What’s happening?”
A third guy has appeared from nowhere in the door frame.

“He was hooking up with her!”

“And so? – he looked at the gardener – did you tell her your name?”

“NO! I told him a million times!”

“I heard you! You were hitting on her!”

“And so?”
Said again the house bouncer.

“I am next!”

“Who cares? First, I already have a guy up there waiting for a girl. Second, she’s not obliged to get upstairs with anybody. Third, stay put because I have had enough of you. Say another word and I am going to banish you!”

The rose garden guy laughed, but the bouncer hushed him up as well.
“I don’t like you either. You don’t come here to lure girls away. Miss, I don’t think it’s a good idea to trust this nice guy”

She moved her eyes from one guy to the next.
“Come with me.”

“But… I was here for the books.”

“This ain’t no library, miss. You go up or you go out. Clear?”
The girl stood up and moved towards the bouncer. The two guys looked away angrily. The bouncer waited until the girl was out of the waiting room then exited as well, giving a last glance at the two boys. He closed the door behind his back and gestured the girl to follow him in the hallway.

“Actually, there’s a third chance – said him softly – You can wait for the right mood in a room on the back, but personally, I don’t recommend it.”

“Why?”

“If you don’t like the idea now, you are not going to like it within the next hour”

“But I was here for…”

“Bullshit! You were here to make out. You ARE here to make out.”

“But…”

“Shut up! – He grabbed her shoulders and pointed her to the staircase – Up this staircase, there’s a very fine guy. He has come here before. So… totally cool about meeting you halfway, I suppose.”

She gulped looking up at the stairs.

“If something goes wrong scream and I’ll rescue you. Ok?”
He gave her a pat on her back and left. The girl looked up and took a deep breath.

The door opened and a girl entered the room. She had long brown hair, a fluffy pink sweater and a childlike face. He moved from the bed towards her. He was wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. The room contained him, a bed and a backpack.

He said: “Hi!”

She said: “Hi.”

The door closed and this story ends.

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