‘Oh, Lorenzo.’ Laurel gazed at him in deep sadness and sympathy. To have found each other again only for him to be taken away… ‘How long?’ she asked.

Lorenzo gave a little shrug. ‘The doctors do not like to discuss dates. I refused treatment…there was no point, and I do not wish to spend my last days in a hospital, on machines and in great pain.’ He sighed. ‘A few months, they said, maybe more, maybe less. A year at the most. I have medication for the pain.’

‘It doesn’t seem like enough. I’ve noticed you wincing.’

He shrugged again, and Laurel pressed her lips together. ‘Pain management is a very important part of end-of-life care, Lorenzo,’ she said gently. ‘You want your last days to be as pleasant and pain-free as possible, and research shows that you do better physically as well as emotionally if your body doesn’t tire itself fighting the pain all the time.’

‘Thank you for the advice.’ He smiled and touched her hand. ‘The medication makes me feel loopy. I don’t want to take too much of it.’

‘I understand.’ And she did, all too well. She dealt with her patients’ concerns about the effect of pain relief on their quality of life all the time, and the most important part of palliative care, in her opinion, was letting patients make their own choices for as long as they could. ‘Does Cristiano know?’ she asked after a moment. Her throat still felt thick and tears crowded at the backs of her eyes. For Lorenzo’s sake she didn’t want to give in to her own emotion, but she felt unbearably sad at the thought of losing him all over again. And what about Cristiano?

‘No,’ Lorenzo said after a pause, which was no surprise to Laurel.

‘Why haven’t you told him?’

Lorenzo shrugged. ‘I suppose I wanted to spare him the pain when there is nothing he can do. Cristiano has never been one to accept inaction.’

‘True.’ Laurel managed a small smile. ‘But I think he would want to know.’

‘Yes and, now that you are both here, I will tell him. At least he will have you to comfort him, cara.’ Lorenzo gently touched her cheek, and Laurel smiled through her tears.

* * *

Cristiano gazed out at the bright-blue sky and golden sunshine and clenched his jaw so hard it felt as if he might break a tooth. Anger was a far better emotion to feel than grief.

‘How long have you known?’ he asked.

From behind him Lorenzo stirred and sighed. ‘A few months.’

‘And you didn’t feel the need to tell me?’

‘There’s nothing you can do, Cristiano.’

‘Even so.’

‘I suppose I wanted to wait until we were face to face.’

‘I would have come sooner if I knew it was important.’

Lorenzo sighed again, the sound soft and sad. ‘Would you have?’ he asked quietly.

Cristiano turned around, his fists clenched, his heart racing, as if he was preparing for a fight. Spoiling for one, maybe, but he didn’t want to antagonise his father now, not when he was so ill. But he didn’t know how to be, how to feel. The natural emotion—grief in all of its dark, unrelenting mess—was anathema to him.

‘Of course I would have,’ he said, but even as the words left his mouth he wondered. Doubted. He’d avoided his father for years, ignored the ways Lorenzo had reached out. Why? Because of his contempt for his father’s choices, or for a deeper, more revealing reason?

Because loving someone always hurt.

‘Well, I am not quite at my end yet,’ Lorenzo said lightly. ‘There is time, Cristiano. Time, perhaps, for us to heal old wounds.’

‘What old wounds?’ Cristiano tried to sound dismissive but the words stuck in his throat like shards of broken glass, and his voice came out sounding strangled.

‘I know you harbour anger towards me for my choices.’ Lorenzo took a deep, steadying breath. ‘In my search for love I let a lot of women into your life. A lot of uncertainty and confusion.’

‘I’m a grown man,’ Cristiano dismissed. ‘And in any case, I survived.’

‘But we all want more out of life than survival, don’t we? And I fear you have sworn off love because of my experiences.’

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