"The Compass That Guides Us"
Griffin landed in Italy
on the arm of a teleporter
handsome enough to make
his heart flutter a bit.
Under their feet lay
a compass rose made of
brown and gray tiles cut into
the flagstone patio of the garden.
On one side, stone steps led up
toward the main villa and guest house,
while the rest of the garden sloped
gently toward the common yard
shared by arcs of smaller villas
and various other facilities.
Glyn was waiting for them,
suntanned and smiling.
Griffin couldn't remember
the last time that he had
seen her looking so happy.
She stepped forward,
holding out her hands.
"Welcome to Italy."
Griffin leaned into
the hug. "Thanks."
"Wow, you're taller!"
Glyn said, stepping back
to get a better look at him.
"It looks good on you."
"Yeah, everything is still ...
pretty new, but I like it,
I really do," Griffin said,
smoothing both hands
down the front of his body.
"Come on, I'll show you
to your room," Glyn said, then
turned to the teleporter. "Libertino,
we'll let you know about sightseeing."
"Sightseeing?" Griffin said.
"We're in Italy," Glyn said,
leading him through the garden.
"Take some time to relax, sure, but
you don't want to miss the museums."
Griffin sighed. "You heard what
happened to our house?" he said.
"Shana and Anthony set it on fire,"
Glyn said, nodding. "I'm so sorry."
"I lost almost all my souvenir t-shirts,"
Griffin said mournfully. "Fire department
says Shana has to replace everything
that came from school events, and Dad
is taking us to lots of places now, but
I'm still way short of what I had."
"We can fix that," Glyn said.
"Most of the tourist places
have souvenir t-shirts. I've
got another idea, too, but let's
drop off your luggage first."
The guest house was smaller
than the main villa, but still big.
"Living room, family room," Glyn said,
waving at two large airy rooms
decorated in green and gold.
Griffin knew that the Italians
sprawled all over the couches
like so many lazy cats were
probably supervillains, but they
reminded him comfortably of Pips.
One of them had his lower leg
in a lacy black cast, propped up
on an ottoman. Another had
her arm in a harness sling.
Supervillainy was rough work.
"Kitchen and wine room," Glyn said,
moving onward. "There's a meal schedule,
but see those big bowls of fresh fruit?
You can grab something anytime."
Griffin looked at the two long tables
and the stacks of chairs, wondering
how many people actually ate here.
They could seat a couple dozen.
Then Glyn turned to an older woman
with short auburn curls and a pointed face
lined with many smiles. Fashionable sunglasses
hung casually from the pocket of her apron.
"Griffin, this is Leo's mother Megliore,"
said Glyn. "Housemother, this is
my friend Griffin from Mercedes."
"Welcome to Italy, dear boy,"
Megliore said, beckoning
Griffin into a warm hug.
"You tell me if you need
anything, and I'll get it."
"Yes ma'am," Griffin said,
feeling equally charmed and
overwhelmed. "Right now,
I just need to find my room."
"Of course," said Megliore,
turning back to her cooking.
"Stairs," Glyn said, and when they
reached the landing, she pointed behind
the little sitting area. "Look at the doors.
They all have chalkboard paint so that
you can write your name on yours."
The first door was dull green
and read Olivo in neat print.
"This is your bedroom, and
the bathroom is through there,"
Glyn said, opening another door.
The room was done in shades of
sea green, tan, and white with
double doors leading to a balcony.
"Wow," said Griffin. "It's gorgeous."
He put his toiletries bag in the bathroom --
which had a shower stall in the corner
and a bathtub with a shower rig,
along with the sink and toilet --
then opened his suitcase.
"That stuff looks new,"
Glyn said. "Did someone
take you shopping?"
"It's complicated," Griffin said.
"First my grandmother bought
a ton of stuff, almost all wrong
for me. Then Mr. Sartorius took me
shopping for some basics, which is
most of what I packed for this trip."
He put the majority of it into
the little dresser by the bed,
hanging a few nicer items
in the closet across the room.
When they went back downstairs,
Griffin stared wistfully at the blue water.
"You have a swimming pool?" he said.
"We have a pool," Glyn said. "Actually,
we have several. This is the one for
the guest house. Mostly people use it
for sunbathing or swimming laps.
The one behind the main villa is
better for just romping around."
"I wish I had a set of swim trunks,"
Griffin said. "We couldn't afford
to replace everything at once,
though, and what I got from
donations is nice, but patchy."
"I need more backup," Glyn said.
"Let me introduce you to some folks.
They can help with clothes and
scheduling and everything."
"Okay," Griffin said, content
to trust her judgment on it.
Glyn led him to one of
the smaller villas that had
a pergola over its patio, festooned
with grape vines and coral roses.
Three Italians lounged in the patio chairs:
two wiry young men and a tall woman
with sleek, defined muscles.
Griffin smiled and nodded as Glyn
introduced them as friends of Roger's.
Cuoio seemed to be the man in charge,
and the slightly smaller one was Salvo.
Chiara was Cuoio's girlfriend.
Griffin quickly learned that
there was a lot more to Chiara
than met the eye, though.
As soon as they started
discussing where to go, she
took out her smartphone and said,
"What are some of your favorite things
to do, Griffin? What do you like to see?
Italy has a little bit of everything."
"Well, it's supposed to be great for art
and history. I think that the architecture
is gorgeous," Griffin said, then shrugged.
"I'm not picky, though. Dad and I have
hit most of the major sites in California."
With a few practiced taps, Chiara
brought up a list of the best attractions
to visit in cities from all across Italy.
"Aren't some of those kind of ... far?"
Griffin said, scratching the back of
his neck. "I'm not trying to pry, but
I was told to dress for southern Italy."
He'd done the best he could, but
most of his surviving summer clothes
were so worn that he was embarrassed
to bring them, and most of the new stuff
had been bought for school, thus autumn.
"Griffin could use some more clothes,
too," said Glyn. "I thought we could
try the resource room before we go out."
"Resource room?" asked Griffin.
"Yeah, it's similar to a thrift shop, only
without prices on anything," Glyn said.
"Whatever people outgrow or can't use
goes in there for someone else to take.
You'll love it -- it's like bargain-hunting
with Jaliya back home. It's really fun."
"Sure, why not," Griffin said. "I could
use swim trunks, and regular shorts."
The Italians were all grinning for
some reason. Chiara opened
a new search on her phone,
now looking for places to shop.
"I propose that we visit three cities,"
Cuoio said. "Pick one main attraction
to explore in each of them, then plan
to fill the rest of the day with food,
shopping, and casual fun."
That was pretty much how
Griffin's family did things,
so he readily agreed.
After some discussion, they
chose the Doge's Palace in Venice
for architecture, the Uffizi Galleries
in Florence for famous artworks, and
the Museo Nazionale Archeologico
for archaeology and history.
"So, fashion," said Salvo.
"Do you prefer quiet clothes,
or something more bold?
What kind of garments?"
"He'll need at least a suit
for the dances," Chiara said.
"I can't dance very well,"
Griffin admitted. "I haven't
had much chance to practice."
"Neither can I!" Cuoio said brightly.
"Let's pick something new, then
we can learn it together."
"That's ... not a terrible idea,"
Griffin said. "I need to learn more,
and get used to my new height."
"We're starting over the mats,"
Chiara said firmly.
"I'm not that bad."
"I spent the first week
leaning over a walker, just
trying to find my new feet,"
Griffin said. "Mats, please."
"You mentioned wanting
swim trunks," Glyn said,
the subject for him.
"Yeah, and any shorts
I can find," Griffin said.
"The resource room always
has those," Chiara said. "We
can look for an assortment of
plain and fancy clothes. With
your splendid hair, though,
a little flair wouldn't go amiss."
"That's going to turn heads,"
Salvo said with a smirk.
"Is it bad?" Griffin said,
rubbing his hand over
the white-blond fluff that
still wasn't familiar.
"It's not bad, just ...
noticeable," Glyn said.
"Most Italians are dark,
so blonds and redheads
are rare. You can expect
a little extra attention."
"I want options," Griffin said.
"I'm still not too familiar with
masculine fashions, and
not at all with this body."
"I'm fully trained in helping
men choose a personal style,"
Chiara said. "It's not hard."
"Oh, really?" Griffin said,
perking up. "I got some tips
from Mr. Sartorius back home,
and that has helped a lot."
"Salvo and I are still
figuring out our styles, too,"
Cuoio said. "We'll help."
Griffin looked at them
and realized that they were
as nicely dressed as Chiara,
just not quite as eye-catching.
Her dress had a tomato print.
"Yeah, I'd like that," Griffin said.
"Then let's go," Cuoio said,
bounding to his feet and
carrying everyone along
with his enthusiasm.
"Could we see what
you're starting with?"
Chiara asked on the way,
waving at Griffin's clothes.
He was wearing jeans with
a gray t-shirt and tennis shoes.
"I guess," Griffin agreed.
So they went back to
the guest house, where
Megliore waved and said,
"Making some new friends?"
"Yeah, they're going to help me
pick out some new clothes in
the resource room," Griffin said,
leading the way to his room.
The guest bed was big enough
for him to lay out the clothes in
a grid the way that Mr. Sartorius
had taught him, leaving gaps for
the ones he was wearing now.
"It looks like a good start,"
Salvo said with a nod.
"This is cashmere,"
Chiara said, stroking
the black turtleneck.
"Yeah, Mr. Sartorius
told me it's better to spend
more on quality things that last,
than cheap ones that fall apart,"
Griffin said. "This is stuff that
he helped me pick out."
"Well chosen," Salvo said,
pointing out the aubergine set
of dress shirt and tie.
"I wanted something that
would stand out," Griffin said,
remembering the shopping trip.
"That just caught my eye."
"You should look good
in it, and it matches a lot of
your other clothes," Salvo said.
Chiara made notes about
what Griffin already had, then
said, "Let's go downstairs."
The resource 'room'
actually filled the vast,
cavernous space of
the walk-out basement
under the guest house.
Griffin's jaw dropped
when he saw it, and he
stopped in his tracks.
"Same thing happened
to me the first time I saw
this place," Glyn said,
giving him a gentle push.
"You'll get used to it."
There were racks upon racks
of clothes climbing the walls,
tall banks of shelves for shoes
and hats, and rows of boxes
on the floor underneath.
Overhead hung many lamps
with shades of colored glass.
"Swimwear is over here, next to
summer clothes," Chiara said,
helpfully pointing the way.
Griffin dodged around a shelf
of barely-there swim things and
headed for a rack of shorts
that looked about knee length.
He flipped through several with
solid colors, some of which wouldn't fit,
and the ones that would were drab.
Then he found a pair of white shorts
printed with a beach scene of boats
and buildings in deep china blue.
Griffin draped them over his arm and
added a plain gray pair just in case.
"It helps if you choose a favorite color
and get mostly that, or things that go
with it," Chiara said. "That makes it
easier for you to mix and match later."
"I like blue," Griffin said. "Black and white,
some gray, a little khaki. I don't look as good
wearing dark brown as I used to, though."
"Yeah, your coloring changed some,"
Glyn said. "I wasn't expecting that."
"Me neither, but the healer warned us
it could happen," Griffin said. "I think
I like the new look, it's just ... different."
"Hmm," Chiara said. "With blue eyes,
your signature eye colors are blue
and teal, but teal is tricky with
cool tones, so you might have
better luck sticking with blue."
"I'm smooth with that," Griffin said.
Blue was easy. Everything
came in blue. Any blue would
match most of the others.
"The white-blond hair and fair skin
put you in winter, sometimes called
cool or true winter," Chiara said.
"Don't listen to anyone who claims
that you belong in spring because
of your light coloring. That's for
people with warm tones, of which
you have none whatsoever."
"So cool colors like blue, green,
and purple?" Griffin guessed.
"Or cooler shades of warm ones,"
Chiara said. "Think crimson
rather than scarlet, but that's
getting more complicated. Aim
for pure colors or pale icy ones.
Stark contrasts are good too."
Griffin had always liked frosty colors,
but they hadn't looked good on him.
Chiara showed him color palettes
on her phone, letting him pick out
the ones he liked or disliked.
"No pink," Griffin said firmly.
"Blues and purples, yeah, and
I like some of these greens too."
"Emerald," said Chiara. "That
should look quite fetching on you."
Cuoio and Salvo came over with
their arms full of shorts and shirts.
Griffin hadn't even noticed that
they were collecting things.
"Here, try on some of these,"
Cuoio invited, offering the shorts.
Griffin found a nice pair of cargo shorts,
but when he held them up, Salvo grimaced.
"Have you been wearing baggy clothes
to hide a body shape you disliked?"
the older man asked. "It's not ideal."
"Well, Mr. Sartorius helped me find
some stuff that fits a little closer, but yeah,
I'm used to a loose fit," Griffin admitted.
"What a waste," Chiara remarked,
making Glyn burst into giggles.
"Let me show you a better way,"
Salvo offered. "I went through
my share of trying different looks,
so I know what it feels like."
"Okay," Griffin said, and
let Salvo sort through the pile
of shorts for things that should fit.
"Now if you're looking for boxer shorts
as well --" Salvo said in a teasing tone.
He held out a pair still in their package,
with a replica of Michelangelo's David
silkscreened all over the fabric.
The image was anatomically correct.
Glyn blushed and giggled again. "That
would give some people a heart attack."
"Sold," Griffin said, adding the boxers
to his growing pile of bottoms to try on.
Once Griffin got into the fitting room,
Salvo talked him through moving around
to see how each pair felt on his body.
"They look like they should feel tight,
but they don't?" Griffin said, baffled.
"Most of these have a little spandex
so they don't pinch," Salvo explained.
"For warm weather you want silk,
cotton, or linen but those don't
stretch, so they need a blend."
"Most synthetics don't breathe
as well," Chiara added.
Griffin checked the labels,
and yes, everything was
cotton/spandex -- even
the jean shorts -- except
for the khaki cargo shorts,
which were pure cotton
and had a roomier cut.
He kept the khakis and jeans,
plus plain black and plain white.
Then he picked a pair printed
with black-and-white fan shapes,
and another of blue-and-white stripes
with classic scrollwork up the sides.
"These all fit," Griffin said when
he came out of the fitting room.
"I found six pairs, so that's almost
enough for a week without washing."
"Excellent," Chiara said, putting them
in a large canvas bag that had a map
of Italy on the side. "Shirts next."
Salvo handed him an armful of
fluttering silk. "You already have
cotton, so I went with these."
Griffin chose short-sleeved shirts
in black and white, followed by
long sleeves in blue and emerald.
Two patterned shirts had long sleeves,
too. There was one in shades of
blue, gray, black, and white in
a camouflage pattern with scrolls.
He hesitated over another with
a blend of emerald, gold, and white.
"You miss the warm tones,
the browns?" Chiara said.
"Yeah, but I like this green,
too," Griffin said. "It's nice."
"Then this makes a perfect way
to show that you can wear any color,
you just need to balance the ones
that don't work easily for you,"
Chiara said. "Let's see what
we can find in trousers."
Griffin's first attempt,
in crinkly gold silk, matched
the shirt but made the outfit
too warm for his coloration.
Then Glyn found a pair of
emerald trousers in linen.
"Very nice," Chiara approved.
"Now you could add an outer layer
in a darker color if you want to."
"I have a black cardigan,"
Griffin said. It was one of
the few things he had left from
his girl days. It still fit, it just didn't
stretch over the chest like it used to.
"That would work," Chiara said.
"Now, you need pants to go
with that blue and white shirt."
"I saw some black ones,"
Glyn said, but those didn't fit.
Neither did the gray pair
that Griffin tried next.
Then Cuoio found some
in rich blue silk that did.
"I like these," Griffin said.
"Suit," Chiara reminded him.
"You'll see plenty of people
wearing black, but it's too formal
for most occasions at your age.
Look for a nice blue or gray one."
"Whatever is fine," Griffin said,
leafing through the rack, but then
a flash of blue made him go, "Ooo."
"You should totally try that on,"
Glyn said, admiring the linen suit that
was just a shade or two brighter
than navy, a deep sapphire.
The trousers fit perfectly, though
the jacket was a little loose.
"Close enough for off the rack,"
Chiara said. "You already have
a white dress shirt, and that will
take up more room than your t-shirt.
You can also mix and match parts
of the suit with other things you have."
The blue coat would look good with
his black pants, or the blue pants
with a lighter blue shirt and dark tie.
Griffin thought he was starting
to get the hang of men's fashion.
"He'll need a sportcoat," Cuoio said.
"That's one thing to get fitted properly."
"Good idea, and shoes too," Chiara said.
"I already have a suit with a coat,"
Griffin said. "I can look here for shoes."
"You need something a bit less dressy
and more flexible -- ideally with a mix of
different colors, so you can wear the coat
with anything," Chiara said. "Look here
for casual shoes if you like, but plan on
shopping for some nicer ones later."
Griffin opened his mouth to argue, but
then stopped. Mr. Sartorius hadn't included
shoes, which meant that Griffin had been
scruffing around in tennis shoes. He couldn't
wear those things with clothes like these.
"All right," he said. "But I do want
to look for sandals or something."
"Over here," Salvo said, waving
Griffin toward a set of shelves.
Most of the shoes were beach things,
and although Griffin couldn't resist
looking for dress shoes, the few pairs
he found of those didn't fit him.
He did find a very comfortable pair of
sandals woven from thin straps
of oatmeal-colored leather.
"Check these out," Glyn said,
holding up a pair of flip-flops that
were mostly black with one strap in
the green-white-red of the Italian flag.
Griffin laughed. "Oh yeah," he said.
"Those are the perfect tourist shoes,
and I am getting them even though
they don't match much else I have."
"You're planning to collect
tourist t-shirts," Glyn said.
"I bet they match those."
"Start with this," Cuoio said,
offering Griffin a white t-shirt that
read Italia inside a tricolor heart.
"All right, but I will never
get all this stuff crammed into
my suitcase," Griffin said.
"Good point," Cuoio said,
looking around the room. "Aha!
Here is a suitcase with little wheels
that you pull behind you, and look --
this part comes off for a backpack.
Very discreet at your age."
The luggage was dark charcoal gray
and it looked large enough to hold
the giant pile of clothes that Griffin had.
"Sure, that ought to work," he said.
"Thank you for all this stuff!"
"You're welcome," Cuoio said.
"We want to be good hosts. If you
have anything you don't want, then
it goes in the hampers over there."
"I lost almost all of my old stuff
in the fire," Griffin said. "Most
of the rest went into the stash
at the It's Your Body Shop."
"Ah, I've heard of them,"
Cuoio said with a nod.
"They do good work."
Griffin sniffled, trying not
to get all weepy over the gifts
and the memory of finally
getting his body put right,
but it was still hard.
He had weathered
the destruction of his home,
his relationship with relatives
who couldn't accept his true self,
and other things along the way.
He was still trying to create
a new life and an identity as
a teenage boy now that
the world could see him
the way he saw himself.
"You okay?" Glyn said.
"Yeah, just ..." Griffin took
a deep breath. "This place,
these people, it reminds me
of my family, kind of, at least
the parts that don't suck."
"Families are the compass that
guides us," Cuoio said, as he put
a gentle hand on Griffin's shoulder.
"They are the inspiration to reach
great heights, and our comfort
when we occasionally falter."
"Griffin, you look tired,"
said Chiara. "Why don't you
go put your things away, then
try out the pool before supper?"
Griffin thought that sloshing around
for a few minutes and then basking
on a lounge sounded fantastic.
Glyn stuck with him, which
turned out to be a good thing,
because Griffin fell asleep.
She was chuckling as she
shook him awake and said,
"It's time to get up. Shower,
and then we'll have supper."
Griffin hurried through his wash
and then shyly put on a white t-shirt
with his blue-and-white shorts.
Glyn pulled him into the kitchen
where chairs now crowded around
the dining table as people passed
a few platters from hand to hand.
There were eggplant rolls that
had some kind of sweet stuffing,
and platters of cured meat with
cheese that Griffin didn't recognize.
Everything tasted good, though.
Next came minestrone made
from fresh vegetables and pasta,
then swordfish cooked with
lemon and fava beans.
Griffin tried gamely
to follow the conversation,
but it was mostly in Italian now,
unlike the earlier round with
Cuoio and his team. Even Glyn
was chattering in fast, fluent Italian.
That was interesting. She hadn't
spoken Italian before she left.
Griffin shrugged and turned
his attention to the simple but
delicious salad going around,
rows of sliced tomatoes and
mozzarella with basil leaves.
After that came yet more cheese,
this time with a melon salad.
By the time the cannoli
came around, Griffin was
too stuffed to do more
than wave them away.
"Don't skip the bitters,"
Glyn advised him when
tiny glasses of soda water,
liqueur, and a lemon wedge
were passed around the table.
"They help prevent indigestion."
After that meal, Griffin needed
all the help that he could get.
The glass held barely a mouthful,
and even watered down, it had
a sharp bite of herbs and
a faint warmth of alcohol.
He was surprised that Glyn
would touch it, but then again,
she had changed in many ways.
Perhaps this was one of
her new discoveries.
Griffin had just enough energy
after supper to drag himself upstairs,
peel off most of his clothes, and
finally collapse onto the bed.
Sleep closed over him like a curtain.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.