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Come Live With Me & Be My Love

Chapter Text

Winter 1983

We were back at the house for the holidays. I hadn’t been there since we left in early September to go back to Milan. He came. He left. Nothing else had changed.

At least it was winter; I felt that with a different season I could more easily come to terms with Oliver’s absence from the villa. I wouldn’t have to sit in the grass where we first kissed or lounge in the pool or even look at a peach.

Winter in Crema was boring, though, and I found it hard to occupy my time. I spent most of my days walking around the property in the snow or transcribing my music in the second bedroom. I didn’t dare sleep in my old room - our room, my room with Oliver. I was sure that if I even stepped foot inside, Oliver’s scent would still be preserved, permeating the crisp yellow sheets. Neither my parents nor Mafalda commented on my use of the smaller bedroom.

I couldn't say I was 'over' Oliver. I didn't think I ever would be. He'd made such an impact on my life, left such an impression. Now there was a void, a hole that no one could ever fill. As the days grew shorter and the nights chillier, the raw, open wound that was my heart seemed to morph into an aching throb that never went away. There wasn't a single second during which Oliver wasn't on my mind. His voice, his taste, his smell, his intelligence. 

I hadn't heard from him since he left. We made no promises to keep in touch. It wasn't like we were betrothed or anything. I don't know what I had thought. I surely didn't expect Oliver to write me love letters every day, pining for me. I didn't expect him to waste the money to call me all the way from New York. He had left. He had moved on. He had a life of his own and I was stuck here with bittersweet memories of stolen kisses and late nights.

My parents were discussing the top candidates to take Oliver’s role in 1984. I had never before been included in these conversations, mostly out of lack of interest. This year, however, my parents left the door to the study open, and they spoke rather loudly, inviting me to join in.

They were talking about a girl. I had thoughts on that. None that I wanted to share.

I rolled my eyes and sighed, tipping my head over the arm of the couch. The phone rang and I sprung up, eager for some sort of distraction. The world spun a little and I stumbled as I threw myself right side up. “I’ll get it!”

“Pronto?”

“Elio? You there?”

Was I there? The better question was if he was there. And he was. I had to sit down before my knees gave out.

“Hi.”

“Hey.”

“How are you?”

“I’m good...I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m good – ”

“How are your pare – ”

“They’re fine.”

“Good.”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you too. Very much.”

There was a silence and I wished my conversation wasn’t so stilted.

“I have some news.”

“I – news?”

Was it better to speak or die? In this moment, perhaps die.

“I’ve been speaking with your father.”

So that’s why he’d been holed up in his office every day at 2 pm. I looked down at my watch. It was 2 pm. I still couldn’t speak; my blood was rushing and my heart was pumping so fast that I couldn’t even hear myself breathe.

Was Oliver coming back?

Was he getting married?

Was he sick?

“Are you sick?” I asked with a rush of air, lips pressed right up against the receiver. The thought made my blood turn cold.

“No,” Oliver said quickly, and my grip on the phone loosened slightly. “No. A few people I – never mind. Not important right now. Look, Elio, the reason I called. You’re graduating this spring and it ends up your father has quite a few connections at Juilliard.”

I was breathing so heavily into the phone, pretty sure that the noise must be uncomfortable right against Oliver’s ear. But I didn’t dare move. I was afraid I would accidentally disconnect the call.

“He sent in an application for you and sent over some of your tapes. They’re holding a spot for you and – ” Oliver stopped there and sighed.

My father had always known I wanted to study music at university. I felt an overwhelming rush of gratitude that he had gone to such lengths to help me get into school in the States. I never thought it would be an option. But what did this have to do with Oliver, aside from the fact that he lived in New York? Was he asking me not to attend? Did he have a wife, a new life, a baby on the way? Was he going to tell me that he couldn’t let me burst his bubble of perfect domesticity?

“Look, you can say no. I know it’s a lot and I haven’t talked to you in months which, fuck, Elio, I’m sorry about that. But I was wondering if maybe you’d like to come and live with me. There aren’t any dormitories associated with Juilliard an– ”

“Elio,” I whispered as I closed my eyes. I felt like I was going to cry, vomit, pass out, and scream all at the same time. “Elio, Elio, Elio.”

I didn’t even have to wait for his response.

“Oliver, Oliver, Oliver.”

We were quiet for a moment, just our breathing, staticy over the line.

“What can I do to convince you to come?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh, I – Right. I’m sorry I called, Elio.”

“Elio,” I said again, still incapable of saying anything coherent. We were quiet again, but I opened my eyes when I heard a floorboard creak. My mother and father stood in the doorway, wrapped up in one another, watching me with the fondest of smiles.

“You don’t have to do anything to convince me,” I finally said. It seemed to take me years to get the words out. “Yes. Yes, Oliver. I - Yes.”

My parents were absolutely beaming now, and I could see my dad squeeze my mom a little closer.

Oliver’s relieved sigh came in the form of a hushed but happy, “fuck.” I giggled and held the phone closer to my ear as if it could magically suck me up and spit me out right on Oliver’s lap.

“Your dad says classes end on May 11th. I know you go to Crema soon after, and your classes at Juilliard won’t start until September 10th, so you can come after – ”

“No,” I said quickly. I couldn’t bear the thought of being here in the summer, especially knowing I was missing out on time with Oliver. “No, I’ll come from Milan. As soon as classes are over.”

My parents left us alone at that point, and I hunched in on myself a little, wishing I could somehow get closer to Oliver.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he murmured, voice low and soft, just as I remembered.

“I remember everything,” I said. He had to know. He had to know how closely I’d held onto the summer of 1983.

“Me too.”

We spoke briefly about the timeline, and I promised him that my father and I would book a flight as soon as possible. Five months. It seemed like forever and nothing at all. I’d already been without Oliver for four.

He gave me his address and his telephone number, and he made me promise to write. I made him promise the same.

“Goodbye, Oliver,” he said after a few moments of silence.

“Goodbye, Elio,” I said in return. But I didn’t hang up the phone. I couldn’t. Not yet.

“Soon we’ll have all the time in the world together,” he said as if reading my mind. “And we won’t have to say goodbye. We’ll always be able to come home to each other.”

“Probably more apt to say, ‘Later,’” I said, voice faint. I was dizzy with the prospect of my new life, unable to stop myself from imagining quiet mornings in bed and eating takeout on the couch. Our couch.

“Later.” I laughed at his sign-off and gripped the phone with two hands, wishing we didn’t have to hang up. I wanted to stay on the phone with him through Christmas, through Hanukkah, through school and finals and all through the plane ride. I didn’t want to hang up until I was in his arms again.

“Later.”

Chapter Text

While it was painful to hang up the phone, I knew I couldn’t stay on the line forever. The knowledge that I would see Oliver in five months made me feel happier and lighter than I had since he left.

He wanted me.

He wanted me to come live with him.

He wanted a life with me.

“Papà?” I shuffled slowly into the sitting room, kicking my feet out in front of me as I went, my hands behind my back. I had a sheepish grin on my face and I could tell that my cheeks were flushed pink.

“Are you happy, tesoro?” My mother moved over and pat the spot on the couch between her and my dad.

“Sì,” I said quietly as I lay down, my head in my mother’s lap and my feet on my father’s. I couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’ve missed this smile,” my mom said as he ran her fingers through my hair.

“Thank you,” I whispered. I closed my eyes for a few seconds, just basking in the warmth of my parents on either end of me. I was so overwhelmed, so moved by my parent’s gesture, and I knew I had to say something else, it just took me a moment to get my thoughts in order.

I sat up to hug my father and kiss his cheek. “Grazie, Papà.”

“Grazie mille.” I kissed my mom as well before sitting cross-legged on the couch. I wanted to tell them how happy I was. I wanted to scream and shout and jump up and down, but my head was still spinning. I couldn't quite believe this was happening. My parents seemed to know how grateful I was though if judging by the smile on my face.

“I told Oliver we’d book a ticket,” I started, glancing over at my dad.

“Today?” he asked with a laugh as he ruffled my hair.

“Oh, tesoro,” my mom sighed, her fingers joining my father’s in my curls. “Let us have you to ourselves for one more night.”

The enormity of what I had agreed to hit me then. I would be leaving Italy for the foreseeable future, probably only coming back to Crema for the summer holidays if we could manage it. And then what about after graduation? University would only be four years. Where would I be after that? Would Oliver still want me? Would he still call me by his name?

“One more night,” I agreed, allowing my parents that. I knew it was probably something they discussed at length. Not every parent would let their 18-year-old go live in America with a man who they had only known for six weeks. But my parents, my dad especially, knew what Oliver meant to me. Knew how much I needed to be with him and how much, I assumed, he needed to be with me.

That night, after dinner, I finally allowed myself to open the door to my old bedroom. All traces of Oliver were gone. The bed was made, sheets pulled tight by Mafalda’s experienced hands. The desk was clear and my books were neatly stacked in the piles I had left them in. I slid into bed and rolled the sleeves of Billowy down from my elbows. It didn’t smell like Oliver anymore, but it didn’t matter. It was still a part of him that I could always keep with me.

Before the phone call, I slept with Billowy every single night, crying against the fabric and holding it tight until it went soft. It felt different that night, though. Billowy felt more of a promise of what was to come rather than a way to hang onto the past.

I smiled against my pillow and couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up. I was moving to New York City to study what I was passionate about. I was going to live with my Oliver. My partner. With the thought that I would soon share a bed with Oliver again, falling asleep that night was easy.

The next morning after breakfast, my father and I called Alitalia and booked a flight out of Linate for May 15th. It was a Tuesday, but Oliver said on the phone that he didn't teach on Tuesdays and that would be a perfect day for him to meet me at the airport in New York. He had told me not to rush, to take as much time as I needed after graduation. I wanted to leave as soon as I got my diploma, but my dad convinced me to at least wait a few days.

That night was the fourth night of Hanukkah and we were only in Crema for another three and a half weeks. With the calendar full of guests and family members coming for the holidays, there was a lot I had to do.

“Non corri nella casa!” Mafalda called out as I burst out of my father’s office and sprinted up the stairs.

“Mi spiace!” I cried back, not stopping for even a second as I let the door to my bedroom slam behind me. There was so much I had to pack! I had to go through all of my books! I had to organize all the clothes I usually left in Crema for the summer months!

I spent the remainder of the day going through my belongings, deciding what to bring back to Milan and, eventually, take to New York.

I tried to imagine putting away all of my stuff in Oliver’s apartment. It dawned on me that I never really got to see how he lived. Oliver always kept my room relatively neat, out of respect for Mafalda, aside from swim trunks hung on just about every surface. I blushed at the memory of pulling Oliver’s trunks over my head.

What did Oliver’s apartment look like? Was he neat and tidy or did his books and papers and clothes slowly start to encroach over every open space?

I wriggled with excitement and busied myself again with packing.

Some family members were coming over for dinner, which I was really not looking forward to. The conversation was always boring: politics or calcio. But when I came downstairs, I heard a familiar, soft female voice.

“Elio!” Marzia cried when she saw me over my mother’s shoulder. She laughed as I scooped her up into a tight hug.

It had taken us a while to build up our friendship again after Oliver left, but it wasn't something I was willing to give up. She was too good to lose. I had hurt her, I knew that, and I did everything in my power to show her just how sorry I was. Eventually, after many discussions as well as quiet days by the lake at the end of the summer, we were back to being best friends.

She left for France before I left for Milan, and I had no idea she was coming back to Crema for the holidays. She'd been my rock after Oliver's departure and for that I was forever thankful. It was such a surprise and joy to see her there and I hugged her tight again before my mother instructed us to set the table.

“I’m moving to New York,” I said as I put the knives next to the forks which Marzia had perfectly lined up with the wine glasses.

Marzia looked up at me, eyes as wide as saucers, and I couldn’t help but laugh. “When? Oliver?”

I explained everything as we set the table together and finally, she wrapped me in a bone-crushing hug. “I’m so happy for you,” she whispered against my ear. “But you have to promise to write.”

“Je le jure,” I assured with a kiss to her temple.

The rest of the time in Crema passed quickly. My excitement at seeing Oliver again seemed to speed up the days and they flew by in the blur of gift giving, overeating, and indulging in rosatello. By the time we were headed back to Milan, I only had four more months until my move.

We arrived in Milan on January 7th. I had wanted to call Oliver on New Year’s, but I was swept up in plans with Marzia and then it was the Epiphany and we had even more family over at the house, so I didn’t really have a chance to be upset about not having called until we were at our apartment.

I was back at school on the 9th and I’d neglected to do most of the work I’d been assigned over the holidays. I shut myself up in my room until my father called for me.

“Elio! Package for you!”

I padded out to the kitchen where my father was going through the piles of mail we’d missed in the past month. He set aside a package wrapped in brown paper and I immediately recognized the scrawl of my name. I snatched the package and tore into the paper, probably resembling a feral beast. My dad laughed, but I could barely hear it over the buzzing in my ears.

 

My dearest Elio,

I figured it was safer to send this to Milan, considering you may not be back in Crema for a while. I do hope you get this when you’re back home.

I cannot begin to put into words how happy I am that you agreed to come to New York. I woke up this morning with such unbridled joy in my heart: I’m saved! I’m only worried that I said goodbye to you last night and left you just as heartbroken as when we hugged goodbye so awkwardly at the station in Bergamo. I wish I could do over that goodbye - I want to leave you happy and without the worries or doubts you had when I first left you. That’s why I’ve decided to send you this. Just a reminder that you’ll be here soon (and you’ll have to brush up on your American culture).

I feel so alone without you, Elio. I already daydream of how sweet it’ll be to see you again in May. I keep imagining you in my apartment and my heart beats faster at the thought of you in my bed. It’s just a short time off now, and I’ll soon have you all to myself.

while I think on thee, dear friend, all losses are restor'd and sorrows end

This keeps coming over and over again in my mind - it’s the end of a Shakespeare sonnet, although I’m sure you already know that. He must have been happy in love too. I had never realized that before…

I want to see you. It’s absurd. I can’t live without you. You are so dear to me, Elio. So wonderful. I think of you all day long: I miss your grace, your boyish beauty, the bright sword-play of your wit and genius. I miss all of you.

Please write soon.

With my love,

Oliver

 

Along with his letter, Oliver included a mixtape he’d made of the year’s top hits in America as well as a battered copy of The Catcher in the Rye . Oliver scribbled a note on the first page.

 

You’re going to hate this book just as much as I do, but you need an intro to NYC. See you soon.

 

“Thanks, Papà,” I said breathlessly as I snatched up the tape, book, and letter.

He laughed and didn’t look up from the letter he was reading. “Go write back to him. I’m sure he’s waiting for your response.”

I exchanged the tape of Liszt I was listening to for Oliver’s mixtape and burst out laughing when “Maneater” came through over my headphones. I tore a piece of paper from my notebook and set to work on a response.

 

Oliver. My Oliver -

I’ll never be able to thank you properly for arranging all of this (although I can definitely think of a place to start). But seriously, thank you, Oliver. Thank you a million times over. Not only will I be living with you, I will also study what I love. This couldn’t have worked out better.

I’ve already started packing and I hope there will be enough room in your apartment for my things. My mother assured me that you probably have plenty of books, but I fear I cannot part with some of my own. I’ll have to integrate them into your bookshelves. Oh! I've booked a flight for 15h May. I get into JFK at 6:30 pm. Will you be able to meet me there?

Marzia visited for the holidays, the day after you called. She is excited for me. Excited for us. Everyone is, really. Especially my parents.

Don’t worry, Oliver - the days have definitely been better since your call. There is no longer heartbreak or doubt. Some worry, perhaps, about starting over in an unfamiliar place, but I know you will be by my side through it all.

I’m making it alright here, but I miss you. Your arms around me and mine around you, our nakedness, holding each other. Life seems empty without you, but knowing I will see you soon gets me through the days.

I want to tell you something, Oliver, but can’t. Not yet. Not until I can tell you face to face, with your arms around me. Not until you’re inside me and kissing me all over. Not until we’re in our bed together, wrapped up in one another. But for now, let me say -

With all my love and all my soul,

Your Elio

Chapter Text

January 17th, 1984

My Elio,

Words cannot express how happy I was to receive your letter. I’m glad my package got to you in Milan. Have you listened to the tape yet? How about the book? Isn’t Holden insufferable?

May 15th at 6:30 pm. I’ve marked it on my calendar and I’m already counting down the days. I’ll meet you at the arrivals gate with open arms.

I am desperately waiting for the sight of you. Do you realize how fascinatingly beautiful you’ve always been to me? Your dark lashes, your unruly curls, your hips beneath my hands. It’s hard to believe that the very hands writing this letter once held you close against my chest. My memories of Italy harmonize my daydreaming. Do you remember how you felt? Remembering how I felt that first night - all those nights - sets me at ease with my missing you.

I have to restrain myself from waxing poetic; I can see you rolling your eyes at me, as brazen as always.

Classes have resumed and aside from my own work, I have two new classes for which I am the TA. I wish that at least one of these students were half as brilliant as you are. I repeat: Is there anything you don’t know?

It’s been freezing here, low 20s every day. Thankfully, my apartment building has a fiercely intense heating system. Sometimes so much so I have to open the windows even when it’s snowing.

But enough about my boring life here. How are you? Is it cold in Milan? How about in Crema - did you get much snow? Are you enjoying your classes? Tell me everything. I want to know about your work, your music, your friends. What do you do in the evenings? What did you eat for breakfast? I need to fill in the blanks in my daydreams.

Please write soon, Elio. I’m not sure how fast this letter will get to you, but I hope sooner rather than later. Until then, I’ll reread your last letter, until I have every word and every curve of your writing memorized, and a thousand times after that.

Yours,

Oliver

 

* * *

 

30 January 1984

Dear Oliver,

Of course I listened to the tape. It’s permanently in my cassette player. I don’t think my parents have seen me without my headphones on since I received it. As for the book: yes, I despise Holden! How could you make me read something so unbelievably frustrating and pedantic. It has made me even more curious about New York, though. I’ve made my dad pull out an atlas we haven’t opened in years so I could find a map. I’ve torn out the page and I study it every single night. Where do you live? Where is Columbia? Where is Juilliard? There are so many streets! And they are all so organized! Will we be able to bike around the city like in Crema, or must I take the subway?

To answer your questions: yes, it’s been cold in Milan. About 3C, which I believe is just a bit warmer than New York. We did get snow in Crema. You wouldn’t believe how different everything looks with a blanket of snow. There are no peaches or apricots and the pool is covered with a blue tarp.

My classes are fine. My Liceo is linked to a conservatory so I am able to concentrate on my music. I hope that I will do well in my classes at Juilliard. My friends and teachers are very impressed that I’ll be attending; I just hope I can live up to their standards. Will you still want me even if I fail every class? My evenings are spent doing homework, transcribing music, and, of course, rereading your letters. I had bread with butter and jam for breakfast, like most mornings, although I’m not sure why you need that detail to fill your daydreams!

You flatter me with your letter, Oliver. I’m afraid you don’t remember me accurately. I’m still too skinny and small. My hair is still unruly and knotted and my skin is even paler now without the summer sun. Is your love blind, Oliver? Even so, (I, too, repeat) I don’t know anything about the things that matter. Is your love deaf as well?

I miss you.

Your Elio

 

* * *

 

February 11th, 1984

Elio,

Elio Elio Elio Elio Elio

You wonder what I see in you with all your imagined and exaggerated imperfections. My love is like rain, washing away the passing flaws like paper cups and gum wrappers coursing toward the sewer. All caressing, polishing what is permanent, solid, pure, clean, and obvious.

No, Elio, my love isn’t blind or deaf or lame or mute.

There now! Have I made myself clear? And do you see between the lines that I love you very dearly and more constantly from day to day? And it grows on me like vines. Every day there is a new crop of little loves.

Now take out your map and follow along with me. Juilliard is on 65th and Broadway (Lincoln Center). Follow Broadway all the way up to 116th. Columbia is on 116th, between Broadway and Amsterdam. Now, go down Amsterdam to 110th. Cross over another avenue to Columbus. Follow Columbus all the way down to 74th Street. That’s where I live.

I take the bus up to Columbia. Lucky for you, my  our apartment is a 10 minute walk from Juilliard. We will be able to ride our bikes come spring. I’ll make sure to get you one before you come. Please don’t worry about your classes, Elio. You’re brilliant and so talented and any university would be lucky to have you.

I’m still in bed as I write this. It’s a beautiful morning here. I wish I could spend the morning snuggling with you and lazing over cups of coffee. Write to me soon, my beautiful Elio.

Faithfully yours,

Oliver

 

* * *

 

14 February 1984

Dear Oliver,

I haven’t yet received a reply from you, and I apologize for writing twice in a row, but it’s Valentine’s Day.

For those my parents’ age and older, it’s mostly about St. Valentine. We have off from school which is nice. But for the younger generations, it’s all about La Festa Degli Innamorati. We’ve adopted Valentine’s Day traditions from America. They’re all silly, but it makes me miss you all the same. I wish we could be together today (and every day).

I’ve enclosed the love note from the Baci I had this afternoon. It’s a chocolate and hazelnut candy and there are quotes about love wrapped inside.

Il Bacio e un segreto sussurrato a una bocca anziche ad un orecchia.

A kiss is a secret told to the mouth instead of the ear.

Tell me your secrets, Oliver.

Yours,

Elio

 

* * *

 

20 February 1984

Oliver,

I’ve just received your letter and I apologize again for writing so much!

Yes, you’ve made yourself clear. For some reason, you find my lanky body and messy hair attractive, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I never thought I would be wanted by someone like you.

Oliver. oliveroliveroliveroliveroliver

Elio. elioelioelioelioelio

Have you ever noticed how our names bleed together? Elio and Oliver. Oliver and Elio. eliooliver eliooliver oliverelio olverelio elioliver elioliver

I’m so needy for you, Oliver. I’ve tried so hard not to let my letters come to this, but I can’t hold it back anymore. My bed is so empty every night. I am so empty every night and every moment of every day. I wrap myself up in Billowy and touch myself, thinking of you. Of how badly I want to be inside of you. How badly I want every fiber of your being inside of me. I need your kisses, Oliver, and your fingers and your mouth and your cock. I ache for you with every last inch of my body. Will you have me as soon as we’re in the apartment? I don’t think I’ll be able to eat or sleep or talk or anything until you’ve been inside me and I in you. Please, Oliver. Please take me apart on every last surface.

I’m afraid I must end my letter here, as now I’ll need an extra few minutes to myself before dinner.

Desperately yours,

Elio

 

* * *

 

March 1st, 1984

Elio!

I was running late for a meeting this morning, so I hailed a cab. I decided to open your letter en route.

Elio!

I should have folded up the letter, stashed it away until I was in the privacy of my apartment. Or my office, at least. But once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. I got so lost in your letter, Elio, that I found myself squirming in my seat, cheeks flushed and half hard. Look what you do to me.

When I eventually recovered my self-control, I realized the cabbie was eyeing me through the rearview mirror. He winked and asked, “Wife leave you a love note?” For a few minutes, I couldn’t say a word, so I just nodded. Then - “She is not my wife, but…”  He said, “I know - I guess she soon will be!” At which remark I grinned and said he was quite right.

And Elio, you have no idea what a thrill it gave me to be able to say that (even if I couldn’t reveal your true identity)! You will be here with me soon. You will be mine soon, and I yours. I wish with all my being that I could properly marry you. I wish I could show you off to everyone I meet. But for now, I will settle for having you in my bed.

Yours forever,

Oliver

 

* * *

 

12 March 1984

Oliver, I am so embarrassed by my last letter. I knew I shouldn’t have sent that to you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for embarrassing you. I hope you’re not in any sort of trouble. But, if you can, please tell me you think of me in that way too. Even just a small hint, Oliver.

I’m sorry, and please know I deeply regret my letter.

Elio.

 

* * *

 

March 26th, 1984

Elio. My precious Elio,

Please don’t be sorry and do not ever be embarrassed. I’m not in any trouble. Of course I think about you that way, and I’m sorry I didn’t reciprocate. I’ve been busy grading papers.

I wish I could kiss and lick and suck away all of the guilt and regret you’re feeling. I wish this letter could get to you sooner to assuage your fears. Elio, my darling, never be embarrassed about your feelings. Especially when it comes to me. I long to hear those words from your lips. I’m desperate to make good on your fantasies.

As soon as I have you at home, I plan on keeping you naked and in bed for at least 24 hours. Then we can tackle the other surfaces…

I think of you every single moment of every single day. Everything reminds me of you and when I’m reminded of you, all I want is to wrap you up in my arms and kiss you senseless.

Will you promise to always kiss me, Elio?

Devotedly,

Oliver

 

* * *

 

3 April 1984

Dear Oliver,

We still have over a month until we can kiss again, Oliver. It’s too long of a time and my aching heart can’t stand it anymore. I want you to hold me. I want to crawl inside of you and never leave.

I promise, Oliver. I’ll kiss you for the rest of forever. lo giuro.

I’m so busy studying for exams and practicing for my final recital for the conservatory. I barely have any free time, but what little I have is spent packing and preparing for my move. I have two very large suitcases plus my backpack. I worry I’m bringing too much and I’ll overwhelm your apartment with my belongings.

Will you be off this summer or will you have to work? I’m excited for you to show me Manhattan. Will you take me to all of your favorite places? Can we spend an entire day in the grass in Central Park? Can we make it our new Heaven?

Your Elio

 

* * *

 

April 16th, 1984

Elio,

Can you believe it’s now officially less than a month until you’re here? It doesn’t seem real. It won’t seem real until you’re here at home.

Don’t worry about bringing too much. This is our apartment together. I want you to have everything you could ever need or want.

Just to confirm: I will meet you at JFK at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, May 15th. I’ll meet you at the arrivals gate. I hope you’ll recognize me.

No, I don’t have work this summer. I’ll be done with classes a week after your arrival.

Elio. My sweet Elio. I can’t wait to hold you in my arms again. No matter where we are, you in my arms is my Heaven.

All my love,

Oliver

 

* * *

 

30 April 1984

Dear Oliver,

I guess this will be the last letter I write to you since I leave for New York in 16 days.

I’ll see you at the arrivals gate at JFK on Tuesday, May 15 at 6:30 pm.

My hands are shaking writing that.

Is this real? Will I actually see you in just 16 days?

It’s been so long, Oliver. It’s been nine months since I last saw you. Sometimes I miss you so badly that I can’t help but cry. I know we’ll be together soon, my love.

I like calling you my love because you are my love and my lover. My heart has been broken and put back together so many times for you, and I know I’m a better person because of it. I like the way my heart feels because of you - all lumpy like. And I will happily give my heart to you, even though it’s a bit lumpy. I trust you with me - with my heart - and I know that whenever you do anything, you’re thinking of my best interests. You are so selfless like that.

You make me feel at ease with who I am. I think you love me for all the right reasons. You don’t like when I’m snotty, and I’m glad you don’t (although you do put up with it). So I guess the whole point of this is - more than yesterday, and even more than tomorrow - I…

I’ll finish this thought when I speak to you next. When I finally see you at the arrivals gate at JFK.

Your Elio

Chapter Text

Oliver’s letters were my lifeline during the four months before my departure. I immersed myself in my remaining schoolwork, wanting desperately to make a good impression on my professors and classmates at Juilliard. Whenever I wasn’t studying or writing to Oliver, I was tying up all the loose ends of my life in Italy.

I tried to spend as much time with my parents and friends as possible, knowing I wouldn’t be seeing them for a long time. I whiled away many Saturday nights out with my classmates, smoking in the piazza or going to nightclubs until 3 am. I spent every Sunday, and most weeknights, at home with my parents. I was never devoid of their attention; one of them always had a hand in my hair or on my shoulder. I hugged and kissed my parents as much as possible, trying to convey how much I would miss them.

I graduated on the 12th of May, and my parents reserved practically the entirety of my favorite restaurant in Milan for a dinner with my friends and family. Mafalda, Anchiese, Chiara, and Marzia were there too, even Isaac and Mounir.

The interior was rearranged so that just about every table was pushed together to accommodate our large group. There was an overabundance of both wine and food, and two hours in I was happily full and slightly buzzed.

My father stood and cleared his throat, tapping a knife against his wine glass. “Attenzione! Attenzione, miei amici.”

The room quieted down and everyone turned their attention to my father.

“First, I just want to thank you all for coming tonight, especially our friends from far away.” He tilted his glass and nodded his head in the direction of those who linked us to Crema, who all ended up at a table together. “Of course I want to say how inexplicably proud Annella and I are of Elio, but I don’t know if he wants to hear that right now.”

He was right. My cheeks were bright pink and I smiled up at him briefly before looking back down at my plate. Those around me chuckled.

“I am immensely happy for all the graduates today. I’ve known some of you just as long as I’ve known Elio, and I know that each and every one of you will go on to do great things and make our city proud.” He turned to me again and I looked up at my dad, mio papà, my head spinning a little with the wine. “In two day’s time, we’ll release you into the future. Where and how high you fly will be completely up to you, Elly Belly.” I flushed a deeper pink at the nickname. “Watching you learn and grow has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Now, you will have one of the greatest experiences of  your  life. I know you will be searching for your own answers in New York, but if you ever need an ear or a shoulder, have a question or a problem, I’m here - always - no matter how far you go in distance or time.”

He had the fondest look on his face, and I couldn’t help the tears that rolled down my cheeks. Only four of us at the table really knew what - or rather, who - was waiting for me in New York. My father had been supportive of my relationship with Oliver from the start, and for that, I was forever grateful. There were so many unspoken words between us as we stared at each other, my mother with one hand on my shoulder and the other hitched up around my dad’s waist as he stood by her side.

“Saluti,” he cried out, grinning as he broke eye contact with me and raised his glass.

“Saluti!”

I quickly dabbed at my eyes before grabbing my glass and joining in with the rest of the cheering and well-wishing.

Anchise and Mafalda left early. Chiara traipsed off to go stay with a boy she’d met the previous night at a club. Others streamed out slowly until, by 2 am, it was just me, my parents, Marzia, and Isaac and Mounir. I was so inexplicably happy: full of good food, drunk on strong wine, and surrounded by the people I loved most. There was, of course, one missing, but in my delusionally giddy state, Oliver’s absence wasn’t so bad.

After finishing the last of the wine, We all strolled down empty and quiet streets back to our apartment. Marzia was staying over and Isaac and Mounir were coming back for a nightcap. I walked between them, hands behind my back and head ducked down.

“I’m going to New York,” I started, but I stopped there.

Isaac laughed and knocked his shoulder against mine. “We know that.”

“I’m going to live with my partner.” The words came out in a very soft whisper. I was so sure they hadn’t heard me because neither of them said anything for a few paces. It was the first time I had openly admitted to anyone that I was queer. Marzia and my parents just knew about me and Oliver.

“It’s different there,” Mounir finally said. He looked over at Isaac before looking down at me with a smile. “You’re going to meet a lot of new people, a lot of different people. Don’t lose those friends. They’ll always be important to you. A connection to a special and tight-knit community.”

I nodded, my words stuck in my throat in a tight knot.

“Next time we’re there, we’ll come visit,” Isaac promised with a ruffle to my already mussed curls.

“You’re lucky you have your papà,” Mounir piped in. We were just a few steps away from the apartment now. “And your mamma. They are very special.”

I couldn’t disagree with them there.

As much as I wanted to sleep in, the next day was Mother’s Day. We didn’t go to mass as many Italian families did, but my father and I usually brought my mom breakfast in bed. That morning, however, I left Marzia sleeping in my room and crept into my parents’. I crawled into their bed and settled between them, causing them both to stir.

“Tesoro,” my mother whispered as she smoothed down my hair and kissed my forehead. “Bellissimo bambino.”

“Whose idea was it?” It was a question I’d been asking since Oliver called, and I was hoping that I would finally get an answer.

“Talk to Oliver about it,” came my dad’s response, one I now had memorized, as he reached out for his glasses.

I sighed and squirmed a little on the bed before settling down. I was unbelievably excited to live with Oliver, but all I wanted to know was how it all came about, and I’d been left in the dark.

My father sat up and stretched out his back before putting on his robe and slippers. “Coffee,” was all he said as he shuffled out of the bedroom, leaving me and my mother alone.

We laughed and I moved so that I could burrow under the covers. My mother wrapped her arms around me and held me close.

“I love you very, very much, and that will never change. You spent months growing inside me and I was gifted the most beautiful creature in the world. You have brought so much happiness to my life, tesoro, and I will always be grateful for you.”

She paused there to kiss the top of my head, and I shifted a little to get closer to her. “I would be lying if I said I won’t worry about you, but I trust that you will make smart decisions, and I trust Oliver. You are so wonderful. So talented, smart, fun, and brave. I am so infinitely proud of you, Elio.”

I turned my face into her pillow and wept, the smell of her perfume enveloping me as she ran her hand up and down my back.

“Come now, tesoro,” she said after she’d let me cry for a few minutes. “Papà is probably boring Marzia now that he’s had his coffee.”

That day and the day after passed by in a blur. They were my final 48 hours in Milan. I was glad to have Marzia there as well. The three of them had all, in their own way, supported my relationship with Oliver from the beginning and gave me the freedom to slowly come into my real self.

On Monday, the last full day before I left, Marzia and I went out for breakfast at a secluded bar.

“I really am happy for you,” she said as we sipped at our coffees.

“That means a lot from you.”

“Please promise to write. And let me stay with you when I come to visit.”

Marzia was, if possible, just as excited as I was about my moving to New York. She was already planning on coming to visit me and Oliver, and she’d made a list of all the New York sights she wanted to see.

“Of course,” I laughed, reaching out to squeeze her hand. I looked at her then with utmost sincerity. “Thank you for not hating me.”

There was a lot to unpack in that statement, and I knew it. I’d hurt Marzia. I toyed with her, left her for someone else, not to mention that someone was another man. She had a lot of reasons to hate me, and yet, she didn’t.

“I will always love you, and you will always love me,” she said, and it was true.

The rest of the day was spent with Marzia and my parents: walking around Milan, buying last minute items that I knew I couldn’t find in New York (I made sure I had plenty of Oliver’s favorite cigarettes), and trying to find spare room in my suitcases for anything I believed I desperately needed.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Even after a large meal and a few glasses of wine, I was still wired and practically bouncing off the walls. Marzia and I stayed up way too late, flipping through a book of New York that she gave me. We'd gone through the book nearly one hundred times already, but she and I re-bookmarked everything I needed to see: every landmark, museum, restaurant - even the tourist traps.

“I’m sure Oliver will be a great tour guide,” she sighed, gazing down at an aerial shot of Central Park.

“He already promised he would be.”

We broke out into a fit of giggles, prompted by nothing, and spent another hour looking through the book before finally going to sleep.

My flight was at 2 pm on the 15th and, having woken up at 7, brimming with pure excitement, we had plenty of time. The four of us enjoyed a quiet breakfast together, my parents reading the newspaper, Marzia reading the book on New York, and I hiding a few of Oliver's letters between the pages of a book so I could read those instead.

After breakfast, my mother and I went through my drawers and closet to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything important. Finally, after a light lunch of salumi e formaggi, we packed my bags in the boot of the car and all piled in. The thirty-minute ride to Linate was quiet, but Marzia held my hand the entire time.

As my parents unloaded the suitcases from the car to the sidewalk, Marzia and I said our tearful goodbyes.

“I'll miss you,” I whispered into her hair.

“Don't worry, I've already requested applications for your replacement.”

I laughed and kissed both her cheeks softly and slowly. “Je t'aime.”

“Je t'aime aussi.”

Then, my mother wrapped her arms around me. She held me so close and so tight I could barely breathe, but I didn't care. I wanted her to hug me even tighter.

“Ti amo tesoro.”

My mother kissed my cheek over and over as I murmured, “Thank you,” and, “I love you,” over and over again in a low whisper.

“I have half a mind to write our phone number on your hand in marker,” she said as she finally pulled me back and held me at arm's length. “Call when you get to your apartment.”

“I will, mamma. I love you.”

My mom and Marzia stayed in the car while my father helped me with my bags. I was quiet while he checked my bags at the counter for me. I'd never been out of Europe before, and I realized just how young and inexperienced I was. I knew nothing. Oliver was going to have to take care of me like he would a child. The thought of Oliver doting on me made me shiver and cringe at the same time.

Once I was devoid of my two gigantic suitcases, I was left with my backpack and a small rolling bag.

I looked up at my dad from beneath my lashes and I shuffled my feet. I didn't want to say goodbye but, at the same time, all I wanted was to get on that plane.

“Elio,” he sighed, placing a hand on my shoulder. I stood a little straighter at that and looked at him full on. I knew whatever he was going to say would be important, just like that last talk we'd had when Oliver left.

“The freedom you have longed for and the day I've dreaded since the day you were born is here. As a parent, you quickly realize that life is one long series of letting go: watching your kid crawl, then walk, then run, and then fly away.

Over the next years, time will go by faster than the previous ones. Change comes more quickly and more dramatically. Enjoy every moment. There is no grand prize at the end of your life, no all-expense paid trip to utopia. This is your final destination. The prize is here, now, in every breath you take, every new friend, every kiss, every challenge, every exciting piece of information you discover.”

He pulled me into a hug and I sagged against him.

“Love him with all of your heart.”

“I will. I swear it.” My words were muffled against his shoulder.

“Safe flight, Elly Belly. Call us when you're there.”

I stepped back when he released me and nodded my head. “Bye,” I said through my sniffles as I wiped my runny nose on my sleeve.

“Later.”

My father ruffled my hair and then pat me on the shoulder. “Alright, go. Before I change my mind and bring both you and Oliver here.”

I laughed and kept to myself that that actually sounded like a great idea. I was ready for this new chapter in my life. I was ready for Oliver and Elio, Elio and Oliver.

With one last wave over my shoulder, I was off towards the metal detectors and he was heading back to the car.

Once I was situated on the plane, that's when the nerves started to hit. I began wriggling in my seat and tugging at Billowy’s sleeves, much to the chagrin of the older woman next to me. I wished I could have assured her that it wouldn't last, but I knew I would be jittery for the entirety of the flight.

I only half listened as the stewardess went through the safety information. I checked my watch and counted back in my head. It was early morning in New York; Oliver was probably just waking up.

Just as I predicted, I was restless for the duration of the nine and a half hour flight. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't concentrate on the movie playing up at the front of the plane, and I didn't dare eat the food. I kept checking my watch and I would ask the stewardess if we'd changed time zones yet every single time she walked by.

I fell asleep for about 10 minutes, but I was soon awake again, my leg bouncing. What if Oliver forgot about me? What if he saw me standing there in his shirt and instantly regretted asking me to come? Or what if he didn't actually want me to come and this was some sort of cruel joke, and I'd have to turn right back around and go back to Italy?

I ended up giving myself a nosebleed about three-quarters of the way through the flight. “I'm a mess,” I whispered to myself as I held napkins against my nose and pressed my forehead to the window.

When we touched down in New York, I was so on edge that I was close to throwing up. I practically sprinted off the airplane, thankful, at least, that I was no longer enclosed in such a small space.

Once I was through customs and my passport was stamped, I diligently followed every sign in order to get to my destination. In order to get to Oliver.

“Arrivals gate, arrivals gate,” I whispered over and over, following a crowd of others towards a large opening. I was overwhelmed emerging from the archway onto an aisle with people waiting for their loved ones on either side. My eyes were wide and I slowed down my steps in order to scan the crowd for Oliver.

There were people hugging and kissing and crying and calling out all around me. No one was hugging or kissing or crying or calling out for me. I began to panic again and tears welled up in my eyes. My chest was tight and I couldn't breathe and -

I saw black sunglasses perched on top of blond hair and I broke out into a sprint. I let my suitcase clatter to the floor as I practically catapulted myself into Oliver's arms. I threw my arms around his neck and his circled my waist. We were pressed together completely, not even a centimeter between us. I cried in earnest then, rough, choked out sobs against his shirt.

“Oliver.”

“Elio.”

Chapter Text

I never thought I would ever see or hear or hold Oliver ever again, but there I was. There we were. He was holding onto me so tight, his arms curled around my back, that I was nearly lifted off the floor. He smelled of soap and coffee and something that was so uniquely Oliver and it was wonderful. He set me down too soon for my liking, but, as much as I longed to kiss him, I was aware that we were in a public space.

He was even more stunning than I remembered: his skin already bronzed, eyes bright and clear.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” he said, and I nearly broke down again at the sound of his voice, this time without the static of the telephone. I choked out a noise halfway between a sob and a laugh and I wiped my eyes with Billowy.

I was overwhelmed, so much so that I had to take in deep, ragged breaths. There was no way I could say a single word, let alone string along an entire sentence. He bent down to grab my suitcase, which was still on the floor, as I stood there, shaking and crying. So much for showing Oliver that I’d matured.

“Let’s go get your bags.” Oliver squeezed my shoulder before patting it and heading off towards baggage claim. I walked next to him, looking down at his sneakers as they hit the linoleum.

“You okay?” he asked as we waited by the carousel for my bags.

“Me okay,” I finally said. My breathing was more under control as I watched the conveyor belt spin around in slow, soothing circles. Oliver was right there next to me. He didn’t abandon me and this wasn’t a dream. He was there. I had to stop second-guessing that this wasn’t a dream.

“I would kiss you right now if I could.”

He didn’t let me help when my bags came around, whether because I was too small or because I was too overwhelmed I wasn’t sure. Probably both. He stacked them precariously on a trolley and finally looked up at me after admiring his handiwork. I’d been staring at him, just taking in the sight of him as he moved.

“You weren’t kidding about how much stuff you brought. We’ll take a cab.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, suddenly panicking again. “Oh God, I’m sorry, Oliver. I knew I shouldn’t have brought all of this with me.” He stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. I could feel the warmth through Billowy and I closed my eyes, my chest heaving as I tried to take a steady breath.

“I have plenty of room for you in my life, Elio.” He very gently brushed his thumb past the shirt, just over my collarbone. “All of your books will fit. I swear.”

His hand was gone and I opened my eyes after trying to take another deep breath. I nodded, then he nodded, staring at me with utmost concern. “Alright, let’s get home.”

I followed close behind him, coughing a little as we stepped outside. It was warm and it smelled like cigarettes and exhaust. I don’t know why I thought I would be met with the skyline when I exited JFK, but I was shocked to only see concrete dividers and a sea of cars.

Oliver hailed a yellow cab, and I watched as he whistled and threw his arm up. I made a mental note to write to Marzia to tell her all about my first experience in a real New York City cab.

“74th and Columbus,” Oliver said to the cabbie with such confidence after shoving my suitcases into the trunk.

The ride to our apartment was exquisite torture. I was hyper-aware of Oliver’s presence, the way he let his legs splay open so our knees could touch in the back seat. I was sweating, skin sticking to the cracked leather, and the concept of spontaneous combustion didn’t seem so improbable. At one point, he casually brushed his hand against mine, and I’m sure I died - whether I went to heaven or hell was up to debate.

I didn’t see the skyline until halfway through our drive. I was staring out my window, watching brick buildings whiz by when Oliver nudged my side. I rolled my head over the back of the seat to look at Oliver, but he was pointing out the window. I leaned over so that I could see the buildings better as we drove over the bridge. This was my new home, with Oliver, and I blinked my eyes hard a few times to make sure it didn’t disappear.

It was another thirty minutes before we reached Oliver’s apartment building. I’d been so entranced with looking out the windows at everything around me that I barely realized when we finally pulled to a stop outside of a squat building with a white façade nestled in among other apartment buildings and businesses. Oliver paid our driver, and I realized then that aside from the wad of now useless Lire in my wallet, I didn’t have any form of payment.

“We’re on the 5th floor,” Oliver said, passing me the handle of one of the suitcases so he could roll the other two in. “Luckily, there’s an elevator.” I followed him to the front door, watched as he unlocked the top and bottom locks, then did the same for the second door. It was a struggle, once we were finally in the building, to maneuver my huge bags through the miniature hallway and into the elevator. “There are two units on each floor, and there are five floors,” he explained as he pressed the button for 5. “Mrs. Herzl lives down the hall. Luckily, she’s quiet and keeps to herself, although she likes to feed me sometimes.”

I was feeling slightly overwhelmed and my head was spinning, but I nodded along with Oliver’s words. I really hoped I wouldn’t get a nosebleed before we could get into the apartment.

Finally, the ancient elevator lurched to a halt and the doors opened. I followed Oliver out and to the right, to the front door of my new home. He let the suitcases drop, and I followed suit. I shoved my hands into my pockets and watched as Oliver stuck the key into the lock.

After struggling a little with the top lock, “It sticks sometimes,” he opened the door and stepped aside to lean against the door jamb, allowing me to enter first. With my hands still in my pockets, I moved past him, my slim shoulder brushing against his chest for the briefest of moments. The contact might have been fleeting, but it was enough to make every hair on my body stand to attention as if an electric current ran through me.

My body was on high alert, like a tightly coiled spring, needling only the slightest touch to set it off.

I wasn’t sure which way to go, and my eyes were darting around the apartment quickly, trying to take everything in. I spun on my heel to face him, and the shock of his beauty hit me as hard as it had the first time I laid eyes on him, scattering my thoughts and robbing me of the ability to speak. He stepped away from the door, letting it slam behind him. Before I had a chance to gather myself, he threw his arms around me again in a fierce, full-bodied hug, the stubble on his cheek rubbing against my temple, our torsos pressed together. My arms wrapped around him instantly, and I turned my face in to kiss the roughness of his jaw. I lifted my leg, trying to get it around his hip, trying to crawl into him just like that first night.

He laughed and set me down, but stayed close. He cupped my face and pressed his forehead to mine. I felt so unbelievably small in his grasp and I sagged against him, finally letting myself relax. At last, he was touching me, his thumb sliding whisper-soft over my bottom lip. I had to close my eyes at the sensation and I let my tongue dart out to taste him.

“I love you, Elio,” I whispered, letting the world around us fall away, bags forgotten in the hallway. I’d been wanting to say that for so long. With every letter I wrote I wanted to tell Oliver that I loved him so deeply, so completely that my heart would never be my own again.

“Oliver,” he sighed, and then he took his thumb away from my lip and I immediately felt the absence of his touch. I couldn’t suppress my disappointed whimper.

Come back. Never stop. Please, Oliver. Don’t leave me.

And then his lips were on mine, open and pliant and gentle. I was his. I had always been his. I’d been his long before I had any concept of what being in love felt like. Regardless of what happened from this day forward, I would always be his.

His kiss overwhelmed me. I needed air, but I didn’t want to relinquish the feel of his tongue sliding against mine. I silently cursed my body for its weakness, nearly crying when I had no choice but to free my mouth and take a deep, shuddering breath.

His lips moved along my jaw, slowly as if memorizing every inch of skin. He sucked at the base of my throat.

“Do you want to rest?” he asked between kisses. “Or shower, or eat?”

I shook my head and dug my fingers into his back. I wanted to kiss him, taste him, smell him, feel him, touch and caress him. I wanted skin on skin, his scent on me. Mostly, I wanted to make him feel good. I needed him to want me the same way I wanted him.

“You promised,” I gasped out as Oliver pushed Billowy aside and lapped over my collarbone. “You promised to keep me in bed for the entire day.”

He laughed and before I knew it, he scooped me up into his arms. I wrapped my legs around his waist and tangled my fingers in his hair, holding onto him as if my life depended on it. He brought me back into the bedroom. I was too busy kissing whatever part of Oliver I could get my lips on to pay attention to the layout of the apartment. He dropped me onto the bed and I scrambled back onto the pillows.

Reluctant to take my eyes off of him for even a second, in case he disappeared and I woke to find it was another one of my fantasies, I rested back on my elbows, watching with bated breath as he practically tore off his clothes. I was late to get to the program, only starting on unzipping my jeans once he was down to his boxers. Soon though, we were both naked, our clothes in a heap on the floor.

My eyes were on him, everywhere at once - on his nipples, the hair covering his chest, the V of his hips, his cock. Every last inch of him was beautiful. Beautiful and so very hard and wanting and I smiled, ecstatic in the knowledge that he was hard for me.

Please, God. Let this be real. Please don’t let me wake to find it was all a dream.

He crawled up the bed to hover over me, and I collapsed back, no longer able to support myself on my elbows. He was my fantasy come to life. My skin was tingling in anticipation of his touch, the hairs on my arms raising up.

Oh God, please touch me, Oliver.

His lips were on my throat again and I arched up into him, offering myself to my Oliver. Greedy to feel all of him, I spread my legs, overjoyed when he slid between them, lowering himself on top of me.

Chest to chest.

Thigh to thigh.

Cock to cock.

“Oliver,” I choked out as I wrapped my legs around his waist. “Oliver, please .”

“I’ve got you.” His voice was low and soft and reassuring, his large palms sliding down my ribcage. He took both of us in his hand and I couldn’t help but thrust up into his tight grip. I wanted more. I wanted everything from him. But I had been so high strung for the past eleven hours that I was already so close.

“Oliver,” he whispered against my ear, breath warm and voice soft. “I love you, Oliver.”

Just two minutes later, I came harder than ever before, spilling over Oliver’s hand and my stomach. I could hear Oliver cooing at me, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying over the buzz in my ears. I was shaking and trembling as he stroked me through it. It was only a minute more before he stilled above me and came, his and my name both on his lips.

I let my arms and legs fall down to the mattress as Oliver began kissing down my neck again. I was so completely blissed out, my head spinning with how good it was to finally be in bed with Oliver again.

He was so gentle with me afterward, kissing my flushed skin and running the fingers of his clean hand through my hair. I came back to myself briefly as he lapped at the mess on my tummy. I looked down at him with bleary eyes, watching as he cleaned off my skin.

I was exhausted, and by the time he kissed back up my body, I was half asleep. My long journey, as well as my orgasm, had me unbelievably sleepy. “Rest,” Oliver whispered with kisses to both of my closed eyes.

“Don’t wanna,” I protested, trying to push myself up.

Oliver clucked his tongue at me and lay back down, wrapping me in his strong arms. I really had no choice but to settle down. I supposed it was okay to nap for a little while, at least. We had more than just two weeks this time.

When I awoke, it was dark in our bedroom, just a bedside lamp on as Oliver read a book. I was curled up against his side and his hand was carding slowly through my curls. I tried to stay still and quiet, not wanting this moment to end, but Oliver was too perceptive. “Are you hungry?”

“I need to call my parents,” I croaked. I sat up a little and glanced down at my watch. “Merda,” I cursed under my breath. It was 2 am there and they would surely be asleep.

“I already called them,” Oliver said distantly as he finished the paragraph he was reading. I waited until he dogeared the page and set the book down. He looked at me then, with absolute love and adoration. “I told them you were sleeping and that you’d call tomorrow. Your bags are in the living room, but we can unpack tomorrow.”

He leaned down to kiss me as if he couldn’t help himself. I couldn’t help myself either, though, and I kissed him right back. It was slow and sweet and gentle, just a way for us to get reacclimated with each other’s lips.

“Hungry,” I sighed a few minutes later as Oliver kissed my cheeks. Oliver tossed me a pair of his boxer shorts, although I would have much rathered been naked, I was also desperate to wear Oliver’s clothes, to be as close as possible. I had to roll over the waistband twice so that they wouldn’t be completely useless, but they still sat low on my hips.

As Oliver heated up a can of soup for me, he gave me the grand tour of the apartment. It was technically two bedrooms, but he’d turned the smaller one into a makeshift study/library. There were books everywhere, although I did notice that he’d cleared some room on his bookshelf for me. He had a writing desk by the window and a small couch on the wall opposite the bookshelf. I could see us there already, me working on my music and him on his ancient philosophy.

I stopped in the bathroom (small, but just enough room for two) to piss and brush my teeth. He stood next to me the entire time, just watching as I freshened up. I was reminded of our night in the hotel bathroom when there was finally nothing between us anymore as he massaged my belly, and my cheeks flushed. It felt good to finally wash a little. I felt more like myself. Oliver had even bought a second toothbrush for me, and I felt great satisfaction at putting it in the holder next to his.

The apartment as a whole was surprisingly spacious and cozy, with enough room between the kitchen and living room for a dining table for four. He even had a television, thankfully one better than my parents’. There seemed to be books and papers on every surface, which I expected, but other than that, Oliver was pretty tidy.

I ate standing up in the kitchen, holding the bowl under my chin, as he leaned against the counter, and I stared at him over my bowl. It was quiet, and a little awkward, but we were both getting used to being alone together after so long.

“You’re staring at me,” he said, but with an air of amusement.

I put down my half-finished bowl and wrapped my arms around him, needing to be close. He laughed and hugged me against his chest.

“Is this real?” I asked, close to tears again, but this time out of pure happiness.

He assured me it was before kissing the top of my head. “Do you want to take a shower?”

Even though I probably should have said yes after nine and a half hours on an airplane, all I really wanted was to be in bed with him. I pressed my hips forward, using my already half hard cock against his thigh as my answer. God, I was already aroused just from him holding me in the kitchen.

“Fuck me, Elio,” I pleaded, tilting my head so I could look up at his face. He kissed me senseless then, much like the night in Bergamo when he took my breath away up against that stone wall.

He pulled back and nudged me in the direction of the bedroom. As I walked, I pushed Oliver’s boxers off of my hips, letting them fall to the floor in the hallway between the living room and bedroom. He groaned as he palmed my ass, and I almost asked him to take me right there on the spot, but he pushed me forward a bit, quickening my pace.

Oliver had me laid out on the bed in seconds, flushed and hard and already panting.

“Been waiting for this for so long,” he whispered as he settled himself above me. His Star of David hung down from around his neck and I subconsciously fingered mine against my throat. Before I could change my mind, I lifted up so I could suck his pendant into my mouth. I let my tongue trace over the cool metal and Oliver moaned as if I were sucking on his own skin. He leaned down to kiss me again, his necklace tangled between our tongues.

After a few minutes, we were both fully hard and moving against each other. Oliver sat back and I whined at the loss, but before I could complain, he reached over to the bedside table. He pulled out lube and a condom and I immediately spread my legs wider for him.

“God, I've missed you,” he sighed as he poured some lube over his fingers. “Do you have any idea, Elio?” he asked, looking down at me with those gorgeous blue eyes. He pushed my legs open wider and began circling my hole with his slick fingers. “Any idea at all how many nights I spent thinking about being inside you? About you inside me ?”

I gasped at his words and arched my back as he finally, finally slid the first finger in. I ran my fingers over my chest and nipples, moaning prettily as he slowly fingered me open. He was being gentle, which I was glad for, but I was also aching for him.

“Please,” I finally said, tears brimming in my eyes as Oliver moved three fingers inside of me at a steady pace. “I need you, Oliver. I need all of you inside me.”

He seemed to get the message at that point because he drew back in order to tear open the condom. I propped myself up on my elbows so I could watch his fingers, the ones that were just inside me, as he slid the latex over his shaft.

“Hai un bel pene,” I whispered, enamored, unable to help myself.

He must have understood what he said because, with a laugh and a muttered, “thank you,” he was positioning himself at my hole. I spread my legs wide around his hips, welcoming all of him, and he splayed his hands over my hips as he slowly pressed in. Like with his fingers, Oliver took his time, watching my face for any signs of pain or discomfort. It had been a while, and it took a few minutes before Oliver finally bottomed out.

He didn't speed up from there, though. He just kept moving his hips in slow and sensual circles, deep within me. I placed my hand on my tummy; I wished I could feel him as he moved inside of me. I fisted my other hand in his hair, thick and soft between my fingers.

Oliver whispered his own name over and over, laying fully on top of me so he could kiss along my shoulder and neck. My cock was trapped between his stomach and my hand covering mine, and the friction was almost too much as he moved against me.

“I want to come, Oliver,” I pleaded, turning my head to whisper against his ear. I was almost in pain with how badly I needed release. All of those months with only my right hand...now that I had Oliver again I wanted to be in a constant orgasmic state at his feet. “Please. Please .” He graciously let go of one of my hips to wrap it around my cock, and I groaned more at our knuckles brushing than at the sensation of him touching me.

“Come for me, Oliver.” His voice was low and so close and it threw me over the edge in a second. If it didn’t feel so good, I would be embarrassed at having come so fast again. Oliver lifted up a little and looked between us. He bat my hand off my stomach and began to smear my come over my skin. I groaned as he simultaneously pressed his hand down and pushed his hips forward. It was like we were both inside of each other at the same time.

I was boneless on the bed, blinking blearily up at Oliver as he fucked into me. He met my gaze and smiled. It was so bright and so brilliant, straight white teeth making my breath catch in my throat.

“Oliver, Oliver, Oliver.” He punctuated each murmur of his name with a thrust of his hips until he came. I wrapped my legs around his waist and pulled him in even closer so he didn’t get any ideas about pulling out. We stared at each other as we caught our breath but we were soon breathless again after a fit of giggles.

He finally pulled out and as he discarded the condom, I slipped out of bed to clean off my stomach before I grabbed a pack of Gauloises from my suitcase. When I padded back into the bedroom, he was sprawled naked on the bed, eyes closed. I smiled as I settled down in the crook of his arms and lit a cigarette. I took a drag before looking up and passing it to Oliver.

“Ah, my favorite,” Oliver sighed as he exhaled. He slung his arm over my shoulder and let his fingers trail along my chest.

“I brought a few packs for you,” I hummed, looking up at him. His eyes were still closed and he let the cigarette dangle from his lips. “Oliver? Why am I here?”

“Because you want to be, I hope,” he said around the cigarette, opening an eye to look down at me.

“I do,” I said quickly, shifting a little so I was on my side. “There isn’t anywhere I’d rather be. But whose idea was it? Papà told me to ask you.”

Oliver took another drag before he opened both eyes. “It was my idea. I was so alone without you, Elio.” He sighed and hugged me a little closer. “I thought I was going to be okay, but I wasn’t. I got on that train and I wanted to get off immediately and come back to you. I was sick on the airplane, and through the entire cab ride back to my apartment. I thought I would be okay after a week or so but I wasn’t.”

He paused and kissed the top of my head a few times. “But I didn’t want to ruin your life any more than I thought I had. You’re so young, Elio, and I wanted you to have a normal and happy life. Your dad called me one day, just to say hi and catch up on the start of the term. He told me how much you were struggling and I told him I’d do anything for you to come live with me.”

I blushed at that and tried to hide my face in Oliver’s chest. I didn’t want him to know how absolutely wrecked I was when he left, although it sounded like he was in a similar state.

“He and I brainstormed a few ideas. We landed on Juilliard and he reached out to his contact and the rest is history.” Oliver dragged his fingers over my sternum as he puffed at the cigarette again.

“Thank you,” I said, breaking the little bubble of silence. “I couldn’t live without you, Oliver.”

We finished the cigarette between us as Oliver read to me from the book on the bedside table. He was more than halfway through it and I didn’t understand all of what was going on, but I didn’t care. I pressed my ear against his chest, loving the rumble of his voice.

We got ready for bed together, our shoulders pressed together as we brush our teeth. It made me feel giddy as I looked at our reflection. I hadn’t grown or filled out at all. He was still half a foot taller than me, his shoulders wide and his chest strong. I looked at my own reflection, my bones visible beneath my skin and my sloping shoulders. We looked perfect together.

Oliver fixed the sheets before letting me get into bed, but we both knew it was a futile effort because I was usually the one to steal all of the covers. He shut off the lamp and my heart nearly beat out of my chest as we got into bed together. It was our first night of our new life, and I was restless for a little, thinking about all of the endless opportunities now open to us.

“Stop moving,” Oliver griped, wrestling me a little until we were both on our sides and I was spooned against his chest. He was so big and warm, covering nearly every inch of me. His touch made me calm down and fall asleep almost instantly.

What can I say about waking up that first morning with Oliver? It was like being back in Heaven again, lying in the grass with the soft buzz of cicadas and the warmth of the sun over every inch of skin. It was like all the wonderful things I loved best in the world, all rolled into one. It was pure perfection.

We hadn’t changed position, he was still spooning me with his arm around my chest and his nose in my hair. With my eyes still closed, I turned my head into the pillow and inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with the familiar pine and citrus scent that was so purely Oliver. I wriggled a little, snuggling back against him and he reciprocated by holding me close and kissing at the back of my neck.

“I’m going to call my parents,” I said after a few minutes, pushing myself up and out of his grasp. Oliver groaned and pulled the sheets over his head. I slung on Oliver’s boxers again and took my time in the bathroom, brushing my teeth with his toothpaste and washing my face with his soap. I wanted to savor every single moment of my life in New York, regardless of how mundane. But none of it could ever be mundane because Oliver was there with me.

I dialed my parents’ number in Milan from Oliver’s living room, curled up on the couch as the phone rang. Now that it was daylight, I looked around the apartment from my perch. It was so perfectly Oliver, and by association, so perfectly me.

“Pronto?”

“Ciao, Mamma, sono io.”

My mom gasped and called out to my dad. There was rustling before they were both on the line. I could see them in my mind: holding the receiver between the two of them so they could both hear me.

We spoke of my plane ride and my first night in New York, minus a few small details.

“Are you happy?” my mother asked, breathless.

“I am, Mamma,” I assured, looking up as Oliver came into the living room. My dad asked me something, but I didn’t hear him because I was too busy grinning up at Oliver.

“Elio?”

“Wha- huh? Sorry, what?”

“Never mind, Elly Belly,” my dad laughed. I reached out for Oliver and he came, settling down on the couch with his head in my lap. “Tell Oliver we say hello and we love him.”

“I will, Papà. Ciao.”

My mom said goodbye about twenty times before we finally hung up. I hummed and relaxed against the couch and ran my fingers through Oliver’s hair.

“Does this make you happy?” Oliver asked. I laughed at how my mother and my partner both had the same concern. I was so happy - happier than I ever thought I could be.

I was in a state of euphoria. The butterflies in my stomach hadn’t yet died down and I didn’t think they ever would. I could not imagine my life without Oliver, and it broke my heart into a million pieces to even consider it; the thought of going back to life without Oliver was positively grotesque. I felt safe. There was no place I would rather be.

Oliver was intoxicating: his smell, his taste, his touch. I couldn’t get enough of him. It was so overwhelming to feel this way and to have Oliver right next to me. There, in New York, with Oliver, I would be able to be myself. I would study music and make new friends and discover favorite places all around the city. I wanted to grow with and for Oliver; I wanted to be everything he deserved. From day one, I had given him my entire heart. I was hopelessly wrapped around Oliver’s finger. It was so exhilarating, so terrifyingly beautiful to be so vulnerable to another human being. I couldn’t help but wonder what I did to deserve this, what I did to deserve Oliver. Somehow, our worlds crossed paths and we’d found each other in the summer of 1983.

“Yes, Oliver. Very much so.”

Chapter Text

We sat on the couch for a few minutes in happy silence as I carded my fingers through Oliver’s hair. Finally, I tugged at his hair gently and shifted my hips under his head.

“I’ll make coffee,” Oliver grunted as he sat up. He kissed my cheek before heading towards the kitchen. I had to sit there for a few seconds more, grinning at the simple gesture.

“I have bread and butter and jam.” Oliver was already scooping coffee grounds into a French press. “I can make eggs, although not like Mafalda. Or there’s always cereal.”

I shrugged and leaned against the counter, watching him. “Whatever you usually have is fine.” I started to feel a little like I was encroaching on his space, like I was just a guest crashing at his place for the weekend.

Oliver put the kettle on the stove before coming over to me and cupping my face in his hands. I let my head go limp in his grasp, tilted my head back a little, and closed my eyes. We stood like that for a second before he tightened his grip.

“Elio, look at me.” It took me another second to loll my head forward and open my eyes. I looked at him from under my lashes, and I’m sure I looked idiotically demure. “This is your home too, now. I don’t want you tiptoeing around here.” He pressed soft kisses to my forehead and both of my cheeks. “Now, what do you want for breakfast?”

“Jam and butter,” I breathed, struggling to keep my eyes opened as Oliver continued with his soft kisses. “Yeah. With bread. That’s good.”

“Good,” Oliver said, punctuating it with a kiss to my lips before stepping away to deal with the now whistling kettle. I swayed on the spot and had to brace myself on the counter behind me. “I made sure to get apricot jam.”

I flushed at that, at how Oliver had gone out of the way to make sure I would be able to eat my usual breakfast there in the States too. Once I finally had my head on my shoulders again, I made myself useful and prepared our breakfasts as Oliver handled the coffee. I opened the fridge to grab the butter and jam, and actually laughed out loud when I saw an entire bowl of peaches sitting on the top shelf. I looked over at Oliver and he just shrugged and rose a brow. As I buttered the bread, I glanced over to watch as Oliver took out the cream, but was happy to find that he remembered exactly how I took my coffee.

Oliver read the newspaper from the day before as we ate breakfast. He passed me the arts section and I forced myself to relax in my chair. Oliver had his daily habits, and I hoped that I could integrate myself into them, take part in his daily routine. We sat at the table, reading and occasionally sharing an interesting quote or article with one another, long after we had finished our breakfast.

“Alright, let’s unpack,” he finally said, pushing up from the table and grabbing both of our plates. I followed him into the kitchen with our mugs. “Tonight we can go out for dinner.”

Unpacking was a daunting task. We both stood and just stared at my suitcases for a full minute before either of us moved. “I can do my clothes if you wanna do the books,” I offered with a shrug, looking up at him.

“Deal.”

It only took me an hour to put away all of my clothes. Oliver emptied out half of the dresser for my use and left me a bunch of empty hangers in the closet. When I was done, I stepped back and took in a deep breath. It was so strange to see my clothes next to Oliver’s on so many levels. Mine were brighter, more patterned, much more European in their style, especially the more modern items I’d picked up in Milan. Oliver mostly had solid colored button downs. I smirked and decided I definitely needed to do something to change that. I was already eager to check out the fashion in New York. Milan was a newfound center for fashion, and a few of my more adventurous friends had introduced me to some fun styles.

I found Oliver in the study still putting away my books.

“Is there enough room?” I asked, coming in to find him leaning against the bookshelf and smoking a cigarette as he flipped through one of my books. I went to stand between his legs and plucked the cigarette out of his mouth. “I thought you didn’t smoke,” I accused, taking a drag before extinguishing it in the ashtray at his desk.

“I don’t,” he said back, snapping the book closed. “Yes, plenty of room.” I helped him put away the last of my books, and finally, all of my belongings were put away. I had brought along a few tchotchkes from Italy as well: a photo of me with my parents (which Oliver let me put on the bedside table), my diary, the yellow set of sheets that was on our bed for those two weeks the summer before.

“Where can I put these?” I asked, pulling the sheets out, cheeks pink. Being in an apartment which Oliver already had furnished with towels and sheets, I felt silly for having brought them along.

“You brought -” Oliver didn’t finish, and I was about to offer to ship them back to my parents, but he crossed the room in two strides and grabbed my arms. He pulled me so close against him and kissed me so hard, basically just smashing his lips against mine. I made the most pathetic sound and let the sheets fall to the floor so I could instead clutch at his sides

“I missed fucking you on those sheets,” he admitted between kisses and soft bites to my neck. I was completely at his mercy, his strong arms holding me right where I stood. “Missed the way you looked on them, laid out for me.”

Oliver had never before been this possessive, and it sent a shiver down my spine. He licked a stripe up my neck, stopping to suck a mark below my jaw, before he let go of me and stepped back with a deep inhale. I glared at him, but he just laughed. I must've looked absolutely wrecked already.

“I’ll put these away,” he said as he scooped up the sheets from my feet. I had to press a hand against my crotch for a second before I followed him to the linen closet by the bathroom. I grabbed a towel before he closed the door and went into the bathroom to turn on the shower.

“You gonna join me?”

Oliver didn’t even hesitate. He was in the bathroom undressing next to me before the water could even get warm.

The tub was just big enough for the two of us to fit. Had I been any taller or bulkier, however, it would have definitely been a tight squeeze, so I was happy to be smaller than Oliver. It felt so good to finally stand under the warm water, washing away the dirt and grime of my travels. Before I could do it myself, Oliver grabbed his shampoo and started in on my hair. It was all knotted and greasy, but he massaged my scalp with his strong fingers and I was immediately on cloud nine. He grabbed the bar of soap after rinsing out my hair and I had to smile. He was using chamomile soap, and it smelled just like the one we had back at the house in Crema.

“I wish I had known you liked it so much,” I said as he ran the bar over my chest, following it with his other hand, rubbing the suds into my skin. “I would have nicked some for you from Mafalda’s stash.”

“You wouldn't have had to sneak it. She’d give me anything and you know it.” I laughed at that and fell forward until my forehead hit Oliver’s shoulder. He brought the soap around to my back, smoothing it over my slightly achy muscles. “Besides, I’ll just bring some back when we go next summer.

My teasing words died on my tongue when he said that, and I had to reach out to steady myself on his hip. “You mean it?” I asked, breathless.

“Summer wouldn’t be summer without Crema. Except for this summer. This summer, I have you all to myself.”

“Can’t argue with that,” I managed. Oliver resumed his sudsy exploration of my skin and he let his fingers travel down over my ass. I bit at his shoulder as he teased one finger against my hole.

“Are you actually gonna do something this time?” I asked, letting a bit of my cheeky side seep through. “Or leave me hanging like in the hallway?

Oliver turned me so I could lean against the wall. I think he knew that, despite my talking a big game, if he had let go of me I probably would have tumbled down to the floor. Oliver was on his knees in front of me, now massaging the soap over my thighs and the thatch of hair at the base of my cock.

“I love watching you get hard,” he whispered, leaning in to kiss along the top of my thigh. Oliver’s breath was warm on my skin, his lips smooth as they slid over my soapy skin. I was hard in seconds, cock pressed insistently against his cheek as he continued his teasing kisses.

Finally, finally , after what seemed like ages, his mouth was around me. I huffed out a soft groan, my fingers instantly going for my his hair. It was wet and slicked back, so I couldn’t grab onto the strands for leverage, so I ended up just stroking my fingers back over it, basically petting him as he sucked me off.

Oliver continued to massage the chamomile soap over my skin and between my legs. I felt so overwhelmed, his mouth on my cock while he washed me in my most intimate of places. It was all so tender and gentle and it made my knees weak.

“Elio,” I sighed, glad that I could finally control myself enough that I wasn’t coming in a minute. I wanted to savor this. “Elio, Elio, Elio.” My own name spilled from my lips with every soft exhalation. I loved this: giving all of myself to him, giving my name to him.

He gently coaxed the orgasm out of me, taking everything slow for the first time since I arrived. Once he deemed me adequately cleaned, he finally pressed his finger inside me, the chamomile soap gliding his way. Oliver swallowed around my cock as I came down his throat and I tried to get him to stand up so I could kiss him, but Oliver just sat down on the floor of the tub.

“Lean against the wall,” he said, voice a little hoarse. I did as he was told, and watched as he gently lifted up one of my feet. I had to hop a little bit, but Oliver steadied me with large hands. He ran the bar of soap down my leg and over my foot. He spent time cleaning between my toes, the sole, my heel, and he kissed each toe when he was done. He finally stood and kissed me once he did the same to my right foot.

“Let me,” I started, reaching down, but he stopped me with a gentle hand on my wrist.

“No, this was for you,” Oliver whispered against my lips. He kissed me again before cursorily running the soap over his own body and quickly washing his hair. I was happy to stand there, smiling like a dope, staring at Oliver with heavy-lidded eyes.

“What did you have in mind for today?” I asked as we got ready in our bedroom together. The shower helped me relax in my new environment and I felt more at home. Stepping around each other as we got out our clothes already felt so natural. I checked my watch, glad to find it was only 2 pm.

Oliver grabbed my wrist on his way to our closet to check my watch as well. “I was thinking we could go for a walk in the park and head to an early dinner.”

I hummed my agreement and we were quiet as we got ready to go. Oliver turned to me after buttoning up one of his usual solid shirts and he laughed.

“What?” I asked, looking down at my striped tee shirt and light wash jeans. I flushed and rubbed my hand over the back of my neck. “No good?”

“No, it's just...I haven't seen you in your own clothes since you got here. Come here.” He held out a hand for me so I stepped forward to take it, and he pulled me in and spun me around so we were both facing the mirror. “Look at us,” he murmured against my ear. “Nothing has changed.”

He was right. He was still tall and blond and bronzed. I was still small and pale with my curls all over the place. We were wearing pretty much what we wore every day that summer, except now Oliver’s bottoms were longer. I tipped my head to the side as Oliver kissed along my neck, but just as quickly as his kisses came, he was gone.

“Alright, let’s go,” he said, slipping into his sneakers and grabbing his wallet and keys. I felt a bit embarrassed about having nothing to put in my pockets, so I just shoved my hands into them instead.

The first thing I really noticed about New York as we walked to the park was that there were so many sounds . It wasn’t like the quiet calm of Crema, and even the din of city life in Milan was different. In New York, there was constantly a car honking or an ambulance or people talking or a dog barking. I liked it though, and I could easily see this becoming the soundtrack to my new life.

Oliver walked close against me so that our shoulders occasionally brushed. He pointed out restaurants he enjoyed as he walked, and then began on the history of the park once we reached it.

Central Park seemed to satisfy two sides of my personality: my love of nature and my love of people. I loved the juxtaposition of nature and civilization, and it was exciting to see so much diversity nestled between skyscrapers. Oliver explained a bit of geography as we walked: the west side (where we lived and where I would go to school), the east side (Museum Mile), Harlem and the Bronx up north and the Villages and Financial District to the south. I was about to ask where his favorite part of Manhattan was when someone called his name.

“Oliver!” Up ahead was a couple, probably Oliver’s age. The woman was maybe five months pregnant.

Oliver broke out into a huge grin and reached out to shake the man’s hand. “Hey! Pat, good to see you, man.” He enveloped the woman in a hug and kissed her cheek. “You look fantastic.” I shuffled my feet, feeling a little awkward. I hadn’t even thought about Oliver having friends in New York. But of course, he did, because he was Oliver, and possibly the friendliest and most charming person on Earth.

“Sorry, Elio.” My head snapped up at my name and I smiled politely. “This is Pat and Amanda. Pat teaches with me at Columbia.”

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,”Amanda said as I shook her hand.

“We’ve heard a lot about you,” Pat piped in. I blushed and shrugged my shoulders.

“All good things I hope.” Oliver laughed at that and clapped me on the shoulder, squeezing the muscle before letting his hand drop.

The four of us spoke briefly about my recent arrival in New York, the weather, and plans for the summer holidays.

“Hey, you guys should come over for dinner soon,”Amanda mentioned as we said our goodbyes. She looked at me with the kindest smile, and I couldn't help but think she'd make a great mother. “Once you’re all settled in.” Oliver agreed immediately and we made tentative plans for dinner the following week.

“Do they know about us?” I asked quietly once Amanda and Pat were out of earshot.

“They do, I hope you don’t mind.” I shook my head but I looked up at Oliver with curiosity. “I couldn’t keep it all to myself, Elio,” he laughed, knocking his shoulder against mine. I understood where he was coming from, though; I was glad to have my parents, Marzia, Mounir, and Isaac on my side. I probably would have gone crazy without anyone to whom I could gush about Olver. "A few of my friends know. In the right situations, it's not really so taboo anymore, being gay, and when I came back from Italy, absolutely wrecked, Pat was the first one to notice something was wrong. They had me for dinner and they barely had to pry it out of me.” He rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. “In fact, they just asked how Italy was and I was a mess in seconds. As much as I was hurting, it was nice to have someone who knew my situation. I don’t think I would have been able to make it without being able to talk to them about it.” Oliver shrugged, and that statement weighed heavy on my shoulders. “And then when you agreed to come live with me, I was so excited I could barely keep it together.”

“I know the feeling,” I said, this time knocking Oliver’s shoulder. He laughed and looked down at me with those gorgeous eyes, and it was almost as if his gaze was saying, I love you, Elio .

“I may or may not have talked about you nonstop for the past five months.” I laughed at the image of Oliver as giddy as a schoolboy.

“Do you think they’ll like me?” I asked after a few minutes. “Your friends, I mean?” I was nervous that his friends would be too sophisticated to hang out with an eighteen-year-old, that they’d mock and ridicule Oliver for being with someone so young and he’d end up leaving me for someone more mature.

“I don’t think there’s a single person on the planet who wouldn’t like you.” I flushed at Oliver’s compliment and looked down at the pavement. “I’m sure they will. They’re all interesting people with their own merits.” Oliver shrugged and looked down at me. He must’ve seen the worry on my face. “If they weren’t open or weren’t nice, I wouldn’t be friends with them.”

I looked up at Oliver and nodded, but stayed quiet.

“And you’re going to make your own friends too! When you start at Juilliard I’m sure you’ll be friends with every single person by the end of day one.”

My heart fluttered at that thought. I hoped he was right.

Oliver took me to Tavern on the Green for dinner that night. “Oliver, we don’t have to,” I said when I glanced down at the menu.

“No arguing,” Oliver said. He tucked his foot under mine beneath the table and I had to smile. “It’s your first real night in the city and I want to pamper you.”

I very nearly mentioned that he already had in the shower but I held my tongue. I’d mention it later.

Over dessert, Oliver fished around in his pocket for something. I looked up from my chocolate cake with furrowed brows, watching as Oliver neglected his crème brûlée until he finally pulled out what he was looking for.

“Welcome to New York, Elio,” he said quietly, holding out a set of keys. I set down my fork and stared at them with wide eyes. “Go on, take them,” Oliver laughed, jingling them. I reached out, fingers trembling, and took the keys. “The big gold one is for the front doors to the building, the really small silver one is for the mailbox, the big silver one is for our front door, and that misshapen one is for your bike lock.”

“You got me a bike?” I asked, voice faint.

“Yes,” Oliver laughed, nudging my foot with his own. “I promised I would. It’s in storage in the basement. “I had to get you s omething to welcome you home.”

“Just being with you is gift enough,” I promised, looking down at the keys. They were so small against palm and yet my chest tightened as if I held the entire world right there in my hand in the middle of the restaurant.  “Thanks, Oliver.”

We strolled back home in the dark, bellies full of good food and a few glasses of wine. I had my hand in my pocket, fingers wrapped tight around the keys to our apartment. I let my other hand brush against Oliver's as we walked. It was dusk, just a few people in the park as we walked along. I was humming a transcription I’d been working on before I left Italy and suddenly, Oliver tugged at my wrist.

“This way,” he said with a sneaky grin, pulling me to the right at the fork in the concrete. The trees made a canopy over the small gravel path. We were still out in the open, out in public, which gave me a thrill as Oliver pulled me close.

“Oliver,” he whispered, his breath ghosting over my lips. I shivered and sagged in his tight grasp. I loved this, his strong arms around my waist. I wrapped my own around his neck and held on for dear life.

“Elio...Elio, Elio El- ” Oliver cut me off with a kiss, so soft and sweet and gentle that it made my head spin. I could still hear the noise of the city from where we were, but Oliver didn’t care, and neither did I. His lips were soft and his tongue was warm. He tasted of crème brûlée and wine and I wanted to crawl inside of his mouth.

I heard someone approaching, sneakers crunching against the gravel, and made to move away. But Oliver just held me even tighter and kissed me deeper. I went stiff for a second, but nothing came of it. We were still just two lovers, kissing under the dim lamps in Central Park.

Chapter Text

Oliver and I easily fell into a daily routine. I enjoyed not having to go to school; he and I were able to spend all of our time together, getting reacquainted with each other. In the mornings, he made the coffee and I made breakfast. I tried to soft boil eggs like Mafalda but failed miserably, so I stuck with either scrambled eggs or bread and jam. We’d read through the entire newspaper together, often migrating from the dining table to the couch after we’d swapped sections. Afternoons were spent in the park, riding our bikes, trying new coffee shops, or lazing in bed. We read to each other from random books in our library or sometimes I would force him to stay still and quiet while I transcribed music over the speakers instead of my headphones. We were even getting pretty good at cooking dinner together, and between the two of us, we could throw together a decent meal.

I got to know Oliver’s friends very well, too. There were Amanda and Pat, who lived just five blocks from us. Pat was in the same program with Oliver at Columbia, and Amanda worked in public relations. They got married right out of college and were expecting their first baby in the fall.

David, Grant, and Michael were three of Oliver’s buddies from college. They all worked in finance and shared an apartment on the Upper East Side. It seemed as if they all had new girlfriends every week, but all in all, they were fun-loving guys who were well versed in stocks, bonds, and beers. I always loved going out with them because they would divulge stories about Oliver from his undergraduate years at NYU.

Sharon and Deborah (Debs, as she liked to be called), were Oliver’s only female friends aside from Elli. Sharon taught sculpture to undergraduates at Columbia and lived with her fiance up by campus. Debs was a graduate student at FIT and had dated Grant for nearly all of their time at NYU. The two split after graduation, but they ended on good terms and remained friends.

I was worried that, despite what he said, Oliver’s friends wouldn’t like me. I was a scrawny kid from Italy who hadn’t even started college yet, and they were all established adults. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Oliver’s friends were incredibly warm and inviting, just like Oliver. They all knew about our relationship and were fine with it, which made hanging out at each other’s apartments a lot easier.

There were, of course, friends of Oliver’s that didn’t know about the extent of our relationship. These were mostly older students and professors at Columbia. Oliver barely socialized with them anyways, just the occasional departmental mixer.

I spoke to my parents on the telephone every Sunday afternoon, just to catch them up on the latest activities of the week. They would always insist upon talking to Oliver too, and it made me so overwhelmingly happy that my parents cared for him as if he were their own son. I also took up a correspondence with Marzia, who loved hearing about all of our adventures in New York.

Living with Oliver was better than I ever thought it could be. He was so accommodating and helpful and doted on me constantly. Not to mention, the sex was fantastic and I’d never been so thoroughly satisfied in my entire life. Oliver was such a caring lover, so attentive to my every need and desire.

Thus, I started my life in New York City. I knew things would be different once school picked up, but at least for now I had the freedom to explore every hidden path in the park...or stay in bed with Oliver for an entire day.

In mid-July, we went to Amanda and Pat’s apartment to help set up the baby’s room. Oliver and Pat painted all morning while Amanda and I folded all of the tiny baby clothes. We were chatting about the Three Americans exhibit at Moma when Amanda grabbed my hand and put it over her stomach.

“Feel that?” she asked. The baby moved under my palm and my eyes widened at the sensation. “He’s excited to meet Uncle Elio.” They had, of course, no idea if it was a boy or a girl, but Pat was convinced he’d have a son come September.

“Me?” I asked, breathless. I hadn’t expected Oliver’s friends to like me so much, let alone want me to interact with their child.

“Yes, you,” Amanda laughed, ruffling my hair. “I’m sure you’ll be great with him.”

I shrugged and went back to pairing miniature socks. I’d never really been around a baby before. I once held one of my younger cousins when she was a newborn, but I was eight, seated on the couch, and monitored closely by a band of adults.

“You will be! Besides, I need someone to take him to museums.” Would I really be in New York that long? Long enough that a child who was not yet born would grow to know and love me?

After lunch, we all flopped in the living room. Oliver and I were slouched on the couch, our knees touching and my head on his shoulder. He smelled of paint and sweat, and I wanted to lick every inch of his body. But I supposed I could hold off until we got home.

“There are rumors it was AIDS-related,” Pat murmured, shaking his head. We’d been discussing Foucault’s death, which had only happened a few weeks prior.

“And that’s exactly what it is, Patrick,” Amanda admonished, giving him a smoldering glare as if to say, Shut your damn mouth. “A rumor until proven otherwise.”

Oliver sighed and began picking at the label on his beer bottle. “Regardless of what happened, it really is a tragedy. He was so young . To have such a talented mind for such a short time…” He trailed off and I snorted. I couldn’t help it

“You sound like my dad.”

“Shut up, you,” Oliver chided, nudging my side, but there was humor in his voice.

We stayed with Pat and Amanda through dinner and only left once we were sure the crib wouldn’t collapse under Oliver and Pat’s shoddy workmanship.

“I’m beat,” Oliver said through a yawn as he sat down on our bed, freshly showered and in just a towel.

“Amanda said the baby can call me Uncle Elio,” I said proudly, puffing out my chest a little.

“Uncle Oliver just sounds like an old man. Maybe Uncle Ollie.”

“But you are an old man,” I teased. I tossed aside my own towel before getting up onto the bed, knees on either side of Oliver’s hips. He hummed and immediately held me around my ribs, pulling me closer so he could kiss at my stomach.

“Oliver,” I sighed, teasing forgotten as I settled myself down on his lap.

“Mmmh...Elio.”

I pressed our foreheads together, reveling in our closeness. Oliver ran his fingers back over my spine, tracing down every knob before trailing them back up.

“Show me,” he whispered as I bucked my hips, my insistent cock pressed against his belly. “Let me see how you touched yourself all those months we were apart.”

Oliver looked down between us as I snaked one hand between our bodies. I slid the other into his hair and tugged, using that as leverage.

“I ached for you, Oliver.” My voice was rough already as I wrapped my hand around my cock. “I missed you so much.”

Oliver kissed over my cheeks before looking back down again as I began to move my hand. He had a tight grip around my sides, still moving his large palms in soothing motions over my skin.

God, you're so small...Fuck, Elio. I thought of you every moment of every day,” Oliver murmured, his lips brushing mine as he spoke. “I wished I’d taken a picture of you naked on our bed, waiting for me to join you.” I whined at his words and began to move my hand a little faster.

We'd been back together for just about two months now, but the pain of being apart all those months was still fresh. It was strange to be together for longer than just two weeks, and I couldn’t get over the fact that we would be together for the foreseeable future. We spent hours every single day just exploring each other's bodies, re-memorizing the taste and smell and feel of each other.

Oliver leaned in to press kisses along my neck, but that didn't last for long. “Need to look at you,” he admitted, tilting his head down again. I preened under his gaze, loving how Oliver never seemed to tire of looking at me.

“Thought about you every night,” I said, swiping my thumb over to head of my cock. “Fuck, Oliver. Sometimes I could imagine you touching me or holding me.” I choked out a sob as Oliver squeezed my side.

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” Oliver asked. His breath was warm against my skin and it made me shiver. I didn't answer, just pulled at his hair as I resisted the urge to flip us over and beg for Oliver to fuck me. “That's it,” Oliver whispered as he moved his hands down to skim over my thighs. My muscles were tense and quaking, and I pitched forward a little without his hold on my sides.

“I wanna watch you come, Oliver.” His voice was low and soft, just for me.

“Elio,” I answered immediately. I was his as he was mine, as we'd always been and always would be. Oliver constantly made me feel so overwhelmed, even from the lightest touch or softest words. I spilled over my hand and onto his belly, marking Oliver with my come. I was shaking, and he wrapped his arms around me again to pull me close. I let myself sag against his chest as he rubbed my back.

I felt drained, even though Oliver was the one who had spent all day painting and putting together furniture. Oliver started shifting beneath me and I made to move, but he curled his left arm around me to keep me in place.

“Stay,” he pleaded as he reached between us to shove his towel out of the way. Oliver pushed his hips up so that his cock slid into the crevice between our bodies, over my inner thigh. I shuddered and clutched at Oliver's shoulders a bit tighter. I let him use me like that, just fucking up against my skin. He came with a shuddered sigh against my ear, and I squirmed happily at the feeling of his come on my skin. He tried to move but I pinched his shoulder. “Few more minutes,” I begged, not yet wanting to wash off the evidence of what we'd just done.

“Hey, I was thinking,” Oliver said a few minutes later. He was still massaging my back, rubbing out the tension in my muscles. I bit at his shoulder before sitting up on his lap. Oliver grinned at me, and from his expression, I could tell that I probably looked like a mess with flushed cheeks and messy hair to boot.

“Thinking is never a good look for you,” I accused, which was a mistake. Oliver began tickling my sides and I squealed with laughter as he flipped me over and tackled me down onto the bed. He was relentless, even as I flung my limbs at him.

Finally, after breathlessly begging him to stop, Oliver let up. He sat back on his heels between my legs and looked down at me with a soft smile.

“Elio,” he whispered. He ran his fingers over my bottom lip and I snuck my tongue out to taste him.

“What were you thinking?” I asked, wanting to get back to the matter at hand.

“I was thinking it might be a good idea for us to get tested.” He sounded cautious, unsure, and I propped myself up on my elbows, brows furrowed. I knew exactly what he was talking about; over the past few years, AIDS had become more of a widespread concern. There was little known about the disease, but it targeted gay and impoverished communities, and it seemed that everyone in New York was on high alert.

“I think I’m clean,” Oliver said, his fingers now tracing idle patterns over my side. “I mean, there hasn’t been anyone after you but you can’t be too careful.” He paused and shrugged, eyes flicking up to mine. “I plan on only ever being with you, Elio. I want to make sure we’re both safe.”

I nodded and pushed myself up so I could sit on the bed across from him. “I’ll call the clinic at St. Luke's-Roosevelt tomorrow.” I leaned over to kiss him, gentle and reassuring. We were making a commitment to each other there on our bed, naked and still covered in each other’s come, and it made my stomach swoop. We kissed for a few minutes, which helped both of us calm down a bit, before we cleaned up and got into bed.

“You’re not sick of me yet?” I asked once the lights were off and Oliver was spooned up behind me.

“I’ll only ever want you,” Oliver promised as he held me close to his chest. I rolled onto my other side so I could face him, and I traced over features I knew even in the dark: his strong nose, his bow lips, the five o’clock shadow over his jaw. I grabbed the jut of his chin between my thumb and forefinger, holding him still so I could kiss him.

We had an appointment for a week later, and I could tell that Oliver was nervous.

“Stop bouncing your leg,” I chided, knocking my knee against his as we sat in the waiting room.

“I don’t like needles,” he claimed, although I knew his fear went deeper than that. We weren’t the only ones at the clinic waiting for tests done, and there was a general sense of fear and anxiety in the small room. My name was called first, but Oliver stood up as well and charmed his way into the examination room with me.

It was all over in just twenty minutes, two vials of our blood sitting on the formica countertop. 

“Alright,” the nurse removed her gloves and surgical mask, only to put on another pair of gloves when she picked up the vials. Little pieces of ourselves would soon be going off to the lab together. “We’ll have your results in two weeks tops and we’ll give you a call. Just remember, always use a condom until we have the results and don’t share needles.” This piece of advice had been given to us at least eight times since we arrived at the clinic and my neck hurt from nodding so much.

We stopped for ice cream on our way home and walked closer to each other than usual. “Do you think the results will be accurate?”

He shrugged and lapped at a bit of ice cream dripping down his finger. “They say it is. I mean, the test is only three months old.” Oliver shrugged again and looked down at me. I couldn’t see his eyes through the lenses of his sunglasses, but I knew he was concerned; I could feel it radiating off him.

“I’m sure it’ll be okay,” I said, although I could hear the quiver in my voice. I hadn’t been with anyone besides Oliver and Marzia, and Oliver had only been with a few others prior to me, but there was still so much we didn’t know.

It was way too hot to do anything outside, so we spent the rest of the afternoon reading in bed. I had my head on Oliver’s stomach and he ran his fingers through my hair. It was comforting and grounding, and after a while, I had to put my book down and close my eyes.

“Orientation is soon,” Oliver whispered. I hummed in assent. “Are you excited?”

I rolled onto my side so that I could look up at Oliver from my spot on the bed. “Yes. I’m a little nervous, though.” I’d been transcribing and composing since I arrived in the States, but I hadn’t played the piano once. Although, even if I had access to one, I probably would have refused to give up time with Oliver.

“Don’t be,” Oliver admonished, his hand slipping from my curls to instead trace along my cheek. “You’re brilliant and you’ll ace every class.”

“I’ll miss you.” I hated how young I sounded, how small my voice was.

“I know, me too.” Oliver went back to playing with my hair and smiled down at me. “But I’ll be wasting away up at school too, so at least we’ll be in the same boat. And every single day, we get to come home to each other.”

I hid my face in his stomach so that he couldn't see how hard I was smiling, but I was sure he could feel it against his skin.

“My Elio,” Oliver said softly, so much adoration in his voice. “Soon you’ll be taking New York by storm. Making new friends and performing five nights a week.” He sighed and I turned my face to look up at him again. “Will you always come home to me?”

I pushed Oliver’s book off his chest and kissed my way up to his lips. “Of course I will, my Oliver.” I settled myself on top of him and tucked my face into his neck. I loved listening to his heartbeat in the otherwise quiet room. He dragged his fingers over my back and shoulders, lulling me into a nice afternoon nap.

We received a call with our test results nearly two weeks later. We hadn’t discussed it at all for the past two weeks, but it was at the back of my mind, and I’m sure it was the same for Oliver. We held the phone between us, huddled next to each other on the couch as the nurse went through the results. Thankfully, we were both clean, but were warned to not share needles.

“And if you decide to not use condoms, make sure you're monogamous. Have a lovely day and please call if you have any further questions.”

The line went dead before we could say anything.

Oliver hung up the phone and as soon as he did, I clambered into his lap. He whispered my name over and over and held me close against him.

“I wanna call my parents,” I murmured after a few minutes, voice muffled against his chest. I hadn’t told them about the tests; I didn’t want to worry them. But now that I knew I was clean and I wasn’t going to waste away, I just wanted to say hello to them and tell them I loved them, and thank them again for letting me go live with Oliver. Oliver grabbed the phone and dialed their number for me. I remained on his lap, his free arm wrapped tight around me.

They caught us up on life in Crema and they said, as they did every time since the start of summer, it just wasn’t the same without us there. I told my parents I loved them over and over, and they returned the affection easily, both of their voices soft and gentle. I wondered if they could tell that a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Once we finally said goodbye, Oliver and I stayed quiet. I nuzzled my face into his chest and he pushed his nose into my hair. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what. The nurse’s last few words echoed over and over in my mind. Of course, Oliver and I were committed to one another, and neither of us had plans to see anyone else or separate. Those nine months apart were pure hell, and we never wanted to go through that again. And yet, that night, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything out loud about not using a condom. Oliver didn’t either, and it was awkwardly silent for a beat as he tore it open, but that was quickly forgotten once he was inside of me.

The rest of July passed with much of our usual summer activity. On the truly sweltering days, Oliver and I would spend hours in the Met, taking advantage of the air conditioning. Rainy days found us in bed or on the couch with mountains of takeout. We went out a few nights a week, usually with Oliver’s friends from NYU. Tramps, Area, Limelight, Palladium - they were all places we frequented for strong drinks and thumping music. I wished that I could really dance with Oliver, like how his friends danced with the women at the clubs, but I didn’t want us to be targeted in an otherwise straight community. I voiced my concern one night as we stumbled home, thoroughly drunk.

“This is what it sounds like,” Oliver sang at the top of his lungs as we walked down our quiet street. He nudged my shoulder and we tripped over each other on the sidewalk, laughing. I joined in for the last part of the chorus.

“When doves cry!” I was reminded of the waterfall outside of Bergamo as we ran up the side of the hill, taking turns screaming out the lyrics to Love My Way .

I fumbled with the keys to the door of our building as Oliver closed in on me. “You and I engaged in a kiss...the sweat of your body covers me…” He sang right against my ear, breathless and low.

“Wanna dance with you,” I whined, sounding like a petulant child, as he continued his slightly botched lyrics. Oliver’s hands closed around my hips and I hissed when he snuck his fingers up below my shirt. Unlocking the door was a lost cause as Oliver ground his hips against my ass. He managed to snatch the keys from my hand before I dropped them and he let us into the building, much better at navigating the locks than I was in my altered state.

I practically jumped him in the elevator and he laughed as I tried to hitch my leg over his hip multiple times. He tugged at my wrist when the elevator opened, even though I thought it perfectly reasonable to just stay where we were and make out.

I made for the bedroom when we finally got into our apartment, but Oliver grabbed my wrist to stop me. “Where do you think you’re going?” I shrugged and stood there, watching as Oliver turned on the stereo and popped in a mixtape from Grant with some of his recent favorites. He originally made it for me to get familiar with popular American music, but it was a pretty well-curated tape and I listened to it more often than I admitted. Centerfold came on first, and Oliver started in with his usual moves, jumping around and pumping his fist with the beat.

I laughed as Oliver sang along at the top of his lungs, and I only fleetingly felt bad for Mrs. Herzl next door. Being the drunk idiot he was, he tried to fit three syllables into two and changed “angel” to “Elio,” which just made me throw my head back and laugh even harder. He grabbed me just before the chorus started up again and pulled me close, swaying against me like he had that night with Chiara.

This time, though, it was me in his arms, and I melted immediately. I wrapped my own arms around Oliver’s neck and hung onto him, swinging my own hips against his. We danced for the entirety of side one, but towards the end, we were mostly just swaying on the spot and kissing.

“I’m gonna find a place for us,” he murmured, deciding to focus his kisses on my neck.

“Wha-?”

“Dancing,” Oliver clarified, his arms around my back tightening as he pulled me even closer against him. “I’ll find a place we can dance together.”

I hummed happily at that promise. As much as I loved dancing with Oliver there in our apartment, I wanted to show him off. I wanted everyone to watch and be jealous as we took over the dance floor. I wanted everyone to cheer when he kissed me, just like my friends in Crema had done with Chiara.

When August hit, it seemed to light a fire under us. I had gotten my orientation information from Juilliard: freshman orientation was the week of August 26th. I had off the first week of September, and then I started classes on September 10th. Oliver started teaching on the same day. He was, as of April, officially Dr. Oliver Stern, although he promised my dad he’d have his students call him Pro.

We made a bucket list of all of the things we wanted to do and see before the end of summer. We spent many evenings at Village Vanguard; we saw every exhibit at Moma, the Met, and the Whitney; we walked through nearly every part of the park; we even managed to trek out to the Bronx Zoo. When we went up to the Bronx, Oliver brought me to Arthur Avenue. He let me pick up a few snacks and groceries that I’d been missing from home, and he watched amusedly as I made conversation with every single person who spoke Italian.

Oliver woke me up on the morning of the 25th with soft kisses along my bare shoulders and breakfast in bed. He was spoiling me again, just like that first night I was in New York, but I wasn’t about to start complaining.

He planned an entire day for us, starting with a walk through the park. We watched an amateur baseball game for a few innings before laying down in a sunny patch of grass to read our books. He brought a few peaches with him and he smiled ruefully when he gave me one to snack on.

“Don’t get any ideas,” he warned voice low as he watched me take a bite.

I looked up at him and cocked a brow. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” I said, feigning innocence. I lapped at my lower lip and took another bite, groaning as some juice rolled down my chin. “Too much?” I asked, laughing as Oliver looked at me like he was about to pounce.

“You’ll kill me if you stop.”

After a quick slice of pizza for lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History.

Around 5, we took the subway down to Soho. I still wasn’t a huge fan of the subway; it was crowded and smelly, and being underground always made me a little nervous. I was amazed at how fast we were able to get around though, so unlike the slow bike rides into town in Crema. Every time, I laughed at the thought of Mafalda stepping foot on the subway.

Oliver had a reservation for us at Chanterelle. The interior was all soft apricots and creams and it immediately put me at ease. The bottle of wine Oliver and I shared definitely helped too. The food was indulgent and rich and it made me ache a little for the ease of traveling from country to country in Europe.

This was the first time we’d gone out to dinner together that it felt like a legitimate date to me. When I realized this, my cheeks flushed and I looked down at my plate in an attempt to hide my huge smile.

“What?” Oliver asked, voice all soft as it always was when he looked at me like I was his most prized possession.

I shrugged and looked up at him from under my lashes. “You’re taking me on a date,” I sad very quietly, still aware that we were out in public.

“Maybe I am,” Oliver shot back, sitting up straighter in his chair. “You can’t deny you like being wined and dined, Elio.”

I bit at my lower lip to try and stop my smile from spreading, but it was useless. “Mmmh...we’ll just have to see how you do when we get home.”

Turned out, Oliver did pretty well for himself when we got home. As soon as the door was closed, he had me up against it, kissing me breathless. He tasted like wine and crème brûlée yet again, and I absolutely loved it.

“Fuck me, Oliver,” he whispered against my lips.

“Oh God.” I couldn’t hide how much I desperately wanted that, and we shed our clothes as we stumbled back to the bedroom.

We were naked and in bed in an instant, lube already over my fingers as Oliver spread his legs for me. Every time we did this, every time I fucked him, I felt so inexplicably grateful for Oliver. He let me take him apart, he trusted me enough to let me have him in the most intimate of ways.

I pressed a finger inside of him and sighed at the tight warmth my finger was met with. “Do you have any idea,” I started, but I stopped. Of course he did. Of course he knew how much I loved being with him. I fingered him for much longer than necessary, but I loved the way Oliver was reduced to shivering little moans as I opened him up to take my cock.

I sat back on my heels to tear open a condom and roll it on, watching Oliver the entire time. He reached down between his legs to slide his own fingers into himself as he waited. “Fuck,” I whispered, fisting my own cock a few times, just taking in the sight of Oliver’s hair covered thighs spread wide, thick fingers up his own ass, cheeks flushed deep rose.

When I moved back up between his legs, Oliver took his fingers out and instead grabbed my hips so he could hold onto me as I pushed in. He was so tight and so hot that I had to close my eyes as I sunk in and bottomed out. I gave Oliver a moment to adjust, turning my head to kiss at the inside of his knee. His legs were draped over my shoulders and I leaned forward a little, testing the stretch. He wasn’t as flexible as I was, so I tapped his legs to signal for him to put them down. He did and wrapped them around my waist instead, which drew me in even deeper.

I fucked him with slow, sure rolls of my hips. I braced myself on a hand next to his head on the pillow and we were both panting into each other’s mouths, his hands in my hair as I brought him off with my free hand.

I adored being close to him like this, with absolutely nothing between us. I had wanted it so desperately for all of those weeks in Crema, and he had too, and to finally have it was still so precious to me. I knew it always would be.

“I love you, Oliver,” he whispered, his lips moving against mine as he spoke. I could feel his words more than I could hear them.

“Elio, Elio, Elio,” I ground out with each thrust of my hips. “I love you, ti amo, je t'aime.” He came hard at my admissions of love, and I stroked him through it. I came a few moments later, my head dropping to his collarbone. I licked at the spot where his Star of David rest against his chest as I came down.

We showered together, all giddy and smiley as we soaped each other up. After we brushed our teeth, Oliver settled down on our bed, but I stood in front of our closet for a few minutes.

“Come to bed,” he grumbled, reaching out a hand for me and then letting it fall back down to the bed.

“I don’t know what to wear tomorrow,” I said, voice quiet. I hated the fear that seeped in. I was nervous for my first day; there was no hiding it.

Oliver hummed from the bed and opened one eye to look at me. “Wear that funky shirt with the faces all over it.”

I raked my eyes through my clothes and tilted my head when my eyes landed on the suggested item. It was one of my more bold items from Milan, something my friend Francesco picked out for me. I pondered it for a second before I nodded and got into bed.

“You’re going to be great,” Oliver promised, running his hands soothingly over every inch of my body. I was restless, and it took a few minutes for me to settle. Oliver kissed my head and whispered soft praise against my hair, helping me eventually calm down and sleep.

I arrived at Juilliard at 9:15 am. Oliver walked me there from our apartment, and he promised he would be there at 2 pm when I was done so we could go for coffee. I wished he could hug and kiss me before saying goodbye.

I signed in and was given a large folder full of papers with a nametag. From there, I was directed to a table to sign up for my classes, which were standard for first years in the piano program. I was enrolled in Juilliard Colloquium, Essentials of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, 15 one-hour personal lessons with an assigned professor, Piano Topics, and Piano Performance. I was given a list of books and supplies I would have to purchase before my first day, and I was told to go take a seat in the auditorium.

I walked in, clutching my papers to my chest, feeling a bit shy and awkward. I took a deep breath as I scanned the seats, looking for a good place to sit. Oliver’s words from earlier that morning echoed over and over in my mind.

Just be Elio and everyone will love you.

I went over to a boy and girl who were already chattering excitedly. I assumed they knew each other already. “Anyone sitting here?” I asked, motioning to the empty seat next to them.

“You are! I like your shirt," the girl said, grinning up at me and sticking out her hand. “I’m Cassidy.”

“Hi. Elio.” I shook her hand before turning to the boy. “Hi.”

“Hey, it’s Matthew, but Matty is just fine.”

I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding as I sat down in my new seat. As we spoke, I began to relax and become more of my usual, animated self. Cassie was studying cello and Matty was there for playwriting. I was happy to meet people involved in different fields of study, and it made me even more excited to actually start classes.

The first day of orientation flew by, and by the time 2 pm rolled around, I felt as though I had known Cassidy and Matty for years. I walked out of the building between them, laughing at a joke Matty made, and when I caught sight of Oliver, leaning casually against a post with his sunglasses on and a book tucked beneath his elbow.

“Oliver!” I cried out, resisting the urge to run over to him.

“Hey,” he laughed, pushing up off the pole with a brilliant smile. “Have a good day?”

“Yes! Cassidy, Matty, this is Oliver.” I stood up a little taller when I introduced my new friends to Oliver. He shook both of their hands, and Matty and Cassidy exchanged an amused look. I was practically bouncing on my toes, though, eager to tell Oliver about my day to give their silent exchange a second thought.

Cassidy, Matty, and I made plans to meet at orientation the next day and they headed off to the subway while Oliver and I strolled around Lincoln Center to find a decently priced coffee shop.

“So you had a good day?” Oliver asked as we sat at a tiny table in the corner. I had just rattled off every detail of the day, talking nonstop for at least twenty minutes.

“Yes,” I sighed, deliriously happy.

“Alright, no more caffeine for you,” he said, taking my cappuccino and finishing the last of it before taking out the list of books I needed to purchase. He stood up and looked down at me with a cocked brow. “You ready to go get your school supplies?"

I nodded, ready to start the next part of my life in New York as a musician with Oliver by my side. 

Chapter Text

Orientation was a lot better than I thought it would be. I met up with Cassidy and Matty every day, and I even got to meet the other students in my particular program. They were all so friendly and outgoing, and it took me a few days to come out of my shell. Once I finally did though, it was easy to integrate myself into the group. Four of them in particular (Lauren Abbott, Allan Hirano, Gabriella Murray, and Daniel Blythe) were especially nice, and we went out to coffee one day after orientation to get to know each other better. All in all, I was proud of myself for already making friends.

Oliver was so supportive through it all. He seemed genuinely interested to hear about my day, and he promised that he actually was interested. He remembered all my new friends’ names and asked about the different professors and programs. He cooked me something special for dinner every night that week and we’d spend our evenings watching TV.

I received my official schedule for the semester, and it seemed relatively manageable. Luckily, I had my piano lessons with my professor in the mornings, which kept evenings open for spending time with Oliver or my friends. My classes were scattered throughout the week, and I actually had a decent amount of open time, which was vastly different than the school system in Italy. Oliver promised I would get used to it. I was happy that Oliver had already gone through the whole “college thing;” I had a resource available to me at all times for advice.

We had a week off between orientation and classes starting. Oliver suggested I go out with my new friends, but I shook my head like a stubborn child.

“I am going to see them every day for the next four years; I want my last week off to be spent with you.”

Oliver laughed and pulled me in close against him. “Fine,” he finally acquiesced. “But if you get sick of me, go be with your friends.”

“I’ll never be sick of you,” I promised, looking up at him with wide eyes. I wasn’t laughing or smiling, I was dead serious.

“Elio,” Oliver sighed. He smiled down at me and carded his fingers through my hair, which made me shiver. “Good.” He pecked my lips quickly before stepping back and heading to the kitchen, leaving me swaying on the spot. “Because you’re stuck with me for a while.”

We spent most days that week the way we had most of the summer: biking in Central Park or reading in our apartment or going to a museum. We spent quite a bit of time at Amanda and Pat’s apartment as well. Amanda was due in just two short months and I was very excited to meet the baby. Over the past few months, Amanda and I became very close; she was like an older sister to me. Most times we were there, I would find myself massaging Amanda's feet on the couch while Pat shared his worries about impending fatherhood with Oliver over beers in the kitchen.

“Hey you,” Oliver said one night, catching me by the waist before I could leave the small study in our apartment. I grunted as he tugged me down onto his lap.

“Oliver,” I griped, trying to wriggle out of his grasp. Our dinner was in the oven and the kitchen timer was going off. “Do you want to eat burnt chicken?” Oliver was too busy kissing my cheek to answer. We only had four more days before I started school full time, and he was being overly affectionate. Which I didn’t mind at all.

“I was thinking we could host a dinner party. Just something casual,” Oliver proposed between kisses. “Not just my friends this time, you could invite yours too.”

My cheeks flushed and I shrugged. I was pretty sure that Matty and Cassidy knew that Oliver was my boyfriend, but none of us had said anything outright. I hadn’t yet had that conversation with any of my friends. I wasn’t even sure if they were all straight. I had my suspicions about Daniel, but I wasn’t about to outright ask him at orientation.

“Maybe,” I said, and I knew Oliver could sense my apprehension.

“We don’t have to, I just thought it would be nice for us to get both friend groups together.” I shrugged again and Oliver kissed my cheek before gently shoving me off his lap. “Think about it.”

That night, after a particularly fantastic blowjob from Oliver, I really thought about his dinner party idea. He was sprawled out over my chest, and I ran my fingers idly through his hair. My friends seemed to be tolerant people, and if they weren’t, I didn’t want to associate with them in the first place. I was nervous, though, about starting off the school year with people not liking me for my sexuality. And I especially didn’t want any rumors spreading around school. I sighed and pinched Oliver’s shoulder.

“Hmm?” He lifted his head and looked at me with the most gorgeous expression: all sleepy and satisfied, blue eyes shining and a smile on his face. I couldn’t help but kiss him.

“Maybe we can do something small,” I whispered. “I can call my friends tomorrow, see who is around on Saturday.” Oliver positively beamed.

“I really do think it’s a good idea, Elio. I want you to have a good group of friends.”

I wanted to tell Oliver that the only person I needed was him, but I knew he was right. My dad had been bothering me about it too, although not as directly as Oliver. They both just wanted me to make new friends, have that same community that I did back in Italy.

The next day after breakfast, I paced around the apartment for a few minutes before calling up my friends. Matty and Cassidy already knew that I lived with Oliver, so I didn’t have to explain, just had to extend an invitation. They both accepted, which gave me a bit more confidence to invite my other friends. Allan’s parents were still in town, and they were from Japan, so he was busy with them before they left the next morning. Lauren had plans with her boyfriend but promised to come to the next gathering. Daniel and Gabriella both accepted. None of them questioned the fact that I lived with another man. Then again, I hadn’t expressly said that Oliver and I were together, although I assumed they would figure it out.

Out of Oliver’s friends, David, Grant, Michael, Sharon, and Debs were all able to make it. Amanda and Pat had to take a rain check in light of the fact that Amanda's feet were so swollen she could barely fit into a pair of sandals.

Once everyone was invited, I felt more relaxed about having my friends over. Of course, I was still nervous that it wouldn’t go well, but Oliver shot down all my fears with soft kisses and even softer words.

We decided to order pizza for our guests so we thankfully only had to go shopping for drinks. Friday found us so busy cleaning our apartment, that we flopped into bed that night and both promptly fell asleep.

“How do my parents do this all the time?” I asked Oliver on Saturday morning as I tried to make the small end table in our living room look somewhat organized. It was a lost cause, though, because it was mostly stacks of sheet music and transcriptions.

“Hey, stop that,” Oliver said, coming over and grabbing my wrist. I whined in frustration; I wanted our apartment to look perfect. “Do you see your mom do anything more than clean up a little? Does she put away all of her books and nicknacks every time company comes over?” I shook my head and Oliver pulled me towards the bathroom. “Come on, let’s take a nice relaxing shower.”

The shower did help, especially when Oliver spent a good ten minutes massaging my shoulders under the hot water.

“How’d you learn to do that?” I slurred as Oliver worked out a knot.

“I’m a doctor, remember?” He kissed the spot behind my ear before shampooing my hair for me.

Oliver kept me busy for the rest of the afternoon. We took turns reading to each other from Ulysses and picked out a few tapes to play during the party, although I was sure Grant would self-proclaim that he was the DJ for the night. Before I knew it, it was 5 pm, and our guests were arriving in half an hour.

Oliver let me pick out his button down, probably to keep me occupied until the buzzer rang. I sat him down on our bed and fussed over his hair until our first guests showed up. Luckily, Oliver’s friends were the first to arrive, so I was able to have a drink and calm myself down a little before my own friends showed up.

Soon enough, everyone had arrived and the party was in full swing. I took my friends on an abridged tour of the apartment, and none mentioned anything averse to the fact that there was only one bedroom. This really set my mind at ease, and I tried hard to stop my mind from racing so I could have a good time.

“So, you and Oliver, huh?” Cassidy asked in between mouthfuls of pizza. I was sandwiched on the couch between her and Daniel with Matty sitting across from us in the armchair. Everyone else was out of earshot, but I still glanced around before answering.

“Uh-huh.” I rubbed at the back of my neck and blushed, but I couldn’t keep the fond smile off my face. “He stayed with my family back in Italy the summer of ‘83.” I shrugged, not exactly sure how much detail to go into.

“It’s cool, Elio,” Matty said, leaning forward a little. “Really, none of us mind. Plus, Cassidy is a raging lesbian.” I was a bit taken aback by that and looked at her with surprise.

“Yep! I know, who would have guessed that the little religious girl from Pennsylvania would love pussy but,” she shrugged and grinned ruefully. “Turns out chicks really dig cellists.”

We all laughed, and I immediately felt more at ease than I had since I met my new friends. They knew now, and they were all still here and I hadn’t burst into flames. It would all be fine.

Oliver and I sought respite for a few minutes in the kitchen. We promised our guests we’d be out in a few minutes and that we just needed to get a start in on the dishes. Really I just wanted a chance to kiss him.

“I told Daniel, Cassidy, and Matty,” I said quietly as I dried the plate Oliver handed me. After he held me against the counter and kissed me, of course.

“Good. They seem to be the ones you like the most.”

I smiled and nodded. “Mhm, they’re cool.” We were quiet for a few minutes until Daniel gently rapped on the wall.

“Hey.” He came to lean on the counter next to me. “I just wanted to say thanks for having us over.” I shrugged and grinned up at Oliver before turning back to Daniel.

“It was all his idea,” I said, nodding my head in Oliver’s direction.

“So uh, I just wanted to tell you that I’m gay too,” Daniel said, obviously careful about his words. I chose not to respond right away, to let him do the talking. “I haven’t told everyone yet, but I have a lot of queer friends and we go to a ton of cool places downtown. You guys should definitely come with some time.” Daniel was born and raised in New York, and he knew the city like the back of his hand. It was no surprise to me that he was already embedded in the queer community.

“That would be awesome, actually,” Oliver said, finishing with his last dish. He wiped his hands before wrapping an arm around my waist. “We’ve been looking for some new places.”

Our guests stayed until just past 2 am. I was exhausted, but drunk and elated at the same time. “They still like me,” I said happily, hanging onto Oliver in the middle of our living room. He had his arms around my waist, and mine were firmly around his neck. I was being fully supported by Oliver, just how I liked it.

“Who wouldn’t like you?” Oliver shot back, squeezing me a little.

“I want to call Papà and tell him about our party.” Oliver laughed and pecked kisses along my forehead.

“Call tomorrow, Piccolo .” I wrinkled my nose and shoved my face against his chest.

“You still need to come up with a better name,” I demanded. Oliver started rubbing circles over my back and I hummed contentedly.

“Well, your mother calls you tesoro, so that’s out. Same with Elly-Belly” He kissed my curls when I groaned in embarrassment. “Hmm... stellina? Tato? What about topino? Ooh, how about meredina?”

“Ugh, no, none of those. Your accent is horrible.” Oliver laughed and I could feel it where my head was pressed against his chest. “Nothing Italian.”

“O dainty duck! O dear!” Oliver cried out, which made me laugh.

“And nothing from Shakespeare!”

“Alright, alright! I’ll think of something good.” Oliver pulled back so he could kiss me before we got ready for bed.

To say I was nervous for my first day at school was an understatement. I had to be there at 10:30 am for my first class, Essentials of Entrepreneurship in the Arts. It was only half of the semester and I thankfully had Matty in the same section as me. I also had my colloquium that day at 12:45.  I would be done and back at the apartment by 3 pm. Oliver was teaching until 4, so he wouldn’t be able to pick me up from school like he did during orientation.

“You’re going to be fine,” Oliver soothed after breakfast.

I was practically bouncing off the walls. I opened my knapsack at least 4 times to make sure I had all of my books and I changed my outfit twice. Not to mention the amount of time I spent in front of the mirror fluffing my curls. Before I could dive into my backpack again, Oliver grabbed my hand and pulled me down next to him on the couch.

“You have 20 minutes before you have to leave,” he said, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and pulling me close. “Just sit with me.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I hid my face in his shoulder and tried to get my breathing under control.

“Don’t apologize.” He ran his hand through my curls and down over my back. “You’re going to have a great day and when I get home we can do whatever you want, I promise.”

I was quiet for a few minutes before I lifted my head and propped my chin on his shoulder. “Does that mean you’ll finally fuck me in the kitchen?”

Oliver tipped his head back and let out his beautiful, full-bodied laugh, and it made me laugh too. “Yes, Elio, if that’s what you want to do, you’ve got it.”

The first week of classes passed in a blur. I was shocked at how quickly my professors piled on the work. There was no “easing into it,” and despite having a spread out schedule, it was hard to keep up with everything.

“It’s all about time management,” Oliver had said before I started. Coming from the rigorous school system in Italy, I thought I had it all under control.

But I didn’t.

I quickly became overwhelmed, and by the time I had my first exam three weeks into the semester, I felt as if I could barely keep it together. My professors were tough, especially Professor Kuznetsov, an elderly Russian man, who was my pre-assigned advisor until I selected one myself my sophomore year. He also taught my 1:1 piano lessons Tuesday-Friday mornings at 9:30 am. I knew he was impressed with my ability to play, but he pushed my boundaries. I would rent practice rooms on Saturdays and played until my fingers ached.

Due to my busy schedule, I saw Oliver less than was ideal. He was busy too, and most nights, we would collapse into bed, completely exhausted. I broke down one night at the end of September and cried hard against his chest.

“I hate this,” I got out between sobs. “I can’t do it. I shouldn’t have come here, Oliver, I’m sorry.”

“Shh, Elio, please.” His voice was so pained, and it just made me cry harder.

“I can’t keep up with my schoolwork on top of all the practicing, and my performances will kick in soon, and I never see you anymore.” Music was my passion and my joy. It was what kept me sane. And now I just felt miserable.

“Hey, hey.” Oliver kissed the top of my head and cupped my cheek, tilting my head up so he could kiss away my tears. “This weekend, I’m going to help you make a schedule. I should have done this from the beginning.” He held me a little tighter and I felt so small. “I had the same problem my freshman year. And it doesn’t help that you’re far from home.”

I sniffled and nodded and tried to move my face back into Oliver’s neck but he wouldn’t let me.

“That Monday morning essentials class will be over in another month, and you will only have performances once a week.” Oliver smiled and wiped away an errant tear from my nose. “And I will be at every single one, I promise.”

I nodded again, but my lower lip trembled, and more tears threatened to spill down my cheeks.

“Oh, baby,” Oliver sighed. He sat up to kiss over my forehead and cheeks and eyes, just like he had that afternoon up in the attic. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Elio. The first month is always the hardest. You’re gonna get into a good groove, and then you’ll have plenty of time for friends. Okay?”

I closed my eyes and took a few shuddering breaths. “O-Okay.”

“That’s it.” Oliver was so soft and gentle as he wiped my tears away. He grabbed a tissue and held it for me as I blew my nose. I felt like such a child, but I didn’t complain when he grabbed a cup of water from the bedside table and helped me take a few sips. I tired myself out with my crying and fell asleep soon after, with Oliver whispering honeyed words into my hair.

On the Thursday after my breakdown, I came home to an empty apartment. Oliver was usually home before me on Wednesdays, so I sulked and stomped around for a bit before deciding I could at least get started on my next assignment while I waited for him. I went into our bedroom to change into something comfortable. I was met with a pair of my dress slacks and my navy sweater laid out on the bed. There was a note from Oliver on top which I immediately snatched up.

See you at Lincoln Center, 7:45 pm

I brought the note up to my nose and inhaled before briefly pressing my lips to the words. What did Oliver have up his sleeve? I holed myself up in the study and got cracking on my homework. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready to go. I practically sprinted the entire way there and ended up arriving at 7:30. Luckily, Oliver was already waiting outside, perched on the edge of the fountain. He was easy to spot amongst other minglers who were dressed in furs and sequins and tuxedos. My Oliver was dressed in a dark green button down.

“Hey,” he said, standing as I bounded over. I desperately wanted to throw my arms around him and kiss him senseless. I made a mental note to do exactly that when we got home.

“Ciao, ciao, hi. What are we doing?” I asked in a breathless rush.

Oliver laughed at my excitement and nudged my shoulder before nodding up towards the building behind me. I spun around and looked up. There were posters for Carmen everywhere. I was shocked I hadn’t seen them before.

“Oliver,” I breathed, turning back around and looking up at him with wide eyes. “We’re seeing an opera?”

“We’re going to the opera,” Oliver corrected. We strolled around a little before going inside. He told me about his day, and I told him about mine. He let our shoulders brush occasionally, I was smiling for what felt like the first time in a month.

“I hope you didn’t spend a fortune on these seats.” We were in the first row of the Mezzanine, with a perfect aerial view of the stage even though we were in the last two seats. Oliver didn’t answer, just grinned at me, and I blushed at how much I enjoyed being spoiled.

The opera was in French with English subtitles on small screens in front of our seats. I didn’t need the translation and I kept my eyes solely on the stage. About halfway through the first act, Oliver’s hand snuck onto my thigh. I stiffened for a moment, worried that others would see us. But he squeezed, signaling that I should relax.

During intermission, I talked to Oliver about the show so far at rapid speed. I loved the show. I love that Oliver surprised me with a night out. I loved Oliver. I loved everything .

When we got home that night, I launched myself onto Oliver’s back as soon as he let us into the apartment. He laughed and grabbed my legs, pulling me up so he could piggyback me into the bedroom.

“Thank you,” I whispered, looking up at Oliver from where he’d thrown me onto the bed.

“It’s all gonna be okay,” Oliver said, leaning down to kiss me. “I promise you. We’re gonna get everything figured out with your schoolwork, and you’re going to ace every class.”

I nodded and, for the first time, I actually felt confident in my ability to do well in New York.

Oliver started undressing me very slowly and he pressed kisses to each newly exposed patch of skin. By the time I was finally naked, I was desperate to have him inside me.

“Please, Oli-” He shushed me with a kiss and let his hands skim down my sides.

“Gonna take care of you, Elio.” His promise was whispered against my lips and it made me shiver.

He opened me up slowly, using way more lube than necessary. It felt fantastic though, his thick fingers gently working inside me, opening me up to take him.

“That feel good?” Oliver asked, clearly amused as he watched me arch up off the bed and spread my legs wider for him. I nodded, my curls already sticking to my forehead with sweat.

“I want to be on top,” I pleaded as Oliver finally withdrew his fingers to roll on a condom. H obviously had no problem with that, as he flopped down onto the bed on his back and easily pulled me over onto his lap.

I settled down, knees on either side of his hips. I reached back with one hand to steady his cock as I slowly sank down. It always surprised me, how big he was and how much he stretched me as he slid in. But I was always needy for it, always desperate to have Oliver in every way I could. Once I was fully seated, I placed my hands on Oliver’s chest and looked down at him. I gave my hips an experimental roll, and Oliver’s hands shot up to grip my ass.

“Jesus, Elio,” he ground out as I moved again.

“That feel good?” I echoed with a smirk.

“You’re going to kill me, you know.” I laughed and Oliver shook his head. “No really, Elio, fuck , you feel unreal.”

I just hummed in response and lifted my hips just a little before bringing them back down again. I worked up to a steady pace and cried out when Oliver took hold of my cock, doing his best to stroke in time with my movements. He came without warning, and I could feel him throbbing inside of me. I shuddered and whispered a mix of expletives and his name over and over until I came. I pitched forward, my come matting down his chest hair. Oliver stroked me through it, pushing my foreskin back to brush his thumb over the slippery head.

“Ah, fuck, too much,” I finally ground out. I let myself fall onto Oliver’s chest, regardless of my come, and he let out a soft, “oof,” as I did so. We spent a few minutes laying there, Oliver’s fingers tracing shapes over my back.

We showered quickly and got back into bed as soon as possible. We were both exhausted and it felt fantastic to be wrapped up in Oliver’s arms under the blankets.

“You good?” Oliver asked between kisses to the back of my neck. I nodded and squeezed his hand where it was wrapped around my tummy.

“Mhm...thanks again.”

“You’re welcome. And we’re gonna get you on a good track, Elio. I know you can do it.”

I nodded again but didn’t answer, just pushed back against Oliver. He held me tighter and I smiled. He always knew exactly what I needed.

Oliver was right. Once I was finished with my Essentials of Entrepreneurship course, I was able to focus on my other classes and rehearsals. My more composed state reflected well on my performance and Professor Kuznetsov and I actually became very close, and I considered asking him to be my full-time advisor come the spring.

By the time Halloween rolled around, I was doing well in all of my classes and I even had enough time to go out with friends. Oliver and I spent all of our free time together, and I would sometimes go up to Columbia after class to meet him so we could go home together. I had to take the subway, which I detested, but it was worth it to see Oliver’s smile when he came into his office to find me waiting behind his desk.

“Hey, what are you doing for Halloween?” Daniel asked one afternoon. We were grabbing lunch before we went our separate ways: he was off to his 1:1 lesson and I was headed home for the afternoon. I shrugged and wrinkled my nose at the selection of sandwiches at the small cafe by school.

“Not sure yet. Oliver hasn’t mentioned anything. You?” It was only two days away and Oliver and I hadn’t made plans.

“Some of my friends and I are hitting up Boy Bar on St. Marks. You guys should come. It’s a good like, soft launch into the gay world.”

I brought it up over dinner with Oliver that night.

“So, Daniel invited us to go to this place called Boy Bar for Halloween with his friends.” Oliver raised his brows and looked up at me, but waited for me to continue. I shrugged and pushed the eggplant around on my plate. “I thought it sounded fun. We don’t have any plans yet so maybe it’ll be a good change from going out to uh-” I paused and shrugged again.

“To the straight bars?” Oliver asked, hiding a laugh. I kicked him under the table.

“You know I like going out with your friends, I just want to try something new!”

Oliver agreed though, and he seemed to be just as excited as I was.

We took the subway down on Halloween to meet Daniel at 9 pm. The entire car was full of people dressed in costumes, and Oliver and I picked out our favorites. When we exited the subway and walked towards the bar, the city seemed to change immediately. We were out in the world, and there seemed to be a myriad of possibilities. There were men of all shapes and sizes, wearing all sorts of different costumes, mostly leather. I saw one couple holding hands, and when I did, I immediately grabbed Oliver’s. It was the first time we’d ever held hands in public.

Daniel was waiting outside of Boy Bar with a few of his friends. Introductions were made (Bobby, Javier, and Mitch) before we headed in. Actually stepping inside Boy Bar was transcendent for me. It was dark and the music was thumping. Oliver held my hand tighter as we followed Daniel towards the bar. If this was supposed to be what Daniel called a “soft launch,” I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the next step yet.

There were a few men at the bar chatting with each other, but most were already out on the dance floor, grinding up on each other. I saw a few sneaking off to quiet corners or leaving the building all together. Sex seemed to be easy to find in this part of the city, and it unnerved me considering the most recently published death toll. But we were there to have a good time, so I forced myself to push away any apprehension and enjoy myself.

Everyone seemed to be drinking Rolling Rock, so Oliver ordered me one. I definitely wasn’t a fan; it was too pale, but I chugged it down anyways. We all stood at the bar for a few minutes, chatting and letting the alcohol loosen us up a little.

Daniel was the first to hit the dance floor, and he pulled both Javier and Mitch with him. He danced between them, and the three of them were a blur of hands and lips seeking flesh. It took Oliver and I another thirty minutes, and another cocktail, before I let him drag me to the dance floor as well.

“Relax,” Oliver purred against my ear. I nodded and took a deep breath. This was exactly what I had wanted: to dance with Oliver uninhibited. I slowly started to let myself go as I began to bop to the music. Before too long, Oliver and I were both jumping up and down, pumping our fists up in the air.

Eventually, Oliver spun me around and pulled me back against him, and I absolutely adored the way I could feel Oliver’s half hard cock as he ground against me. We took only a few breaks throughout the night to refill our drinks, but for the most part, we were all over each other on the dance floor. Oliver ended up unbuttoning his shirt halfway, which I enjoyed, and we were soon both soaked in sweat as we hung all over each other. We stayed out until 5am, but I never wanted to leave. I was so drunk the room was spinning and I could honestly say this was one of the best nights out I’d ever had.

Daniel lived only a few blocks away, so he let us crash with him. Oliver had protested at first, but when I nearly fell over after he let go of me for about one second, he agreed that it was the best move.

Daniel had a studio with an exposed brick wall and an alcove for his mattress. It was chic yet grungy, and so perfectly Daniel. There were posters of half-naked men on almost every surface, and a few with fully-naked men as well. He had records and cassettes everywhere, and he even had one of those electronic keyboards on his dining table.

Oliver flopped down on the couch and I fell right on top of him. “You’re heavy,” Oliver slurred, gently shoving at my shoulder.

“ ‘m not,” I shot back, nuzzling against Oliver.

Daniel bid us goodnight but I was already half asleep.

I awoke the next morning to a pounding headache and a spot of my drool on Oliver’s shirt. I groaned and pushed myself up when I heard someone clattering around in the kitchen. I forced myself to get up and check my watch. Thankfully, our Piano Topic professor cancelled that morning’s class considering many of us would be going out for Halloween.

“Coffee?” Daniel asked cheerily.

I glared at him as I poured two cups, one for myself and one for Oliver. “How are you so chipper?”

“Used to it,” Daniel said with a shrug. “Plus Javier may or may not have give me something last night.” Daniel wiggled his brows and nudged my arm. Daniel was starting to dabble in uppers, which he knew I didn’t really approve of. I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Well, Mitch gave me a little something too last night.”

“Oh my God,” I groaned, tipping my head back. Daniel was always telling me about his latest sexual exploits and, as much as I griped about it, it was always fun to hear. He always promised he was safe, which was really what mattered most to me. It ended up that Mitch and Javier snagged Daniel back into a corner while Oliver and I were involved in some heavy petting on the dance floor.

“So like, a train?” I asked, brows furrowed as Daniel animatedly told me about what he got up to with a Cheshire grin.

“Exactly like that.” Daniel was trying hard to hide his laughter at my horrified face.

“I’m bringing this to Oliver,” I said, hopping away before Daniel could give me any more details.

Oliver was up when I came back, but he had his head between his legs.

“Oh no,” I chuckled as I sat down next to him. I placed our coffees on the table in front of us and rubbed at Oliver’s back. “You okay?”

Oliver rolled so that he was on his side, his head in my lap. “I’m getting way too old for this,” he groaned. I giggled and ran my fingers through his hair. “Did you have a good time last night?”

“Mhm, I did.” We sat there quietly for a few minutes. “You’ll come out with me again though, right? Daniel said he’ll bring us more places, and introduce us to more people.”

Oliver sat up and kissed me, morning breath and all. “I would never pass up the chance to dance with you like that.”

I wished I could put into words how satisfied I was. Music was finally making me happy again. I had amazing friends and kept meeting new ones along the way. Oliver and I were together. I had been in New York for six months. I figured my one month of unhappiness was worth it. My dad had warned me that there would be rough patches but reminded me that I always had my parents and, most importantly, I had Oliver there with me.

I smiled and kissed Oliver again. That was something of which I would never tire.

Chapter Text

On the afternoon of November 5th, we received a call from Pat. Over the weekend, Amanda had given birth to a healthy baby girl whom they named Katherine Elizabeth. They were back at home and settled in, and both mother and baby were doing well. Oliver and I were invited over to meet Katherine.

“Oh, we don’t want to intrude,” Oliver said immediately. I nodded along, even though Pat couldn’t see me.

“No, no. Really, come over. We’re going to order sushi since Amanda can finally have it again. She’s doing great and she wants you to meet Katherine.”

I looked over at Oliver and shrugged. We didn’t have any plans that night.

“Yeah, alright,” Oliver said with a smile, he took my hand and started to idly play with my fingers as he confirmed a time with Pat. Once he hung up, I snuggled up against Oliver’s side.

“I can’t believe the baby is finally here,” I said, wondering what she looked like.

“I can’t believe Pat has a girl.” I laughed at Oliver’s triumphant smirk and I poked at his side.

“Don’t be mean.”

We went over at 5, and I made sure to be extra quiet as I took off my coat and shoes by the door.

“Amanda is just finishing up feeding her,” Pat said as he led us past the closed door of the nursery and into the living room. “She should be out in a bit.”

He was grinning from ear to ear, and I had a feeling he had been since Katherine came into the world on Saturday morning. Amanda emerged not only a minute later with a little bundle in her arms.

“Hey guys,” she said softly, walking slowly over to the armchair and settling down. I stayed put next to Oliver on the couch and just stared with wide eyes. It had only been three days, but Amanda was walking just fine and she already looked fantastic. “Come on,” she laughed, bouncing the baby a little. I could just see a small fist over the hem of the pink blanket. “Come meet our little Katherine.”

Oliver made the first move, abandoning me on the couch to stand behind the armchair and look down over Amanda’s shoulder. “Oh,” he breathed, and I could hear to emotion in his voice. “She’s absolutely gorgeous.” Oliver looked up at me and winked. “Come over, Elio, you’re gonna love her.”

I hesitated for a second before slowly making my way over to stand next to Oliver. I was so afraid that the baby would take one look at me and immediately start to cry. I stood behind Oliver and got up on my tiptoes to peer over his shoulder. Katherine’s face was tiny and pink. Her eyes were closed, but she wiggled her nose and lips on occasion.

Oliver laughed softly and moved so that he was standing behind me. He looped his arms around my waist and perched his chin on top of my head.

“She’s so tiny,” I whispered, afraid of disturbing her. Amanda hummed and ran a perfectly manicured finger over Katherine’s little cheek.

“I think we’ll call her Kate,” Amanda said. She turned her head to look up at me with a warm smile. “What do you think about that?”

I just nodded dumbly, my eyes still on the baby.

“You must be so proud,” Oliver said, obviously to Pat.

“I am.” I could hear the joy and happiness in his voice and it made my heart soar. “We love her already.”

“She’s perfect,” Oliver agreed, giving my waist a squeeze. I hummed in agreement and cocked my head to the side as Kate began to squirm a little. She opened her eyes and looked up at me. I knew that newborns didn’t really have any sort of depth perception, but I still felt like she was looking right at me with her big grey eyes. I took a shuddering breath and threaded my fingers through Oliver’s.

“Hi baby girl,” Amanda cooed, looking down at her baby with unconditional love. I wondered what it was like to automatically love another human like that, to unequivocally adore a new baby without hesitation. Oliver curled around me and pressed a very soft and gentle kiss to my cheek before he went back to the couch. I stood there for another minute, watching as Kate settled in her mother’s arms.

Kate didn’t cry the entire time we were there. Amanda set her down in the bassinet while we ate dinner and she didn’t even stir. Oliver and I tiptoed out around 7, wanting to give Pat and Amanda some space.

“I can’t get over how small she is,” I said as I opened the door to our apartment.

“I know. Hard to think that she was inside Amanda and that she’ll grow up to be a full-sized human.”

I hummed as I hung up my coat and put away my shoes. “I like seeing Amanda with the baby. She’s a natural.”

Oliver chuckled and pecked my cheek as he breezed past me and into the kitchen. I rolled my eyes; only Oliver could want a snack after a feast of sushi. “Amanda definitely is. I don’t know about Pat, though.”

“He probably just needs a little time to adjust,” I defended, snagging a piece of the pear Oliver was slicing into. He playfully smacked my hand away before cutting a few pieces of gouda to go along with it.

“What I would pay to see Pat Walsh change a diaper for the first time.”

“You’re an asshole,” I accused, turning on the TV before settling on the couch next to Oliver. We snacked on the makeshift cheese plate and flipped between a few programs until Oliver nudged my side.

“Bed,” he murmured against my ear. “I want to fuck you.”

I definitely couldn’t argue with that, so I turned my head to kiss Oliver quickly before I turned off the TV. Oliver took care of the dirty plate before joining me in the bedroom. He snuck up behind me and helped me unbutton my shirt from behind. I sighed happily and sagged against him, letting him take control.

Once we were both naked, Oliver spread me out on the bed. We had on the yellow sheets from Crema, and each time we made love on them, it felt more special than usual. That night was no exception, and I smiled up at Oliver. He was staring down at me as if I were the most precious piece of ancient art.

“What?” I asked, nudging his side with my foot.

“Nothing,” he immediately replied, easily falling into our usual banter.

“What?” I insisted again as he reached over to grab the lube.

“Nothing!” Oliver repeated with a laugh. I watched as he warmed the lube between his fingers and I automatically spread my legs for him. “I just really like seeing you in my bed. On these sheets.” He pushed one finger into me and I almost asked for another right on the spot, but Oliver seemed to want to take it slow.

“You’re so beautiful, Elio,” he whispered, leaning down to kiss over my forehead and cheeks. I let out soft little sounds as Oliver began to move his finger. “Your dark hair, your hazel eyes. These cheekbones and pink lips. God…” Oliver trailed off and squeezed my side with his free hand. His hand was so large that it spanned practically my entire side. I groaned, always loving the reminder of how much smaller I was. “How did I get so lucky?”

I shook my head and brought a hand up to tug at his hair. “I’m the lucky one,” I corrected through already labored breaths. “So good to me, Oliver.”

He pulled back and smiled as he added a second finger. “You deserve to be worshiped, Elio.” His voice was gentle and it made my heart ache with love. “I’ve waited for you my whole life. Something was always missing and then I went to Italy and I met you.” I wondered how Oliver could be so composed because I was already a shaking, quivering, desperate mess with Oliver’s fingers pressed deep inside me. “You were made for me, Elio, I’m sure of it. You were made for me and I for you.”

I nodded and tugged at Oliver’s hair again before letting my hand drop to his bicep. I loved feeling his muscles move as he thrust into me. “Please,” I begged, “more, Oliver, please.”

Oliver complied and pressed in a third finger. I groaned at the stretch and Oliver slowed his fingers until I got used to it. “You’re so beautiful, Elio,” Oliver whispered against my cheek as he scissored his fingers. “So perfect for me.” I was reduced to a whining mess, trying to take in a full breath as Oliver opened me up.

Finally, Oliver pulled out his fingers and sat back on his heels. He grabbed a condom and tore it open, but before I could stop myself, my hand shot out to grab Oliver’s wrist.

“Wait,” I said, voice soft and croaky. Oliver looked at me with wide eyes, obviously afraid I wasn’t feeling well.

“Are you okay? Did I hurt you? Are you sick?”

I shook my head and stared up at Oliver, eyes wide and chest heaving. I loved him. I loved him more than anything or anyone. I knew I would love him for the rest of our days and even beyond that. Like Oliver said, we were made for each other.

“No condom,” I finally whispered. “I don’t - I don’t want to use condoms anymore.”

Oliver was quiet, just staring at me, and I was afraid I had ruined everything. After a few quiet moments, I squirmed and was about to say something to go back on my plea.

“You’re sure?” Oliver asked, his own voice barely audible. I nodded as soon as the words left Oliver’s lips.

“I don’t want to be with anyone else.” I propped myself up on my elbows and took a deep breath. I wanted Oliver to know how serious I was. “I love you, Oliver. You complete me. There will never be anyone else for me.”

“Elio,” Oliver sighed, leaning down to capture my lips in a soft and reassuring kiss. I whined and reached up to tug at his hair. Oliver tossed the condom aside and pulled back just a little. “There will never be anyone else for me, either,” he promised. His breath was warm against my lips and I choked up a little at his words. He kissed me again before pulling back, and I let myself fall back down against the pillows.

He reached for the lube and slicked up his cock, looking down at me the entire time. “I’m sure,” I said before he could ask again. Oliver laughed softly and settled between my legs.

“I’m sure too,” he murmured before pressing the tip of his cock against my hole. I wrapped my legs around his waist and slid both hands into his hair so that I could anchor myself to him. He pressed in slowly, and it immediately felt different. He was so much warmer without the added latex barrier, and seemingly bigger.

It took a little bit longer for Oliver to bottom out, but once he did, I was so beyond blissed out. “Ol-Oliver,” I choked out, trying hard to keep my eyes open.

“I’m here, I’ve got you.” Oliver sounded just as wrecked as I did. He rolled his hips forward and we both cried out, our fingers digging into each other’s flesh. “God, I’m not going to last long,” he warned. “You feel so fucking good, Elio.”

I whined and finally let my eyes close, succumbing to the pleasure as Oliver began to thrust his hips. I arched up off the bed and tugged at Oliver’s hair, my entire body thrumming and already on edge. I practically screamed when Oliver’s hand wrapped around my cock. His palm was still sticky with lube from when he slicked his own cock, and I was thrown into sensory overdrive.

“O-li-ver.” I stuttered his name in three distinct syllables, unsure if I’d ever be able to talk straight again. Oliver’s bare cock was inside me, pushing into me, opening me up. Oliver was giving me all of himself. The intimacy of it all made me shiver and whine. With an expert twist of his wrist, Oliver had me coming in no time, spurting up over my chest.

“Do you want me?” Oliver asked, breathing hard as he continued to fuck into me. He ran his fingers through my come, smearing it over my chest.

“Huh?” I was delirious with my orgasm, sated to the point where I could barely remember to breathe.

“Do you want me to come inside you?”

“God, yes, Oliver.”

I wanted nothing more. I craved the feeling of Oliver coming inside me, marking me from the inside, claiming me as his.

Just a moment later, Oliver thrust forward hard as his orgasm hit.

It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. His come was hot and his cock pulsed inside of me as he filled me up. I felt complete and I clutched at Oliver, gasping for air as he took me.

Oliver collapsed on top of me and pushed his face into the crook of my neck as he came down from his orgasm. I held onto him tightly, refusing to let go. We stayed quiet, just the sound of our breathing filling the room. Once Oliver grew soft inside me, we finally moved. He pulled his hips back and slipped out of me. Usually when he pulled out, I felt bereft, but this time I knew that his come was still inside me. A part of him, his DNA, was still inside of my body. I shivered at the thought and placed my hand on my lower belly.

Oliver laughed and placed his hand on top of mine, threading our fingers together. “That was good,” he said, obviously exhausted. I hummed and grabbed my shirt to wipe my chest before reaching up for Oliver. I tugged so that he was laying down again. “Don’t you want to shower or anything?”

I shook my head, still incapable of stringing together a proper sentence. I rolled onto my stomach, wanting to be in a better position to keep Oliver’s come inside me for as long as possible, and pulled Oliver towards me. He got the memo and wrapped me up in his arms so that I was half laying on his chest. I was asleep in seconds, safe in the arms of my life partner.

I awoke the next morning to Oliver kissing down my back. I groaned and shifted a little, but immediately stopped when I felt dampness and stickiness between my cheeks.

“Oliver,” I warned, reaching back and shoving at Oliver’s shoulder, trying to deter him from going any lower with his kisses. He didn’t heed my warning, though. He just swatted my hand away and continued down my back. I panicked a little and tried to sit up as best I could with Oliver holding me down. “Oliver, please, let me go shower first.”

“Stop fighting.” Oliver’s voice low and he sat back on the bed and spread my cheeks with his large hands. I whined with embarrassment and pushed my face into the pillow. “My come is dripping out of your ass,” he said, so matter of fact, as if he were telling me the weather.

“Oliv-” Before I could even finish his name, I felt his tongue swipe up over the mess. I shivered and pushed my hips back, unable to stop myself. I always loved when Oliver ate me out, but knowing that he was lapping up his own come added another level of closeness. I still squirmed though, but Oliver just continued his ministrations until I was relaxed and pliant. As soon as I settled down on the bed, ready to give myself over to him completely, Oliver pulled back.

“Shower,” he said, amusement clear in his voice as I whined and shoved up onto my hands and knees, pushing my ass back. Oliver laughed and lightly swatted my ass before getting off the bed. “Come on. Shower.”

Oliver was so attentive in the shower, sucking me off before cleaning me with our chamomile soap. It was a fantastic way to start the day but it made me not want to leave for school. I hung onto Oliver by the door, wishing I could just stay inside with him all day.

“I’ll be here when you get home,” Oliver assured, laughing as I hung on him like a limpet.

“Later,” I murmured against his neck between kisses.

“Later.” Oliver kissed me hard and deep before I left, and I’d never been surer of the commitment we’d made to one another.

“What’s got you so happy?” Daniel asked as I plopped down in my usual seat next to him.

“Nothing,” I said, but it was no use. I had a huge grin on my face, which I was pretty sure was permanent.

“Ooh, I see.” Daniel laughed and nudged my arm. My cheeks flushed and I looked away. “Someone got it good this morning.”

Our professor walked in then, effectively cutting off our conversation, for which I was very grateful. This was neither the time nor place.

After our classes, our little friend group went out for dinner. Daniel and I were definitely the closest out of the piano students, but Gabriella, Lauren, and Allan were all great friends too.

“Ah, fuck,” Daniel hissed as Professor Kuznetsov ambled down the hallway. “Bet you anything he’s gonna corner me.” Right Daniel was, and he was swept away by the elderly gentleman to discuss his upcoming performance.

The four of us headed to a small cafe a few blocks away, a usual haunt for our post-class meals. The girls were gossiping about a mystery man they’d spotted in the composing department.

“Hey, Elio,” Allan interrupted, leaning back in his chair and grinning. “I actually met someone I think you’d really like.”

I rose my brows, unsure of where this conversation was going. The girls quieted down and looked over at Allan, interests piqued.

“Oh?”

“Christina. She’s studying acting; my friend Hideto introduced us.”

“Cool, I’d love to hang out with you guys at some point,” I said, not exactly catching on.

Allan laughed and shook his head. “No, I mean. I think you and Christina would make a really good couple. Her family is from Italy I think.” My cheeks flared bright red and Gabriella and Lauren stared at each other, open-mouthed. They knew I was with Oliver, as Gabriella was at my party and had told Lauren afterward. Allan hadn’t been able to come that night, and it never came up after that.

“I uhm - I’m flattered, Allan, really but I’m with someone.” Allan's brows shot up and he leaned forward.

“Shit, you never said! What does she do?”

“He uh - He’s a professor up at Columbia.”

The silence was deafening. I rubbed the back of my neck, suddenly feeling hot and overwhelmed.

“You’re a queer?”

“I most assuredly am.” I tensed up a little, not liking the direction in which this was going.

“But you don’t act like one…” I bristled at his wording. Act like one? What was that supposed to mean? I wished Oliver was there to help me. But he wasn’t. I sat up a little straighter in my chair. I was alone and I had to defend both of us.

“Well, that’s what I am. A queer. I’m gay - a fag, a pansy, or whatever slang term you want to call me. We’re not all effeminate; that’s a stereotype. Oddly enough, we queers are as diverse as everyone else. Go figure.” I probably shouldn’t have let the sarcasm creep in, but his attitude rubbed me the wrong way.

Allan looked at me, Gabriella, and Lauren, disgust evident on his face. “You guys aren’t pulling my leg, are you?”

“No. I fuck men and they fuck me. Specifically my boyfriend.” I gathered my things and stalked out of the cafe before Allan could say anything else. I glowered the entire way home, positively fuming with anger. I let the door slam after letting myself into the apartment and I threw my backpack on the floor.

“Elio?” Oliver came around the corner, a book tucked under his arm. “I thought you were going out with your friends.”

I didn’t answer, just crossed the room in a few strides and launched myself into Oliver’s arms. He grunted and took my weight, his arms automatically wrapping around my waist. I’d been able to stave off the tears the entire way home, but I finally let myself go and wept against Oliver’s neck.

“Elio,” Oliver whispered against my hair. “Elio, what’s wrong?” I just shook my head and clutched harder at Oliver’s shirt. “Please tell me what happened.”

It took thirty minutes of Oliver holding me on our bed before I was finally calm enough to tell him what had happened. We sat cross-legged, facing each other, our knees touching. I hung my head as I went through the conversation with Allan.

“He just looked so -” I stopped and wiped my nose with my sleeve. “He looked so repulsed.”

Oliver sighed and pushed my hair back off my forehead before wiping at my ruddy cheeks. “I’m sorry, Elio.” I pitched forward so that I could rest my forehead on Oliver’s shoulder. “I wish you didn’t have to experience that.”

“I just thought,” my voice cracked and tears welled up in my eyes again, “that I wouldn’t meet anyone like that. All my friends have been so supportive and I just-” I cut myself off with a choked sob.

“Shh, baby, it’s okay.” Oliver’s voice was soft and grounding as he cooed against my ear. It took at least another hour for him to calm me down again.

“I want you,” I said after drinking some water and washing my face. As soon as we were back in bed, I reached up for Oliver and started to undo the buttons on his shirt. “ I need you, Oliver.”

“Hey, hey.” Oliver grabbed my wrists, stilling my movements. “Why don’t we just sleep?”

Tears pricked at my eyes and my chest tightened. “Please. Don’t you want me?” I hated how childish I sounded.

“Of course I do,” Oliver sighed, letting go of my wrists and instead leaning in to cup my face. “Oliver.” His lips brushed mine as he spoke his own name before kissing me, soft and slow. The kiss definitely slowed my racing heart and frantic thoughts.

Oliver opened me up with sure, gentle fingers, and afterward, he spooned up behind me and held me close against his chest. He fucked me slowly that night, just gentle rolls of his hips as he whispered his love for me against the back of my neck. I was so thankful that I had Oliver to care for me and to be so attentive to my every need.

After we cleaned up, we got back into bed, lying naked on our backs over the covers. I looked down at our bodies in the dim light of our bedroom and cocked my head to the side. His feet were so much larger than mine, and I could especially see the difference as I rubbed my foot against his. His calves were covered in thick, coarse hair. Mine were skinnier than his, just a fraction of the size. His thighs were strong and powerful, just as tanned as the rest of him. Our cocks both lay flaccid and I furrowed my brows I studied them. His was cut whereas I was uncircumcised. We were pressed together from our feet to our shoulders and yet I wanted to be closer. I wanted to be inside Oliver. I wanted to know what it was like to look down and see Oliver’s body instead of my own.

“What are you thinking about?” Oliver asked, watching me as I looked over our bodies.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly, my eyes now skimming over Oliver’s broad chest, covered in fur. I could see my ribs under my skin and I ran my fingertips over my hairless sternum. Oliver shifted so he could wrap his arm around my shoulder. His fingers joined mine in tracing idle patterns over my chest.

“Who was the first man you slept with?” I asked. It wasn’t out of a place of jealousy, just mere curiosity. Oliver hummed and turned so he could nose at my temple.

“William Harris. He was in my freshman year poetry class at NYU.” I turned my head so that our foreheads and noses were pressed together. “We saw each other a few times but,” Oliver shrugged, “he regretted it. I think he’s married now.”

“Who was your first love?”

Oliver laughed, and his breath tickled my cheeks. “You’re a funny goose,” he accused with a soft kiss. “That was Adele Blum. I was in high school.” He didn’t say anything else for a few minutes. I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing. “At the risk of sounding entirely maudlin,” he whispered finally, “you may not be my first love, but you are my last. My only love.” I sighed contentedly and shifted so I could curl up against his side.

“Goodnight, my only love,” I murmured against Oliver’s chest.

The next day at school, Allan and I steadily ignored each other. I was angry, and I wondered if he was too embarrassed or too disgusted to talk to me. I wondered how long the silence would last.

We visited Amanda and Pat again the week after. Kate was even cuter than the last time we saw her, already gurgling and more alert.

“Do you mind?” Amanda asked Oliver, coming over to where we were sitting on the couch. “If I don’t help Pat in the kitchen we won’t even get a glass of water.” Oliver held out his arms and Kate was carefully passed from Amanda to Oliver.

“Hi there, baby girl,” Oliver cooed, laughing when Kate kicked out a little foot. I tucked up my legs underneath myself and curled up against the arm of the couch, just watching Oliver hold Kate. He had said Amanda was a natural, but after seeing Oliver with Kate, I had to disagree. He was so gentle with her and I desperately wished I could see him with our own children. The thought made my heart ache and I had to look away.

“Do you resent me?” I asked when we returned to our own apartment.

“Elio,” Oliver sighed, never one for entertaining my dramatics. He sat on the couch and patted the spot next to him. I slumped down and rested my head on his shoulder. “Why in the world would I resent you?”

“I can’t give you children.”

“What makes you think I’d resent you for that?”

I shrugged. “Seeing you with Kate. You can’t tell me you don’t want babies. You were practically made for fatherhood.”

“I wasn’t, Elio,” Oliver assured with a squeeze to my shoulder. “I love children and yes, I do wish we could have our own, but I don’t hate or resent you for it.” He kissed the top of my head. “I would give up anything to be with you. Nothing else matters. Besides, I’m afraid I’m too selfish to be a parent.” I rolled my head over to look up at him.

“What makes you say that?”

“Because my heart is already yours. I cannot give myself to anyone else, not even our theoretical child. I belong only to you, Elio.”

My fears assuaged, we headed to bed, curled around each other, entirely in each other’s orbits.

The beginning of November was a whirlwind of emotion and big steps in our relationship, and Thanksgiving sort of crept up on us. It wasn’t a holiday we celebrated in Italy, but it was obviously a big deal in the States. We ended up inviting Daniel and Matty, who weren’t going home for the holidays. Oliver and I prepared a feast for our guests. He taught me some of the recipes from his childhood and I decided I loved Thanksgiving. The entire apartment smelled like cinnamon and cloves and I was dizzy with the warm, fuzzy feeling it brought on. Plus, I had a lot to be thankful for that Thanksgiving. Oliver, my parents, my friends, my music.

The four of us flopped in the living room after dinner, stuffed full of food. I lay with my head on Oliver’s lap and forced him to massage my tummy. I didn’t care that my friends were over, and they didn’t mind either, but I was drunk and full and warm and happy. I wanted what I wanted and Oliver was always one to indulge.

“Hey,” Matty said suddenly, turning towards Daniel. “Don’t your folks live in the city? How come you didn’t go home?”

“My parents aren’t supportive of my lifestyle,” Daniel said easily. I looked over at him, hating his casual tone. If my parents weren’t supportive of my sexuality, I wasn’t sure what I would do. They were so important to me and I could never imagine sacrificing my relationship with them over something I couldn’t change. Daniel caught my eyes and shrugged. “It really isn’t that big of a deal. I’ve made my peace with it.”

Oliver hummed and used his other hand to pet my hair. “My parents are the same.” Oliver rarely spoke of his parents, just that they lived in Rhode Island and they had barely interacted since Oliver left for college. I wasn’t sure if they knew about his relationships with men, but Oliver mentioned that they didn’t agree with his decision to go into philosophy and the arts. “They never supported me in anything I did, ever since I was a kid.” He shrugged. “It’s been a few years. It used to bother me a lot more than it does now.”

My heart broke for him and I silently vowed to make sure Oliver always felt loved and cherished, especially by my own parents.

“What about your family, Elio?” Daniel asked. I flicked my gaze up to him and smiled. “They’re…” I trailed off, not sure how to describe them.

“They’re incredible,” Oliver chimed in. I looked back up at him, but he was looking at Daniel and Matty, grinning from ear to ear. “His mother, Annella, is ethereally beautiful. Aside from that, she’s sweet and accommodating and a riot after a few glasses of wine. Samuel, his father, is the smartest person I’ve ever met. And not just book smart; he’s perceptive, too. They’re both so supportive and kind. Not to mention, they’re so deeply in love with each other.” I wrinkled my nose and Oliver tugged gently at my hair. “Don’t be such a baby.”

Matty laughed and sighed wistfully. “I hope I can meet them one day.”

“Me too,” Daniel agreed. “They sound amazing.”

“They are,” I agreed, knocking Oliver’s hand off my belly so that I could sit up. Once I was comfortable, his arms were back around me.

We talked for a few more hours about travel, books, and school until my eyes were drooping. It was just past 3 am when my friends finally left. Thankfully, we had the next day off from school and I was looking forward to sleeping in and snacking on leftovers all day.

I got right into bed after we cleaned up a little, and Oliver followed me into the bedroom, but just perched on the edge of the bed. He tucked me in under the covers and kissed my forehead.

“Aren’t you coming to bed?” I slurred, barely able to keep my eyes open.

“In a bit. I just want to put some stuff away in the kitchen.”

“M’kay. Come soon.”

Oliver promised he would and slipped out of the bedroom. I thought I could hear him talking out in the living room, but I wasn’t sure. I was way too sleepy to concentrate on it. Oliver tiptoed back into the bedroom an indeterminable time later. I stirred a little, but fell back asleep immediately once wrapped in his arms.

Chapter Text

Fall was whisked away with the cold weather which descended upon New York as soon as it was December. I loved the fall, the deep reds and oranges covering the trees, and I already missed the crunch of leaves under my shoes. I had a winter coat and boots from Crema, but Oliver swore it would get much colder in New York than in Italy. He had to take me shopping for new snow boots and a few pairs of mittens. And it was a good thing he did, because the day after, we had an absolutely brutal snowstorm.

Walking to school was a nightmare; I had to keep my head down to avoid getting whipped in the face with snow and I was freezing and damp the entire day. As soon as I was home, I made Oliver make me a cup of tea and then proceeded to shove my cold toes under his thighs as we sat on the couch.

“Jesus,” he hissed, trying to swat away my legs. I only dug them deeper under his leg.

“Nope. You’re warm and I’m cold and it’s your job to fix that.”

“Oh is it now?” Oliver asked. He shifted and grabbed one of my legs before I could move it. He brought my foot up to his lips and kissed over my ankle. I hummed and relaxed as Oliver warmed my toes between his hands.

“What are we doing for the holidays?” I only had two more days of classes and a week of finals before I was off from school for an entire month. I was nervous for my exams, but my friends and I had been studying together nonstop. Plus Oliver was confident that I would pass with flying colors.

“Not sure yet.” Oliver shrugged and kissed my foot again before getting up. “Don’t you have studying to do?” I glowered at the now empty spot on the couch, really not wanting to do anything but snuggle. Oliver kissed the top of my head on his way to the kitchen. “Go do your work.”

I was happy Oliver had converted the second bedroom into a study because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get anything done if Oliver was in my line of sight. He brought me more tea and a snack and occasionally came by to massage my shoulders.

Finals week was nearly the death of me. I studied until my eyes drooped, I transcribed until my ears buzzed, I practiced until my fingers ached so bad I could barely move them. I spent countless hours in the library or in one of the tiny practice rooms in the basement of the Juilliard building. My exams were tough, but I got through them. I breezed through my final performance, which was in front of the entire first year piano class. It was obvious I was Professor Kuznetsov’s favorite student, and I couldn’t deny that I played flawlessly. It would be another two weeks before I got my final grades for the semester, but I felt fairly confident that I would receive good marks.

“We’re fucking done!” Daniel cried as we stepped out of the building on our last day of finals. I laughed as he threw one arm around me and one around Lauren who wrapped her arm around Gabriella. Allan hadn’t really interacted with our little group after I came out to him. He tried to integrate himself into some of the other friend groups in our class, but it didn’t seem to be working out for him.

“You’re acting like we’re graduating,” I accused, but I wrapped my arm around him nonetheless.

“Hey! It’s an entire semester! That’s a huge accomplishment!” I couldn’t disagree with him there.

We met up with Matty and Cassidy for a celebratory dinner, which involved quite a bit of wine, before going out to a nearby bar. It was packed with Juilliard students, but it was exactly what we all needed after a tough first semester. It started out tame: gin and tonics, vodka-crans. But then the cocktails started becoming a concerning neon color. And then we got to the shots. I’d never taken a shot before, but my friends convinced me it was a good idea.

“Come on, Elio, it’s over in two seconds,” Matty taunted as he held up a shot glass with three different types of alcohol in neat layers. I looked at my own glass skeptically before raising it up to my lips and tipping my head back. It actually wasn’t bad and went down smoother than I expected. It burned just a little, but there was a sweet aftertaste.

“That’s the Irish Cream,” Gabriella piped in when she saw the surprised look on my face.

B-52s, Slippery Nipples, Alabama Slammers. It seemed that every time I put one shot glass down, there was another waiting on the bar for me. I hadn’t been so drunk since Bergamo, but I was having the time of my life.

“Come downtown with me!” Daniel shouted in my ear as we left the bar. Everyone else was headed home, but I wanted to go out dancing. We said goodbye to our other friends who headed towards the subway, promising to hang out over the break.

“Gotta call Oliver first.” I stumbled over to a pay phone and shoved quarters into the slot before dialing our number.

“ ‘lo?” Oliver sounded sleepy and I glanced down at my watch to check the time but was too dizzy to actually read the numbers.

“Oliver!” I cried, half surprised that he answered. “Hi, ciao, it’s me. It’s Elio. Hello. Ciao.” Oliver’s laugh came over the line and I leaned against the side of the phone booth with a happy little sigh.

“Hi there. Congratulations on finishing first semester.”

“Thank you! Thanks, grazie! Hey, can I go downtown with Daniel?” My words were a breathless rush and he laughed again.

“You know you don’t have to ask my permission,” Oliver chided. I flushed at that and shrugged, not answering. “You should stay at his place. I don’t want you alone on the subway this late at night.”

“M’kay.”

“Okay. Have fun. Be safe. Stay with Daniel.” I rolled my eyes, albeit fondly.

“Goodnight, Elio,” I murmured. By this point, Daniel had managed to squeeze himself into the phone booth with me. He pulled a mock-disgusted face at my sappiness.

“Goodnight, Oliver. See you tomorrow.”

As soon as I hung up the phone, Daniel’s arm was around me again and we were heading off towards the subway, using each other for stability.

“Why do you guys do that?” he asked once we were on the train. I cocked my head, drink-addled mind not following.

“Why do us guys do what?”

“Why do you call him Elio?”

I shoved my hands in my pockets as my cheeks flushed bright red. I swayed on the spot, a huge dopey smile on my face.

“It’s just a thing we do,” I mumbled, not wanting to share how it came about. I didn’t want to let anyone else in on our little game.

“You guys are freaks,” Daniel said, laughing. I shoved him playfully and soon we were giggling like crazy.

We went to Crisco Disco, and I immediately felt intimidated. Everyone was edgy and fashionable, and I felt like a little child in my plain long sleeved shirt. Daniel fit right in with his ass hugging jeans and loud prints.

Our first stop was the bar where we each got a bright blue mystery cocktail. It was good, though, and we headed right out to the dancefloor. Daniel was a fantastic dancer and he was happy to teach me some of his signature moves.

“We’re slowin’ it down!” The DJ’s voice rang through the venue from the mock, giant vintage can of Crisco shortening that was the DJ booth.

“Oh my god this song is amazing,” Daniel shouted as the first few electronic keyboard notes rang out. He grabbed my hand and my hip and I laughed hysterically as we started leaping around the dancefloor. I made a mental note to remember the song that was playing because it reminded me of Oliver. Something about heaven and younger years and dreams coming true. I was about to ask Daniel what song it was when Philadelphia Freedom came on.

“Elton!” Daniel cried, tipping his head back and drawing out the o . We started jumping up and down again, weaving in and out of bodies sliding sinuously together. It was freeing to be at a club where dancing was second to finding sex, especially since I wasn’t looking for sex. I was able to let myself go and dance until my lungs hurt.

What I didn’t know was that Crisco was synonymous with men who engaged in fisting. While it was a fun place to dance, neither Daniel nor I were interested in witnessing that. We finally left at 4 am and the twenty-minute walk back to Daniel’s apartment took us twice as long. We were wasted and hanging all over each other, barely able to walk in a straight line. Once we were safely inside, we both flopped onto Daniel’s bed, side by side and panting from the walk up to his unit.

“Hey,” he said, elbowing my side. I rolled my head over to look at him, but his eyes were closed. “You’re like...my best friend.” I grinned and elbowed him back.

“You’re my best friend too.” It wasn’t a lie, not in the slightest. I hadn’t felt closer to anyone aside from Oliver and Marzia. Daniel was different though. We were both young and queer and had similar interests. He was fun and caring and my and Oliver’s unofficial tour guide of the hidden spots in the city. Daniel grabbed my hand and squeezed. I squeezed back and closed my eyes, asleep in less than a minute.

I awoke the next morning to Daniel tinkering away on his electric keyboard.

“Stai zitto, testa di cazzo,” I croaked. My mouth was dry and I had to smack my lips together a few times. “ Suona come una merda.” I clambered out of bed and headed into the kitchen for water before doing anything else. Daniel was still plunking away and I smacked the back of his head on my way to the couch. “Seriously, that’s really horrible.”

“I’m still working on it!” Daniel tried to defend.

“Look, you know I’m all for experimentation, but that ?” I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. I usually liked Daniel’s compositions, but whatever he was tapping out just sounded like disjointed noises. He pressed a few buttons on the keyboard before banging out an enthusiastic rendition of Your Song . About halfway through, he decided to sing along at the top of his lungs, which had me simultaneously laughing and covering my ears.

Daniel switched off his keyboard and flopped down next to me on the couch. “Kuznetsov hates the modern shit.”

“He’s an old Russian man, what did you expect?”

“I know, but I want to experiment. I love classical, don’t get me wrong but…” Daniel shrugged and then sagged down so that we were both sprawled out on the couch, limbs all over. “I want to do something innovative.”

“You will,” I assured with utmost confidence. Daniel could do absolutely anything, I was sure of it. I’d never met anyone so creative and so determined, and I knew that Daniel would be a force to be reckoned with.

I finally went home a little after noon and Oliver laughed out loud when he got a glimpse of me as I shuffled into the apartment.

“I take it you had a good night?” I groaned and fell into him, my head immediately coming to rest against his collarbone.

“I think I may have died.”

Thankfully, Oliver already had scrambled eggs and toast ready for me to munch on. We spent the day lazing on the couch and watching TV. If this was how the next month off would unfold, I was more than okay with it.

The first week passed with much of the same. We went out with our friends, visited Kate, went for lunches and coffees. It was almost like summer again, except with frigid temperatures and slushy sidewalks.

Oliver woke me up from a very good dream at an ungodly hour on the morning of the 17th. “Come on, up,” Oliver said, shaking me a little when I groaned and pulled a pillow over my head.

“Let’s stay in,” I pleaded, even going to far as to sneak a hand out of my warm cocoon of blankets to try and pull Oliver back into bed.

“Nope,” he laughed, not budging. “We have a reservation for breakfast. Dress warm it’s freezing out.” I finally emerged from under the pillow and I blinked up at Oliver. He was already dressed in wool slacks and a button down. I rose my brows.

“Somewhere nice?” Oliver pushed my hair back and hummed, leaning down for a quick kiss before abandoning me on the bed.

Traitor.

“Don’t even think about going back to sleep!” he called from the living room. I sighed and forced myself out of bed.

“Where are we going?” I asked as we trudged down the street.

“To breakfast,” Oliver replied, which was completely unhelpful.

“Yes, but where ?”

“You’ll see.”

We were back at Tavern On The Green, which was completely decked out for Christmas. We checked our coats and scarves and hats before being shown to our table. I followed behind Oliver, looking down at my new shirt, one Daniel convinced me to buy, wondering if it was too gaudy. I looked up as the maître d' showed us to our table and my breath caught in my throat.

“Oh, tesoro .”

Before I knew it, I was wrapped up in my mother’s arms, my face pressed against her white silk shirt. She smelled exactly as I remembered, like vanilla and oranges. I tried to take in a deep breath but I couldn’t; I was too overwhelmed. Soon enough, my father’s arms were around me too. As soon as they stepped back I wanted to be right back in their embrace, but they took their seats at the table again.

“Are you really here?” I asked, still breathless.

“Yes, Elly-Belly,” my dad laughed, ruffling my curls. “We’re really here.”

“I had no idea! How -” I didn’t even need to finish that question. I looked over at Oliver, so overwhelmed with love for him. “Thank you,” I said, letting my foot come to rest on top of his under the table. “Thank you so much.”

Oliver had invited my parents to visit through Hanukkah and Christmas, which explained why he would always change the subject when I asked about our holiday plans. They were staying at a hotel close to our apartment, and Oliver already had a whole itinerary planned for us. It had been eight months since I’d seen my parents, and even though I spoke with them on the phone every week, I missed them with all my heart. They filled me in on all the happenings in Milan and Crema as we ate, and there was a smile on my face the entire time.

After, we headed back to our apartment to catch up. I walked between my parents and kept my arm around my mom’s waist the entire time. She kissed the top of my head every chance she got.

“Oh, Elio,” she cooed as we let my parents into the apartment. “It’s perfect.” We gave them the grand tour before settling in the living room with glasses of prosecco. I sat on the couch between my parents and my mom kept her arm around me as Oliver and I took turns catching them up on what we were up to.

“Would you and Pap à want to have dinner with me and my friends?” I asked my mother as we refilled everyone’s glasses in the kitchen.

“I was hoping you would introduce us. Call them tonight and see when they’re free. Oliver can help us find a good place.” Before I could head back into the living room, my mom pulled me into another hug. “We’re so proud of you, tesoro,” she whispered against my hair. “You’re doing so well here with Oliver.”

I knew she and my dad missed me a lot; there was no denying that. And I adored my life in New York with Oliver, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But I missed them too.

“I’m so happy you’re here,” I murmured in return, clutching at her shirt. “I’ve missed you so much.”

That afternoon, Oliver and I took my parents around our neighborhood to our favorite local haunts. They left us before dinner, as they were jetlagged and wanted to get back to their hotel, but we made plans to meet the next day.

“Nothing is better than the smile you’ve had on your face all day,” Oliver said as we headed back to our apartment. The sidewalk was essentially deserted, so we let our fingers brush and curl against each other as we trudged through the snow.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” I said, looking up at Oliver. He looked so handsome in winter: his red knit hat pulled down over his ears, his eyes seemingly brighter against grey skies, cheeks and nose tinged with pink from the cold, his lips a little chapped. He’d let his scruff come in over the past week, and I definitely didn’t mind at all. I especially didn’t mind the beard burn between my legs.

“You don’t have to,” Oliver said simply. “I wanted to see them too. It’s just as much of a gift to me as it is to you.”

“They love you, you know.”

“I know.” He latched his forefinger around mine and I smiled impossibly wider.

I made plans with Daniel, Matt, Cassidy, Gabriella, and Lauren to come out to dinner with me, Oliver, and my parents on the 19th. We even got David, Grant, and Michael to join us as well. It was the day before everyone, except for Daniel, headed off to their respective homes for the holidays, so it was the perfect time. We decided to go to Patsy’s Pizzeria, which was right next door to our apartment.

We took up half the restaurant with our extended table. I sat between Daniel and Oliver. Across from us, my parents sat sandwiched between Matt and Cassidy. The others filled in the rest of the spots, and everyone seemed to be fighting for my parents’ attention. I puffed my chest out with pride and Oliver squeezed my thigh under the table. My parents seemed to like my friends and vice versa. I hadn’t realized how badly I needed my parents’ approval of my new life. They were so clearly happy for me, and it settled any lingering doubts I’d had about leaving them behind.

My parents were going back to Italy the day after Christmas, so Oliver and I had plenty of time to show them around the city. When we went to the Met, Oliver and my father spent nearly three hours in the Greek and Roman section while my mother and I escaped to 19th-century European paintings. We brought them to my favorite coffee shops and bookstores and spent a few lazy afternoons just reading in the apartment.

Oliver and I decided to host Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at our apartment. We didn’t normally go all out for the holidays, but since Daniel was coming over, my parents insisted. It was only my parents and Daniel, so it wasn’t too much trouble at all, especially since my mother insisted upon cooking everything for Christmas Eve.

After dinner, Oliver and I shooed everyone else into the living room so that we could clean up the kitchen. We’d barely done any cooking, so it was the least we could do. I leaned against the counter as I dried the dishes, unable to keep myself from listening in on my parents’ conversation with Daniel. They spoke about school and Daniel’s interests in composing in the future. The polite chit-chat only lasted so long before my parents became entirely too sappy.

“Thank you, caro,” my mother murmured. “You make Elio so very happy. He can’t stop talking about you.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Mrs. P.” Leave it to Daniel to already feel so comfortable with my parents. “He’s a good friend. And so is Oliver. If anything, they’re the ones who are beneficial to my life.”

Oliver and I exchanged amused glances and he leaned down to kiss my cheek. In order to refrain from listening to the conversation in the living room, I started humming as we continued our cleanup.

“That’s nice. What is it?” I shrugged, continuing my little song as I put the leftovers away.

“I’m not sure, actually,” I finally said, trying to think of where I’d heard the melody. It had been stuck in my head for a few days, but I couldn’t place it.

On Christmas morning, Oliver woke me up with soft kisses over my torso. I sighed and carded my fingers through his hair. This was much better than an alarm clock.

“What time is it?” I croaked.

“Nearly 10.” Everyone was coming around 3 so Oliver and I thankfully had a few hours to ourselves. I propped my arm beneath my head and looked down at Oliver.

“Morning.”

“Good morning, Elio.” I sighed again, so unbelievably happy to wake up with Oliver in my bed.

“Coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Before I could say anything else, Oliver was up and out of bed.

“You stay put!” he said over his shoulder before disappearing around the corner. I did as I was told and snuggled back up under the covers. He returned with two mugs of coffee and a pear tucked in the crook of his elbow. We sat cross-legged on our bed, sharing the pear between us. I even managed to get Oliver to give me some of his coffee after I downed mine entirely too fast.

I’m not sure how we managed to get everything prepared before the arrival of our guests, but we did. I was lighting candles and Oliver was pouring drinks when my parents buzzed. Daniel showed up just a few minutes later and soon we all tucked into our meal.

“That was delicious. I’m very proud of you,” my mom said after dinner, cupping my cheek.

“Oh please, Mrs. P.,” Daniel cut in before I could answer. “I’m sure Oliver is the one to be proud of.” We all laughed but my mother kissed my cheek anyway.

“I really can’t take much credit,” I admitted with a shrug. “Oliver did do most of the work.”

We retired to the living room soon after where Daniel and I engaged my mother in a ping-ponging conversation about our classes.

“Come, Oliver,” my dad said, clapping Oliver on the shoulder. “Show me what you’re working on with your students.”

Oliver stepped back and gestured forward to usher my dad towards the study. I looked up at him, a silent question as to if he wanted me to tag along. Oliver leaned over the top of the couch and kissed my head before following my dad into the study. I heard the door click behind them and tried not to worry about what my dad was going to say to Oliver.

We had dessert and coffee in the living room, and afterward, I lay with my head in my mom’s lap and my feet on my dad’s. My mother read to all of us from Princesse de Cleves until my and Daniel’s eyes drooped shut.

“I think that’s our cue,” my mother whispered, closing the book and setting it aside. I stirred and sat up, not wanting to miss a single second with them and angry with myself for dozing off for a bit.

“We don’t leave until tomorrow evening,” my father soothed, not oblivious to my clinginess. “Let’s meet for breakfast.” We made plans for the following morning at a nearby diner before bidding my parents adieu.

After a few words of protest, Oliver helped Daniel onto the couch and draped a blanket over him. “Sorry to crash,” Daniel mumbled, but he was out like a light in a matter of seconds.

“Thank you, Oliver,” I whispered once we got into bed.

“You’re welcome.” Oliver’s voice was soft and he wrapped me up in his strong arms. “It’s been a tough semester and I know you missed them.”

I hummed and snuggled up against Oliver’s chest, even going so far as to sneak my cold feet between his legs. No matter how many times Oliver told me to wear socks to bed, I much preferred warming my toes with his body heat.

“Hey,” I said after a few minutes of silence. “What did my dad talk to you about?” Oliver was quiet but I knew he wasn’t asleep. After all this time, I knew exactly what his breathing sounded like during all moments of the day.

“Nothing,” he finally said, combing his fingers through my hair.

“Not fair,” I shot back, pressing up a little so I could look him in the eyes. “Was it something bad?” Oliver laughed and pushed my hair off my forehead.

“No, nothing bad.” Oliver kissed my forehead and cheeks until I squirmed and whined.

“Stop trying to distract me.”

“No, really, it wasn’t anything bad.” Oliver shrugged and smiled so fondly I’m positive my heart melted. “He just wanted to tell me how proud he is of you...and of me. Of both of us. And that he’s happy for us.”

“Why couldn’t he have said that to me too?” I asked with a childish pout which Oliver kissed right off my lips.

“Because he also wanted to make sure we were being safe and he thought that would probably embarrass you.” I groaned and shoved my face into Oliver’s neck. “I can see that he was right,” he laughed, moving his hands down so he could rub over my back. “I assured him that we’re both clean and safe and I told him that I’m planning on staying with you for the rest of my days.”

For the rest of my days.

I wanted to tell Oliver that it would be for the rest of my days because I wasn’t sure if I could live without him.

For the rest of my days.

Would there really come a time when the world was devoid of Oliver?

For the rest of my days.

I held onto him a little tighter.

“For the rest of our days,” I corrected. Oliver hummed his agreement and kissed me before folding me back up in his arms.

After breakfast and a walk through the park with my parents, during which I clung to them, Oliver and I accompanied them to the airport. They both hugged me so tightly I could barely breathe, but something so trivial as breathing didn’t seem to matter when I could be in my parents’ arms.

“Be good,” my mother said with a kiss to my forehead. “And don’t forget to call Isaac and Mounir!” They had plans to visit the city in the spring and my parents left me their number so that I could make plans with them.

“I will, I promise.”

My dad ruffled my hair and I groaned, trying to knock his fingers out of my artfully placed curls.

“Keep up the good work, Elio. And send us a tape. Your mother and I miss hearing you play.”

After a few more hugs and kisses, they were off and Oliver and I headed back out into the cold to catch a cab.

The next day, Oliver holed himself up in the study to work on his lesson plan for the next semester, which left me free to go downtown to meet Daniel. We met at a small cafe, Caffe Reggio, which I ended up enjoying a lot. It was small and cozy and had Italian art and music memorabilia covering every empty space. We sat on a bench from the Medici Palazzo and sipped our cappuccinos as we discussed the upcoming semester. Afterward, he took me shopping at some of his favorite vintage stores in the area.

“You and Oliver should come out with me on New Year’s Eve,” he said as we flipped through the racks of shirts.

“I don’t think Oliver has any more surprise visitors up his sleeve, so I think that should work.” He held up a burgundy button-down with bright green palm leaves all over it. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. “Where are you going?”

“The Saint is having a big thing. Javier and Mitch are members and can each bring two guests.” I rose my brows and hummed. Clubs with memberships always seemed silly to me, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to get a peek at this exclusivity.

“What should I wear?”

A practically predatory smile crept over Daniel’s face and I immediately regretted asking him, knowing he would force me into something utterly ridiculous.

On December 31st, however, when I stepped out of our bedroom and into the living room, I took one look at Oliver’s face and decided the outfit wasn’t ridiculous at all. I was in skin-tight leather pants and a peach-colored button-down buttoned only up to my sternum. Oliver’s jaw practically unhinged and I blushed, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Do I look okay?”

“Do you -” Oliver cut himself off and was striding towards me. In less than a second, he had me in his arms. “You look amazing. And I can’t wait to kiss you at midnight.”

We met Javier, Mitch, and Daniel at the front of the Saint, and I was glad to see that I wasn’t the most outrageously dressed person there. The club was packed, so we decided to book it to the bar first. We each got two drinks before heading straight to the dancefloor. The DJ was amazing, the drinks were strong, and the clientele was a lot of fun. I could definitely see the appeal of a membership.

As Oliver and I danced against each other, a familiar melody began to play. I turned in his arms so I was facing him and Oliver immediately went for my neck.

“No, wait,” I said against his ear, squinting and trying to pick up the song as the DJ transitioned into it. “This is it!” I cried once I finally recognized the electric keyboard. Realization seemed to dawn on Oliver’s face too.

“This is the song you’ve been humming!” I laughed and kissed over both of his cheeks.

“I heard it when I was out with Daniel. It reminds me of you.”

By the end of the song, we were hanging all over each other, swaying on the dance floor and attempting to both sing and kiss each other at the same time.

“Really though,” Oliver whispered against my ear. “You’re my heaven.” I groaned and tugged hard at Oliver’s hair.

“Let’s at least make it to midnight and then you can take me home.”

At two minutes to midnight, we all turned to face the huge digital clock that had been suspended above the DJ booth. Oliver held me from behind and I sagged back against him, loving how small I felt with his arms wrapped securely around me. Daniel, Javier, and Mitch stayed close, practically bouncing on their toes as we began to count down. Oliver’s lips were pressed right against my ear as he counted, and I loved how his voice was what brought me into the New Year. Once the clock struck midnight, I turned in Oliver’s arms to kiss him.

“I love you,” I said between kisses. We barely said that to one another; it was often implied and it went unsaid. But I wanted to start the New Year the right way, by telling Oliver that I was so completely head over heels in love with him.

“I love you too, Elio.” He held me tighter and kissed me again. The kiss was dizzying, him leaning into me so much that I was practically bent over backward. He pulled back when Daniel came and tugged us apart.

“Stop being gross and dance with us!” We couldn’t argue, so we joined back in, jumping and swaying to the music.

Daniel ended up finding a new dance partner that night. His name was either John or Don and he looked to be about our age.

“I'm gonna head home with him,” Daniel said around 3 am, pulling me back from Oliver to say goodbye. Javier and Mitch had already gone home together.

“Okay, just -” Daniel finished my sentence before I could.

“Be careful. I know, I know. Thanks, Dad.” I rolled my eyes, albeit fondly. I was starting to feel like the crank in the group, what with my monogamous relationship. Daniel kissed both of my cheeks and hugged Oliver before bouncing off with his new friend for the New Year.

Oliver and I stayed for another hour or so, singing until our voices were raw and dancing until our legs were wobbly. By the time we finally got home it was nearing 5 am. But that didn't keep me from pawing at him in the back of the taxi and all the way up to our apartment.

“I want you to fuck me into the new year,” I pleaded, trying to climb up his back as he unlocked the door. Oliver laughed and let us in, closing and locking the door before wrapping me up in his arms.

“It's already the new year,” he corrected with kisses to my neck. I just hummed and tilted my head back, letting him set to work marking my skin.

We finally stumbled into the bedroom and as soon as I tried getting my pants off, I instantly regretted my outfit choice.

“Fuck Daniel,” I growled, rolling on our bed as I tried to drunkenly peel off the leather. Oliver was just standing next to the bed laughing at me and I huffed as I finally starfished over the bed and looked up at him with a pout. “Help, please.”

Oliver took pity on me then and undressed me before taking off his own clothes. He clambered onto the bed and started kissing me, but I squirmed out from under him with a whine.

“No, like this,” I said, voice already wrecked and desperate as I managed to flip onto my stomach beneath Oliver. I heard him curse under his breath and I smiled into the pillows. Oliver leaned over me to grab the lube from the bedside table and I pushed up onto my hands and knees, pressing my ass back.

“Jesus, Elio,” Oliver hissed behind me. I wriggled my hips a little when I heard the bottle open. “I fucking love your ass.”

“And you love fucking my ass, right?” Oliver laughed and I shivered when I felt a lubed up finger against my hole.

“I do. Very much.” Oliver slid his finger in and I immediately shifted my hips back, already eager for more. Oliver laughed and placed a steadying hand on my hip. “Easy, baby.” Oliver opened me up with sure, steady fingers, waiting until I was a begging, whimpering mess. “You ready?” he finally asked.

“Yes, I’m fucking ready,” I shot back. Oliver pinched my hip and I pushed my ass back onto his fingers. “Please, Oliver.” I was being needy and bratty, but Oliver gave in as he always did. I waited not so patiently as he slicked up his cock. I arched my back like a cat and whined when I felt the head of Oliver’s cock press against my hole.

“That’s it,” Oliver whispered as he pressed forward, both of his hands grasping my hips. He bottomed out and I let out a cry against the pillows. Oliver stayed still for a few seconds until I adjusted before he started to move.

“Elio.” My voice was a broken sob as he slowly fucked into me. “Elio, Elio, Elio... fuck .”

“Oliver.”

I loved the way he said his own name: each syllable clearly annunciated. I loved his hands around my hips: fingers able to cover what seemed like miles of my skin. I loved the light and noise coming in from the window: the glow it cast over our bed. I loved his sounds and my sounds and the sound of our bodies moving together. I loved everything .

“Stay inside me,” I ordered, breathless.

“I am. I am, baby. I’m inside you.”

“Come inside me,” I tried to correct, the alcohol still screwing with my words a little. Oliver cursed again. My hands were fisted in the sheets as Oliver fucked me.

“I’m going to - fuck, Elio - I'm going to come.”

“Please. Please, Oliver, I need you to come inside me. Keep your cock inside me after you come.” I sounded completely wrecked but I tried my hardest to keep my words firm.

Oliver did exactly as I said, his rhythm faltering a little as he came. Both of our names spilled from his lips and it sounded almost like a prayer.

You are my god, Oliver. I should be praying to you. I worship you.

He pressed all the way inside me and then pulled me up so my back was flush with his chest. I gasped, his cock driven even deeper inside me with the new angle. I let my hands come back to rest on his thighs as he dragged his own fingers over my flushed skin.

“I’ve got you,” Oliver said before I could even start to complain. He wrapped his hand around my cock, the other wrapped tight around my chest to hold me up. And it was a good thing, too, because when he finally touched me, I nearly fell over. Oliver knew exactly how I liked to be touched, knew just the right combination to make me come within seconds.

We stayed there like that for a minute or so afterward before Oliver slowly dropped his hands down to my hips. “Gonna pull out now,” he whispered as he withdrew. I could already feel his come dripping out of my ass.

He helped me into the shower and left me there with a kiss to go change our sheets. When I returned, he had my favorite pajamas laid out on our freshly made bed. I went over to open one of the windows and Oliver sighed. He hated when I did that, but usually put up with it.

“You know that just makes it harder to get out of bed in the morning,” he chastised as I dressed and then joined him in bed.

“That's the whole point,” I said right back, snuggling up under the covers. “The room is freezing, the bed is warm, and you're in it with me.” Oliver chuckled and kissed the top of my head.

“You goose.”

“Happy New Year,” I said, voice already soft with sleep. I settled in his arms, eager to see what 1985 had in store for us.

School didn’t resume for both me and Oliver until January 14th, so we had another two weeks of vacation after New Year. I desperately wanted to go to the park and lay in the grass as we did over the summer, but the layer of snow covering nearly every inch of Central Park did not allow such afternoons.

Instead, we spent our days either reading in bed or at various coffee shops around Manhattan. We tried branching out of our neighborhood, especially since I quite enjoyed the vibe downtown a lot. I took him to Caffe Reggio, where Daniel had brought me the week before, and Oliver laughed immediately upon walking in.

“Of course you like it here. It looks like the villa.” I glared at him and playfully nudged his ribs. We were seated in a little alcove, private enough that Oliver could block anyone from view with his broad shoulders so that he could hold my hand under the table.

I loved going on dates with Oliver, even if we couldn’t be as open as straight couples. Since I was unable to outwardly hold his hand or kiss him, I made a concerted effort to look at him in public the same way I looked at him at home: my sly attempt at making sure everyone knew he was mine and I was his. I’m sure Oliver picked up on it too, because if he caught me he’d often knock his shoulder into mine or briefly place his hand on my lower back; just his subtle ways of telling me that he too wished we could be more open in public.

Unfortunately, January 14th came sooner than I wanted. I really did not want to leave my time off with Oliver behind, but I couldn’t hide my excitement for my upcoming classes. My schedule was fantastic and the only class I had on Fridays was a morning lesson with Professor Kuznetsov. Oliver didn’t teach on Fridays and I was overjoyed that we had an extra day of the weekend together. Luckily, Daniel and I had the same exact schedule, even for the classes outside of our major requirements. I was very happy that I had a friendly face in all of my classes.

The first week came and went, and I found it a lot easier than I expected to get back into the swing of things. Naturally, I hated walking to school in the snow and most mornings (every morning), Oliver had to coax me out of bed with coffee and breakfast.

Daniel didn't come to class the entire third week of school. I tried phoning him, but he didn't pick up. Oliver assured me that he probably just had a cold or was on a weeklong clubbing bender. On Friday, after our lesson, Professor Kuznetsov asked me about it.

“Where has Elton been?” he asked in his thick Russian accent. Elton was his nickname for Daniel given his love for the artist.

“Not sure,” I answered with a shrug of my shoulders. I hunched over as I tinkered out a little tune. Kuznetsov hadn't dismissed me yet and I knew from experience not to leave until he did so.

"He is your friend. Talk to him. Give him his assignments.” I wanted to say that I'd been trying, but I was still too afraid of Kuznetsov to deny him anything. So I just nodded, curls falling in front of my eyes. “Nice work today, Elio, but work on your posture. Dismissed.”

Instead of going home, I went down to Daniel’s building. I buzzed at the front door but he didn't answer, so I just kept my finger down on the buzzer, assuming the annoying noise would prompt him to let me up. I huffed and rolled my eyes. Typical Daniel. Finally, after what seemed like ages, someone else came out of the building and I caught the front door just before it closed. Daniel had given me a spare key to his apartment, so I had no qualms about letting myself in.

“Daniel?” I called as I toed off my shoes and hung up my coat. I heard movement coming from the alcove so I knew Daniel had to be in bed. I rounded the corner to find him sitting in bed reading, looking totally fine. “Did you forget that we go to school now?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest and cocking a brow.

Daniel looked up at me and shrugged. “No.” He went back to reading which irritated me even more. I sat down at the foot of his bed and stared at him until he looked up at me again.

“So, are you going to tell me why you haven't been to class? Are you ever going to come back?”

“I'm sick, Elio.” I laughed and swatted his foot which was tucked beneath blankets.

“No you're not, you're fine. If you were sick you'd be complaining endlessly about it. You always have a cold. Don't think I forgot about that one in the fall.”

Daniel sighed and closed his book. He sat up a little straighter in bed and I furrowed my brows, confused as to why he was being so serious.

“No, Elio, you don't understand. I have it. I tested positive.” My vision started to turn spotty and my chest tightened. I shook my head and tried to laugh.

“No, you're joking,” I said. “You look fine. You are fine.”

“Elio.” Daniel's voice was sharper that time and I knew it wasn't a joke. “I have AIDS.” The word alone nearly made me throw up and tears stung at my eyes.

“You said you were being safe.” I hated the anger that crept into my voice, but it was unavoidable, and I couldn't help the little bit of smugness I felt when Daniel's cheeks flushed pink.

“Yeah, well. I wasn't. I don't know who it was. Javier told me to get tested around Christmas time. He and Mitch are clean.” Daniel's voice began to shake but he rolled his eyes. “I found out last Friday and I -” His voice finally broke then and I was up in an instant, hugging him tight.

“Please don't tell anyone,” he begged, words muffled against my shoulder. I carded my fingers through his hair and rocked him.

“I won't,” I promised with a kiss to the side of his head. “I'm not going to tell a single soul, I swear.”

“I just want - I want everything to be normal until it can't be anymore.” He went quiet again but I didn't say anything. “I needed a week off, but I want to go back to school. I want to just be normal.”

“You can be normal. You are normal. I'll help you with everything.” We sat there for god knows how long, just holding each other and crying. Finally, I pulled back and tried to put on a brave smile as I wiped at Daniel's cheeks.

“How about we order sushi and watch trashy daytime TV?” Daniel nodded and made to get out of bed.

“Just gonna go wash my face.” I heard the lock click and knew he probably wouldn't be out for a while. I called Oliver to let him know I was hanging out with Daniel and that I would see him later.

I spent the entire afternoon and evening with Daniel, just relaxing on the couch and watching TV. We didn't talk about it again, not until I left.

“So I'll see you on Monday then, right?” I asked, raising my brows.

“Yeah, I'll be there.” Daniel pulled me in for another hug and I clung to him just as tightly as he did to me. “They said a year if I'm lucky.” His voice was so quiet I almost didn't hear him. “I'm scared, Elio.” Daniel didn't speak to anyone in his family and he didn't have a boyfriend. I could only imagine how alone he must have felt.

“I'm going to come to every doctor's appointment, every test, everything. I'll help with all your school work. I'm here for you, Daniel, okay?”

He nodded and smiled weakly as I stepped back. I kissed his forehead before leaving. I wished I didn't have to leave. I wished I could stay with him for every single second of every day.

I was so deep in my thoughts when I walked into my apartment that I didn't even hear Oliver the first time.

“Elio?” I snapped out of it when Oliver touched my shoulder. “How's Daniel?” I swallowed hard and nodded. I wanted to tell him so badly. I wanted to share this with Oliver, but I promised Daniel I wouldn't.

“He's feeling better. You were right, it was just a cold. He'll be back at school on Monday.” Oliver smiled and kissed my forehead.

“Good. Come on, you're just in time for Dallas .”

I snuggled up with Oliver on the couch and pressed a little closer than usual. I was being clingy, but if Oliver noticed he didn’t say anything about it.

Just like he promised, Daniel was back in school on Monday. He didn’t look any different, and I supposed it would take a few months before anyone could tell he was sick. My breath caught in my throat at that thought. I couldn’t imagine Daniel, who was so full of life and vitality, shriveled up in a hospital bed. Daniel also didn’t act any differently. His words from the night before echoed in the back of my mind: I want everything to be normal.

“Can I come back to your place?” I asked Daniel after class. He laughed and knocked my shoulder with his own.

“I feel fine, you know,” he said quietly as we walked down the sidewalk together. “I’m not dying yet.” I hated how blasé he was about it, but I didn’t comment.

“Yes, I know. But I want -”

I want to spend time with you while I still can.

“Sure,” Daniel said, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “You can come over.”

And that’s how it started. I went to Daniel’s place every single day after school and met him for breakfast every Sunday morning. He didn’t need help with anything, not yet anyway, but I mainly wanted to keep him company and spend as much quality time with him as possible.

When I would finally come home at 9 pm or later, I’d eat the leftovers Oliver left on the counter for me before starting in on my homework. Oliver went to bed before me nearly every night and I had to keep coming up with new excuses as to why I was coming home so late.

“Elio,” he sighed one night the second week of February. I was sitting at the desk in the study and he came up behind me to rub at my shoulders. “Why don’t you try to come home a little earlier tomorrow?”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, leaning back so that my head came to rest on his stomach. “Kuznetsov has been riding my ass.” I hated lying to him, but there was no way around it. He kissed the top of my head and hummed.

“Come to bed soon, my goose. You’re going to wear yourself out.”

Towards the end of February, Daniel became increasingly fatigued and achy. He still insisted he was fine and able to go to classes, but I had to help him with his schoolwork. Often times, he would immediately get into bed after class and sleep until dinner. I would do his homework while he slept to make sure he kept up with everything. It took a toll on my relationship with Oliver; I was barely at home, and when I was I was either doing work or sleeping.

I crawled into bed on a Friday night after finally finishing my transcriptions. Oliver had gone to bed hours ago. I was ready to promptly pass out and attempt to sleep in the next morning.

“Hey,” Oliver croaked. I silently cursed for having woken him up. “I’ve missed you.” He rolled over and pulled me towards him. I let him, always happy to sleep in his arms. He started kissing my neck, though, and I tried to wriggle away.

“I’m tired, Oliver,” I said, feeling like I was telling the truth for the first time in a month. I was exhausted.

“Baby, we haven’t had sex in ages. I miss you.”

“I’m sorry.” I tried to push him away again but Oliver held onto me a little tighter.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, looking down at me. “You’re barely at home, you barely even let me kiss you anymore.” I shrugged and shook my head.

“I’ve been busy, Oliver, I told you.”

Busy spending time with my dying best friend. Busy worrying that I’ll get AIDS. Busy worrying that you’ll get it. That I’ll have to watch you die too.

“Alright,” Oliver said finally, letting me go and settling down on his pillow again. “Alright, Elio. Get some sleep.”

It all came to a head the first week of March. We finally had some nice weather and Oliver wanted to go out for a walk.

“I can’t,” I said as I slipped on my shoes. It was a Sunday and Daniel and I had plans.

“Elio,” Oliver tried again, “whatever you’re about to go do isn’t important. Please. I want to spend some time with you.”

“Not important?” I scoffed, crossing my arms and scowling at him. “Are you kidding me, Oliver?”

“No, Elio, I’m not!” Oliver laughed humorlessly and ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve barely seen you in the last month and a half. You’re always out and then you come home and completely ignore me. We barely talk or touch. I thought we were supposed to be open with each other, Elio.”

His words stung and I blinked back the tears that were threatening to spill. I could feel a dull throb in my head and the familiar trickle of warmth on my upper lip. I hated how my nosebleeds could give me away. “We are!” I tried, but I knew I was lying, just as I’d been lying to him all this time.

“Shit, Elio. Let me get you some ice,” Oliver said, coming towards me. But I backed away. “Do you not love me anymore? Are you seeing someone else?”

“How could you think that?” My voice was soft and small, the hurt obvious.

“I don’t know what else to think.” I spun on my heel and wrenched the door open.

“Don’t wait up!” I called before letting the door slam.

I spent that night at Daniel’s. I spent the next night at Daniel’s. I spent an entire week at Daniel’s. That Saturday, we decided to stay in, eat junk food, and watch a ton of movies we rented. I hopped into the shower after placing an order for pizza for lunch.

“Oliver called while you were in the shower,” Daniel said, not looking up from his book. I flopped next to him on the bed and toweled my hair.

“Yeah? What did he have to say?”

“He just wanted to see how you are and asked if you’d be going home anytime soon.” I looked down at my watch. It was nearly 2 pm on the 16th of March.

“Fuck,” I muttered, looking up at Daniel with wide eyes.

“What?”

“Is it really the 16th?”

“Yep.” He popped the p and sounded incredibly disappointed that time kept slipping into the future.

“Ah, fuck.” I ran my hands through my hair and tugged at my curls. “It’s Oliver’s birthday.” I heard Daniel sigh and move behind me. Before I could get up, he was hugging me, practically plastered to my back.

“As much as I love having you here, I think you should go home.” I didn’t say anything and Daniel kissed the top of my head before continuing. “Why don’t you go home and explain everything to Oliver?” I sat up and turned to look at him.

“I don’t - If you don’t want me to, I won’t.”

“Shut up,” Daniel said right back. “I want you to tell him. He’s going to find out at some point anyway. Besides, he deserves an explanation.”

It took another hour of me sulking around Daniel’s apartment before I finally left. When I arrived at my own apartment and let myself in, it looked like nothing had been disturbed for the past week. Everything was still exactly in the same spot as when I left.

“Oliver?” I called, hanging up my coat before heading back into the bedroom. Oliver wasn’t there and the bed was made neatly as if no one had slept in it. My heart began to race and I burst into the study, praying he was there. Thankfully, he was there, dozing on the couch, and I let out a relieved sigh.

“Oliver, shit. I’m sorry.” He jumped when he heard me, nearly falling off the couch. His eyes were red-rimmed and he swayed a little when he sat up. I could tell he had been crying.

“Elio?” His voice was hoarse and I immediately went over and sat on the floor at his feet, looking up at him pleadingly.

“Will you forgive me?” I asked, grasping at his thighs through his sweatpants.

“That depends,” Oliver said, hesitating. I wanted him to touch me so badly. I wanted his hands in my hair. I wanted his lips on mine.

Don’t hate me, Oliver. Don’t ever leave me. I won’t ever leave you again.

“Where have you been, Elio?”

“I’ve been with Daniel.” Oliver took in a deep breath and started to get up from the couch. “No, not like that!” I clutched at his pants even though I knew I wasn’t strong enough to hold him down. He could have easily moved if he wanted to, but he didn’t. “I’ve been helping him.”

“He’s an adult, Elio. He can’t need that much help. Where have you been?” I took a deep breath, steeling myself. I was about to say the words I dreaded more than anything.

“He’s sick, Oliver. Daniel has AIDS.”

Chapter Text

“He’s sick, Oliver. Daniel has AIDS.”

“Oh, Elio.” Oliver settled back down on the couch and sunk his fingers into my hair. The persistent headache I had for the past two weeks immediately started to ebb away. I pressed my forehead against his knee and tried to hold back my tears, but it was useless.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted through sobs. “I’m sorry. He didn’t want me to tell anyone and I want to spend time with him while I can and -” I couldn't breathe. I felt like the world was closing in on me. Suddenly, Oliver’s hands weren’t in my hair anymore and he was standing up. I started to panic and tried to reach out for him.

Don’t go. Don’t leave. Don’t abandon me, not now. Anytime but now.

Oliver went and opened the window before coming back and helping me up onto the couch. I clutched at him, not wanting him to go anywhere.

“Shh, you’re okay, Elio.” Oliver sat down next to me and wrapped me up in his strong arms. As much as I wanted this, as much as I wanted him to stay and comfort me, he was being far too kind. My body was a nauseating mix of desperation and revulsion. I tried to push at Oliver’s shoulders as I gasped for air.

“I’m not fine. I’m not, I’m not. Fuck, I’m sorry.” Oliver just rocked and shushed me, trying to get me under control.

“Breathe for me, Elio. I need you to breathe and calm down and then we can talk.” I took hitching breaths, unable to get enough air into my lungs until Oliver started to coach me through it. “Elio, listen to me. Take a deep breath in...one, two, three, four. Now let it out...one, two, three, four. That’s good, baby. We’re gonna do that again.”

It took quite a while for me to come back to myself, and when I finally did, I scooted away from Oliver a little. “I’m sorry,” I repeated, looking down at my hands in my lap. I was still shaking a little. I didn’t know if I would ever stop. Oliver sighed and I winced; I didn’t think I could look at him so I kept my head down.

“You can’t go running out on me,” he said, voice stern yet gentle. “I understand it’s a sensitive situation and I know Daniel didn’t want you to say anything. I just wish you would have handled this differently.” I nodded and wiped at the tears running down my cheeks. Oliver ran his fingers through my hair and I rubbed at my chest. I felt like my heart was shattering.

“Are you breaking up with me?” I hated how weak and childish I sounded.

“No, you goose,” Oliver chuckled, tugging lightly at my curls. I took some more stuttering breaths, trying to remember the way Oliver told me to count them.

“I’m sorry I hid so much from you. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“I’m sorry I was being selfish.” He sounded just as regretful as I did and I shook my head at Oliver’s words.

“You’re not selfish for wanting to be treated well. Besides, you have nothing for which to apologize. You didn’t know what was going on.”

“Regardless,” Oliver cut in, letting his hand drop from my hair to my shoulder. He rubbed at the tense muscle and I let myself sag against the couch cushions. “I shouldn’t have pushed you the way I did.” I shifted, starting to get a little restless. Oliver sighed and squeezed my shoulder before tugging gently. “Come here, my goose.” I lay down with my head in Oliver’s lap and he carded his fingers through my hair.

“I’m sorry, Oliver,” I repeated. I wouldn’t ever be able to say it enough and was already thinking of ways to make it up to Oliver.

“You’re okay,” Oliver said softly, his fingers gently massaging my scalp as he carded through my curls. “Shh, Elio, you’re okay.” I fell asleep like that, my face pressed into Oliver’s thigh and his fingers in my hair.

When I woke up an indeterminable amount of time later, there was a pillow under my head instead of Oliver. It took me a second to fully wake up. I felt so sluggish and puffy from my outburst. The room was now completely dark and I glanced down at my watch. It was nearing 7 pm; I’d been asleep for three and a half hours. I tiptoed into our bedroom to pull on an oversized sweater before padding out into the living room. I heard Oliver in the kitchen, so I headed in, my head down. I leaned against the counter but didn’t look up. Oliver didn’t say anything and neither did I. It was awkward and my cheeks flushed. I pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my fingers and then crossed my arms over my chest.

“I won’t say I’m not angry with you,” Oliver said. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he opened the fridge and then turned the stove on. “But I forgive you, okay?” I nodded and Oliver continued puttering about for a moment before coming to stand in front of me. “Will you please look at me, Elio?” I took a deep breath before lifting my head a little and looking up at Oliver from under my lashes. “There’s my beautiful boy,” he cooed, and I felt so undeserving of his praise.

“Oliver,” I choked, but he shushed me with a very soft kiss to my forehead.

“I forgive you, Elio. We can talk about it more later. We’re all going to get through this, I promise.” I knew he wasn’t only talking about our fight. “Daniel is so lucky to have you.” I nodded and Oliver kissed both of my cheeks before stepping away to continue cooking dinner. I stayed in the kitchen, just looking down at my feet and trying to stay out of Oliver’s way.

He made us salmon and asparagus and I stayed in the kitchen with him until he plated our food and brought it out to the dining table. I supplied us with forks and knives while he poured us each a glass of wine. We were quiet for a few minutes, but Oliver snuck his foot underneath mine.

“You know you can always talk to me, right?” Oliver put down his fork and looked up at me. I nodded but Oliver leaned forward, trying to catch my gaze. “Elio?”

“I know.” My voice was hoarse from all the crying I’d done over the previous few hours.

“Good.” The rest of dinner was quiet but more comfortable. I washed the dishes while Oliver flipped through the channels to find us something to watch.

“I think the SNL writers are still on strike,” he griped when I came in. I hesitated for a second, not sure where to sit. Oliver looked up at me expectantly and I immediately went to sit next to him on the couch. We ended up watching reruns of Murder She Wrote .

Our silence stretched into getting ready for bed together. We went about our nightly routine, just not with the usual kisses and smiles and with an added bit of fumbling and incoordination. When we got into bed, I moved to roll completely to my side of the bed, just as we’d been sleeping for the past two months. But Oliver pulled me towards him and folded me into his arms.

“I missed holding you,” he whispered. I nuzzled against him and Oliver even let me stick my cold feet between his legs.

“I missed you.” I wasn’t sure if he could hear me with my mouth smooshed against Oliver’s chest.

“I’m very happy you’re home, Elio.” I was home: physically and mentally, and I wanted to stay there in Oliver’s arms for the rest of eternity.

The next morning, Oliver and I stirred very early. It was most likely one of us shifting around that woke the other, but neither of us apologized. We stayed quiet, faces barely an inch apart on top of the pillows. He stroked over my cheek, my ear, my neck, my hair. I ran my fingers up and down his arm, over every muscle and tendon and vein. We stared at each other, breathing each other’s air and reveling in the closeness. Finally, the rest of New York seemed to catch up with us, and the sounds of the outside world began to penetrate our little bubble: car horns, kids laughing, dogs barking, trucks beeping.

“Will you take a bath with me?” I asked, leaning forward just a little so that our noses touched. We rarely took baths, but I wanted to be submerged with Oliver in warm water and bubbles.

“Of course.” We still didn’t move for another half hour. When we finally did it was like all of the awkwardness had dissipated. We no longer stumbled around each other in the bathroom. We both pissed and brushed our teeth as we normally did, our daily routine back to normal. I fetched fresh towels for us while Oliver drew the bath. Even though Oliver couldn’t stand it, I liked the water piping hot and I smiled to myself when I saw the steam rising off of it. I sat on the closed toilet seat and watched as Oliver fiddled with the taps and poured in a generous amount of Epsom salts and bubble bath. The entire room smelled like lavender in less than a minute. When the tub was finally full, Oliver and I both shed our pajamas. He got in first and I after him, settling between his spread legs and resting my back against his chest.

“This was a good idea,” he mumbled against my ear. I hummed and closed my eyes when his arms wrapped around me. I wasn’t very tired, just content to be in his arms.

“He’s going to die.”

“We - ” Oliver held me a little tighter. “We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.” I shook my head and swallowed hard.

“I think I need to.” Oliver nodded and dropped a kiss on the top of my head.

“Whatever you need.” He kept up his kisses and waited for me to continue.

“He told me he was being safe.” My voice cracked and I hated the anger I felt towards Daniel. “I shouldn’t be mad at him. I can’t be, but -” I shrugged and gripped at Oliver’s thighs on either side of my own. Even under the water and with the salts and soaps, the hair on Oliver’s legs was still thick and coarse beneath my fingers. “I don’t want him to die.”

“I know. Neither do I.” Oliver began massaging my shoulders and arms. “What can I do? What do you think he needs right now?”

“I think he needs someone to talk to. Someone that isn’t me. Like...like someone who understands what’s going on.” Oliver nodded and I thought for a few moments. “He said he wants everything to be normal for as long as possible. I don’t think he likes being pitied.”

“Then we’ll make that happen,” Oliver promised. “As normal as possible for as long as possible.”

I hadn’t realized how much of a relief it would be to tell someone else about Daniel’s illness. It was so freeing to finally speak openly.

“If I get it, will you just kill me?”

“Elio, don’t say that,” Oliver chastised. He squeezed me tight as if letting go would actually make my words come true.

“Well?” I prompted, turning a bit so I could look up at him, uncaring of the water sloshing onto the floor. I didn’t want Oliver to have to go through what I was going through with Daniel. I didn’t want him to have to watch me shrivel into nothing. My heart sped up, now pounding against my chest. “I’ve seen the news, you know. I’ve seen what they look like at the end.” Always one for dramatics, and instead of saying what I was really thinking, instead of admitting how scared I was, I went with: “I don’t want to look like that.”

“Calm down, Juliet,” he teased, shaking his head. “Elio, listen to me.” His voice was a little sharper. “You aren’t going to get it. You and I are both clean and we don’t sleep with anyone else. Don’t share needles or, I don’t know, suck Daniel’s blood. Okay?”

“Okay.” I settled back against him and closed my eyes again, fears assuaged only temporarily. My heart rate slowed back to a normal pace again as Oliver began massaging my scalp. It was only a few minutes later when a realization came to me. “Oh no!” I bolted up, splashing more water everywhere and I scrambled to twist around and look at Oliver, eyes wide and wild.

“What?” Oliver asked, clearly worried as he sat up. “What happened?”

“Your birthday! Yesterday was your birthday and I completely ruined it.” Tears pricked at my eyes and I felt so ashamed. It would have been the first birthday we celebrated together. I should have planned something. I shouldn’t have sacrificed so much of my relationship with Oliver over the past few months.

“Shh.” Oliver reached out and pulled me back down against his chest. “It’s okay, it’s just a birthday. I’ll have another one in another 364 days.” I was still pouting and Oliver could definitely tell because he laughed and kissed the top of my head. “How about we pretend today is my birthday, if it means that much to you.” I mulled the thought over and my pout slowly disappeared.

“Okay,” I said finally. I moved so I could tilt my head back on his shoulder and look up at him. “In that case, happy birthday, Oliver.”

“Thank you, Elio.”

We stayed in the bath until we were pruny and we both put on clean pajamas and got right back into bed as it was still fairly early.

“Do you want to see Daniel today?” Oliver asked. I was laying across his chest, my chin propped on my arm so I could look up at him. I thought about his question for a bit before answering. Of course, I wanted to spend as much time with Daniel as possible, and now that Oliver understood the situation it was easier to explain my absence. However, I didn't want to leave Oliver's side - not after our fight and especially not on his make-up birthday.

“No,” I said slowly, guilt curling in my stomach. I sighed and let my head fall onto his chest so I could listen to his heart beating. “I want to celebrate your birthday.”

We dozed off for a half hour, and when I awoke again, I carefully slipped out of bed to phone Daniel.

“Hey, it's me,” I said when he picked up. “I hope I didn't wake you.” Daniel yawned before answering.

“Nah, I was reading. What's up?”

“Do you want me to come see you today?” I asked hesitantly, twirling the phone cord around my finger.

“I thought you were going to spend time with Oliver,” Daniel said, and I could practically hear him roll his eyes.

“Yes, but if you want me to come or need help with anything, I can -”

“Elio,” Daniel interrupted, “remember how I said I wanted everything to be normal? Well, as much as I love having you with me all the time, it isn't normal. What's normal is you and Oliver together. I’ll see you tomorrow at school.”

“But you’ll call if you need anything, right?”

“I will, I promise. Now go be your weird lovey-dovey selves. I have transcriptions to do.”

After hanging up, I tiptoed back into our room to change into jeans and one of Oliver’s NYU sweatshirts. I loved this particular one, as it didn't have a hood so the neck was loose around my shoulders and I had to cuff the sleeves a few times for full use of my hands. It hung long and baggy on me, and I felt completely enveloped in Oliver. I left a brief note on the bedside table stating that I’d be back momentarily. I headed out to a bakery nearby for some treats for Oliver’s birthday; it was an establishment we frequented often, as Oliver definitely had a sweet tooth even though he denied it. It was still cold out, but I no longer needed snow boots, for which I was grateful. I picked up plenty of Oliver’s favorite cookies and I stopped at a bodega for a gallon of milk and a package of birthday candles.

When I got home, I found Oliver still asleep in bed. I crawled back under the covers and pressed my cold nose to his cheek. Oliver groaned and tried to push me away, but I latched onto him.

“You’re freezing,” he croaked as he came to terms with having me on top of him. He rubbed my back in an attempt to warm me up. “Were you outside?”

“Mmmhmm,” I hummed and buried my face into his neck where it was warm and safe.

“Is this mine?” he asked, pulling at the sleeve of the sweatshirt. He didn't even have to open his eyes to know that it was. It was from his undergrad years at NYU and the fabric was soft and worn.

“Mmmhmm.” I snuggled further against Oliver and nuzzled against his neck, which made him laugh.

“Someone's very cozy this morning.”

“Mmmhmm.” I stayed there for another minute or so before kissing Oliver's neck. “Gonna make coffee,” I said, trying to clamber out of bed. But Oliver held me tighter against him. I laughed and tried to move again. “I'll be right back, I promise.”

Oliver finally let me go; I slipped out of bed and headed into the kitchen to put together my little breakfast surprise for Oliver. I stuck some candles into an oversized double chocolate cookie as our coffees brewed and I poured us a glass of milk to share. I set everything up on the little tray we used for our occasional breakfasts in bed and carefully crept back into the bedroom. Oliver was right where I left him, back to snoring softly, and I was impressed with his ability to fall back asleep so fast. I cupped my hand around the lit candle as I approached the bed and started to sing.

“Tanti auguri a te…” Oliver stirred a little and I smiled. “Tanti auguri a te...” He sat up, blinking back sleep, but when his eyes focused and landed on me, his lips split into a wide grin. “Tanti auguri a Oliver, tanti auguri a te!” I warbled out the last note as I sat on the edge of the bed next to him. Oliver blew out his candle and then pulled me down for a quick kiss.

“Grazie,” he whispered against my lips. I hummed and kissed him again before pulling back so that I could set up our breakfast on the end table.

“Best birthday breakfast ever,” Oliver said when we finished, a bit of chocolate smeared over his bottom lip. I chuckled and wiped it away with my thumb. I glanced down at my watch and sighed, relieved. It was only eleven; we still had the entire day ahead of us.

“What would you like to do today, birthday boy?” I asked, carding my fingers through Oliver's hair. He had just gotten it cut, but it was still thick and soft.

“Well, I was thinking we could go see that new Harrison Ford movie,” he said with a wiggle of his brows. I dropped my hand to his neck, curving my fingers around warm skin.

“I don’t know if you’re suggesting that so we can make out in the back of the theatre or because you want to stare at Harrison Ford, but sure.” Oliver absolutely loved going to the movies, mostly because if we played our cards right and went at a random time, we were able to sit in the back of a nearly empty theatre and get a little handsy.

“Both,” Oliver replied. He took my wrist in his hand and turned his head so he could kiss my palm.

“I can check the paper for movie times.” I shivered as his lips moved over my skin; it had been so long since we'd been intimate and every little touch was slowly driving me up the wall.

“Maybe we can go later this afternoon,” Oliver mumbled and I was sure he was hinting at wanting to spend some more time in bed. “And then we can go for drinks after.”

“Okay,” I breathed, head tipping back as he moved his kisses to the inside of my wrist.

“Elio.” Oliver's breath was warm against my skin and I closed my eyes. “I've missed you.”

“I missed you too,” I said immediately. Oliver seemed to have this power to pull my words right past my lips without any hesitation.

“We don't have to,” he said as he continued his gentle kisses, “if you don't want to.” But I was shaking my head before he finished that thought.

“I want to. I need to.” Having sex was the last bridge over the gap that had come between us. I was desperate for him, and I knew he was for me too.

Oliver moved our mugs and plate off the bed before laying me down on the pillows. I started to take off my clothes, but he stopped me to do it himself. His eyes lingered over each newly exposed patch of skin, fingers following in the wake of his appreciative gaze. By the time I was completely naked, I was covered in goosebumps.

“Elio,” he whispered, and I shivered. I loved the way he said my name. I reached out for him and he laced our fingers together. “God, you're gorgeous.” I flushed at his praise and shrugged as I dragged my fingers over my chest.

“You're wearing too many clothes,” I accused with a squeeze to his hand. Oliver chucked and brought my hand up to his mouth to kiss my fingers before he let go to undress himself.

Finally - finally, finally, finally - we were both naked and when he lay down on top of me, I nearly came, just from his warm flesh against mine.

“Oliver,” I sighed as I spread my legs to allow him to settle in between. He leaned down to kiss me, really kiss me, and I pushed up onto my elbows to reciprocate. He tasted like chocolate and coffee and I slid my fingers into his hair to keep him right where he was. If he moved even a centimeter I was sure I would die. He rolled his hips down and I gasped as our cocks were pressed together.

“Been so long,” Oliver murmured as he pulled back. He laughed softly and pushed my hair off of my forehead. I must have already looked wrecked.

“I haven't come since last time we were together,” I admitted, cheeks flushing bright pink.

“Oh, baby,” Oliver chuckled. “No wonder you're so high strung.” I couldn't bring myself to touch myself over the last few weeks. I'd been so exhausted and not motivated to bring myself off without Oliver.

“I need you,” I pleaded, reaching up to clutch at Oliver. I didn't know if I wanted to drag him down for more kisses or push him away to get the lube. Oliver took it upon himself to sit up and grab the lube from the bedside table. He poured a generous amount over his fingers before brought them to my hole. As soon as he circled my skin, I let out a desperate moan; it really had been way too long.

Oliver opened me up with sure strokes of his fingers. It was as if no time at all had passed between us. He was still my confident, strong Oliver. By the time he had two fingers inside of me, I was writhing on the bed, whispering his name over and over.

“I’m ready,” I insisted, tapping at Oliver’s arm. “I’m ready, Oliver, please .”

“Are you sure?” he asked, scissoring his fingers and leaning down to kiss the bridge of my nose. “I don’t want to hurt you.” I immediately shook my head.

“You won’t.”

Oliver withdrew his fingers and I spread my legs wider for him to settle between them. He sat back to slick up his cock and I watched, lips parted slightly. Oliver then proceeded to get out of bed completely. I whined and thrashed a little on the bed; this wasn't what I wanted at all.

“Come here,” he said, reaching out for me. I glared up and him and he just laughed which made me realize he was serious. So, I sighed and pushed myself up out of bed with his help.

Oliver kissed me quickly before spinning me around so my back was to his chest. I could feel his cock, wet and insistent upon the cleft of my ass. He walked me over to the full-sized mirror next to our closet. “Look how gorgeous you are,” he whispered against my ear. I groaned and closed my eyes as I tilted my head back. “Open your eyes, Elio.”

His voice was low and almost commanding, so I did as he said and opened my eyes, but I kept my head back on his shoulder. I was pressed flush against him, one of his arms wrapped around my waist and the other across my chest. “Oh God…” My voice was shaky and I would have fallen to the floor if not for Oliver holding me.

“Keep those pretty eyes open for me,” Oliver said with a kiss to my temple. I did as he said and watched my own face as Oliver repositioned his hips so he could push inside me. My entire body shook and my cock throbbed, pre-come leaking from the tip. “That’s it.” We locked eyes through the mirror and I sobbed, tears welling up in my eyes.

“Oliver,” I choked as I scrabbled to hold onto his arms. The angle was divine, Oliver able to drive his cock deeper inside me than he ever had before.

“I know, baby. I know.” Oliver sounded just as wrecked as I did, and the tears spilled over my cheeks as he thrust in again. “You okay? Am I hurting you?”

“No,” I sighed out, finally finding a good spot on Oliver’s forearm to hold onto.  “No, Oliver, you feel so good.” He rolled his hips forward again and we both cried out; I was practically on my tiptoes as Oliver fucked into me.

“You’re so gorgeous,” he murmured against my hair, his arms tightening around me. I groaned and let my eyes close again. I couldn’t help it, especially with the way Oliver was moving inside me. “Elio,” he reprimanded softly, “open your eyes. I want you to see how beautiful you are when you’re like this.”

I did as I was told and opened my eyes again and I made a concerted effort to look myself over. My hair was a mess, sticking to my forehead and fanned out over Oliver’s shoulder. My cheeks were bright pink and the flush continued down my over my chest to nipples which were stiff in the cool air of our bedroom. Oliver's arms were thick and strong around me, his skin a shade darker than my own. I brushed my fingertips over the dense hair covering his arms, which never ceased to fascinate me, especially when his arms were wrapped around my smooth, hairless chest. My cock was hard and leaking and the muscles in my legs were clearly visible as I tried to hold my own weight. Luckily, Oliver was right behind me, holding me up and against him. Otherwise, I would have been in a heap on the floor.

“Jesus, Elio,” Oliver hissed as my hole fluttered around him. He gripped me tighter as he rolled his hips forward again.

“Oliver…” I could barely breathe and his name was just a soft whisper. I was openly crying now, weeping at how good Oliver felt inside me. Before I knew it, Oliver dropped a hand to my cock, rearranging his arms so he could do so and still hold me up at the same time. I sobbed at the contact, my hips bucking into his hand.

“I want to watch you come,” Oliver said against my ear as he stroked me. I gasped when our eyes met through the mirror and I was coming in just a few seconds. It had been so very long and my orgasm nearly wrecked me. I was shaking, little wrecked noises escaping my lips as Oliver stroked me through it. I had barely any time to recover before Oliver started to move his hips again. “Do you want me -”

“Yes!” I didn't even let Oliver finish his question; I knew exactly what he was asking. “Yes, Oliver, fuck, please .”

With just a few more thrusts, Oliver was coming. He practically growled against my ear as he filled me, his arms so tight around me I could barely breathe. He was being overly possessive, but I loved it. I craved his adoration and desperation. I tried to whisper his name or my name or something , but I couldn't get anything out between my wrecked sobs.

“Shh, baby, you're okay,” Oliver cooed against my ear, still rocking his hips against my ass as we both tried to calm down. “You're good, I've got you.” He started to pull back but I cried out and grasped at his arms.

“No, not yet. Please, Oliver, just another minute.” He laughed softly and kissed my sweaty temple.

“We probably should have saved the bath for after the sex,” he said. He began rubbing his fingers over where they were resting on my skin and I shivered. “Do you feel okay?” I raked my eyes over my own body in the mirror before nodding and locking eyes with him again.

“I'm sorry,” I whispered, tightening my grip on his arms. I didn’t think I would ever stop apologizing for what I’d put our relationship through over the past few months. Oliver kissed over the side if my neck and I sighed, letting my eyes close and my head fall to the side. How could I have been stupid enough to put this in jeopardy?

“It's okay, Elio. We're gonna figure everything out together.” I hummed in agreement and we stayed like that a few moments more before Oliver slowly pulled out. In the bathroom, he cleaned me up with a damp washcloth as I leaned against the sink. He was so gentle with me and I combed my fingers through his hair when he knelt down. He pressed gently on my tummy and I blushed when he cleaned the mess between my legs.

After cleaning up, we both got dressed and I put Oliver’s NYU sweatshirt back on. He chuckled and tugged at the too big sleeve.

“Why don’t you wear something else? I thought we could walk through the park and go to Belmans after the movie.” I shook my head stubbornly and crossed my arms over my chest. Oliver sighed and carded his fingers through my hair. “Why don’t you wear one of my button downs at least?”

I both hated and loved how he could see right through me; that he knew all I wanted was to wear his clothes and be totally enveloped in his scent. I sighed and acquiesced, trading in Oliver's sweatshirt for Oliver's deep green button down, the one he wore when he left me in Clusone. I supposed I could try to look a little nice if we were going to Belmans. He laughed as I rolled up the sleeves.

“Don't you dare make me change again,” I warned, shooting him a teasing glare, to which he held up his hands in defense.

“No! No, I won't, I just like how that's the one you go for. It makes your eyes look nice.”

Everything makes my eyes look nice,” I snarked. Oliver smiled, and I could tell he was happy we were getting back to our old selves again.

“Right you are.” He smacked a wet kiss to my cheek before we headed out.

Luckily, the movie theatre wasn’t that crowded, and we sat in the back row, but Oliver only let me kiss him during the previews. When the movie started, he gently pushed me away and laughed when I whined.

“Shh,” he admonished, taking my hand and squeezing it. “This movie is supposed to be good.”

It was good, and Harrison Ford was as handsome as ever. As much as I would have loved to kiss Oliver for the entire two hours, I was content with his arm around my shoulder or his fingers laced through mine. I loved the darkness of the movie theatre because I loved pretending we could be a normal couple out in public. Once the credits started to roll, we reluctantly tore away from one another before other moviegoers could spot us.

“We should go to the movies more often,” I said as we headed towards the park. Oliver nodded and let our fingers brush as we crossed the street.

“Still up for Bemelmans?”

“Yes, please.” My response was immediate and it made Oliver laugh.

“Always down for a fancy drink, hmm?”

“Oh no,” I simpered, looking over at him and winking, “I’ve been found out.”

We crossed over to the east side through the park, occasionally making quiet conversation but mostly taking in our surroundings. It had been so long since we last walked through Central Park together, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed our usually daily outings. Of course, Oliver made friends with quite a few dogs along the way, always unable to stop himself from roughhousing with a retriever or making kissy noises at tiny lap dogs.

We took our time strolling through the park and by the time we ended up at Bemelmans, it was nearing 5. We settled at a booth in the corner with a perfect vantage point of all the artwork and the pianist who was playing “Suite Bergamasque.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Oliver said slowly after taking a sip of his fancy cocktail. I raised a brow and waited for him to continue. “Maybe we can find like...a support group or something for Daniel.” I took a sip of my own drink and nodded.

“That’s what I was thinking too. I think I saw some flyers for one last time I was downtown. I’ll probably go after school tomorrow and see if I can get a phone number.” I shrugged and looked over at Oliver again. “If that’s okay with you.”

“Of course it’s okay with me. I just want you to be honest with me, Elio. I don’t care what you do with your time just as long as you’re being honest.” After that, we left conversation of Daniel behind, which I appreciated. I liked pretending everything was normal and happy.

“I’m sorry I don’t really have a birthday gift for you,” I whispered, looking down at my feet as we walked. He laughed and knocked my shoulder.

“I don’t expect you to get me one. Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, but,” I shrugged and shoved my hands into my pockets, “I wanted to get you something I’ve just been preoccupied.”

“It’s okay, Elio, really,” Oliver promised.

I cooked dinner for us that night, a pasta recipe that my mom had taught me when I was little. After dinner, we snuggled on the couch with glasses of wine and our leftover cookies, taking turns reading to each other from Il Piacere .

“Happy birthday,” I whispered once we finally got into bed, full of cookies and wine. I settled myself on Oliver’s chest and burrowed against him. “Love you.”

“Goodnight, my Elio.” Oliver kissed the top of my head and I briefly wondered how I managed to sleep all those weeks when I wasn’t in Oliver’s arms.

The next day, I headed downtown to search for the flyer I was sure I saw the last time I was out with Daniel. I was just about to give up hope, realizing I must have been very drunk and didn’t actually see it. I then spotted the flyer I’d remembered seeing in the window of a sex shop. I blushed as I stepped up to the window, squinting in through the glass to try and read the phone number. I couldn’t and looked up and down the street quickly before stepping inside the shop. It was relatively dark, the interior illuminated only by pink and blue neon.

“Can I help you find something?” The man behind the counter was about 50 with a grey horseshoe mustache.

“Oh, I uh - I was just curious about that flyer in the window. About the support group?”

He came around the counter and moved a mannequin wearing a leather harness out of the way so he could take the flyer off the window for me.

“My friend Mark runs it,” he said, passing it to me. “And my partner goes. I’ve been a few times. Mark is a great guy.” I nodded dumbly and looked down at the flyer. They met at an Episcopalian church that was right near Daniel’s apartment.

“Thank you,” I whispered, looking up at him with wide eyes.

“You’re going to be okay,” he said softly, clapping my shoulder. “The group will help.”

“My friend,” I started, but I couldn’t say the words again. I couldn’t bring myself to say that my friend was dying. The man just nodded and squeezed my shoulder before dropping his hand and sticking it out.

“Jonathan.”

“Elio,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.

“Go with your friend to the first meeting. I think he’ll find it helpful. And if you ever have questions or need anything,” he shrugged and looked around, “I’m always here.” I nodded yet again and looked back down at the flyer.

“Thank you again.”

I called Daniel when I got back home that night and it took a bit of convincing before I finally got him to agree to go to the meeting.

“Look, I’ll come to the first one with you,” I tried again. Oliver came into the living room after his shower and sat on the couch next to me. I clambered into his lap as I waited for Daniel’s retort.

“It’s not going to change anything, Elio. I’m still sick.”

“I know that, but maybe it’ll just be good for peace of mind. And if it sucks, we never have to go again.” Oliver kissed the top of my head and wrapped his arms around me.

“Fine,” Daniel sighed and I mentally cheered.

“Great, it’s on Wednesday, so we can go right after class. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Before he could disagree again, I hung up the phone, grinning at my success.

Tuesday came and went, but I was nervous the entire day, and I was sure Oliver could tell. Before I left for school on Wednesday, Oliver pulled me aside before I could leave.

“It’s going to be fine,” he promised. He carded his hand through my curls and I nodded.

“I hope so. I hope he likes it or, I don’t know, finds someone he can talk to.” Oliver leaned down and kissed me softly.

“I’ll be here when you’re home. I’ll order something good for dinner.”

Daniel was just as jittery as I was the entire day. I tried to get him to calm down, but it was useless since I was bouncing just as much. We had time to get coffee between class and the meeting, and I made an effort to talk only about school and music so as not to make Daniel even more nervous.

At ten to three, we headed to the meeting space. Daniel and I had walked past the Episcopalian church many times before without giving it a second thought, and it was dizzying to think it would potentially be a place of tranquility.

There were three other men in the room, al talking softly over cups of coffee. They looked up when we entered, and one stood. He was tall with red hair and kind green eyes.

“Hi, I’m Mark. I’m a minister here with the church.” His voice was calm and soothing and I could already feel Daniel relax a little next to me. We both introduced ourselves before taking our seats. No one asked us who was sick or for how long, which I was grateful for. I didn’t think Daniel or I could handle that.

The other members, Billy and Christopher, were both older men. They looked gaunt and skinny and I could tell they were both sick.


“Alright, let’s get started,” Mark said finally as he took a seat. Daniel reached out and grabbed my hand. I squeezed it and didn’t let go. Billy and Christopher spoke for a few minutes, catching Mark up on what was new before Mark finally turned to us. “So what brings you two by?” I looked over at Daniel, wanting to follow his lead.

“I was uh, I was diagnosed a couple months ago,” Daniel started. I was proud of how brave he sounded. “Elio and his boyfriend are the only other ones who know. I don’t know if I want to tell, you know, my straight friends.” He shrugged and looked down at his shoes.

“How have things been going?” Mark asked gently.

“I’ve been feeling okay, just a little tired lately.” Daniel squeezed my hand again. “Elio suggested I come today and I think -” Daniel’s words broke off and he nodded. It was quiet for a few moments before Mark continued.

“I have never been so proud to be gay, to be part of this community of hope and love. I think the hardest thing for people outside those on the front line is that they don’t realize there is a cumulative effect, these waves of deaths.” Mark chuckled darkly and looked down at his hands for a moment before looking back up at me and Daniel. “During the end of the ‘70s, the gay community was really coming together. There was nothing we couldn’t do. And then this hit us and -” He broke off and shook his head. “I’ll leave you with this: your orientation is a gift from God; use it positively.”

We all spoke for a few more minutes, and we learned that there were usually four others that came to the meetings, but they were either not feeling well or in for treatments.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” I said as I walked Daniel back home. He nodded and scrubbed at the back of his neck.

“Yeah. Will you come with me again next week?”

“Of course I will.”

When I got home, Oliver already had Thai food waiting for me even though it was only just 5 pm. He didn’t ask me about the meeting and I was glad he was letting me take this at my own pace.

“He’s going to go again next week,” I finally whispered as we lay on the couch watching TV. His head was on my lap and he turned to look up at me.

“That’s great, Elio. I’m glad it went well.” He turned his head a bit more to kiss at my exposed tummy. I hummed and ran my fingers through his hair.

“Thanks for suggesting it.” Oliver just shrugged and continued his gentle kisses. I sighed and tugged at his hair. “If you keep that up, we’re going to have to abandon this show and move to the bedroom.”

“I’m fine with that.” Oliver was up in a second and he tossed me over his shoulder. I squealed the entire way to the bedroom. Oliver laughed and held onto me tighter before tossing me down onto the bed.

I looked up at him, breathing heavy, and smiled. Mark’s words from earlier echoed in my mind, about how my sexuality was a gift from God. I wasn’t necessarily religious, but I clutched at the Star around my neck and sent up a silent prayer, thanking God for giving me Oliver.

 

Chapter Text

We trudged through March, which brought along with it more snow as well as the occasional sunny day. Oliver and I quickly fell back into our normal routine, and it was unbelievably comforting to have him by my side through everything with Daniel. I was managing my time better and my relationship with Oliver was no longer in jeopardy.

I went to the weekly support meetings with Daniel and we made friends with the attendees. Aside from Mark, Christopher, and Billy, there were three other men who joined us at the meetings: Ken, George, and Tony. There had been a fourth, James, but we never got to meet him. I kept my promise to Daniel and also went with him to every doctor appointment and test. There wasn’t much that could be done, as there weren’t any treatments, but the physicians at the clinic still wanted to monitor Daniel’s progress.

He became increasingly fatigued, as he wasn’t sleeping well due to night sweats. He also had occasional stomach and throat pain which in turn caused a slight loss of appetite. By the first week of April, his doctor advised him to drop out of Juilliard. Daniel didn’t want to cause alarm, so he requested an extended block of time off, citing recurring migraines. Luckily, Professor Kuznetsov, as well as the dean of students, accepted Daniel's lie, and he was granted off for the rest of the semester with the expectation that he complete summer courses.

“Little do they know I won’t be around this summer,” Daniel said as we left the building together.

“Don’t say that.” He was so casual about it and it made my chest ache.

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s true and you know it. I’m going to die soon, Elio.”

I quickly changed the subject, instead asking about what book he was currently reading. I didn’t want to talk about his death. Not ever.

My birthday, April 12th, crept up on me. I’d been so preoccupied with Daniel and Oliver that I had pretty much forgotten I was turning 19. Of course, Oliver planned everything for me. He woke me up with soft kisses to my back that morning. I shifted and groaned, trying to shrug him off to get a few more minutes of sleep.

“Happy birthday, baby,” Oliver cooed against my ear. He let me roll onto my back and I smiled up at him.

“Thanks.” He leaned down to kiss me, taking it soft and slow. I much preferred this over my alarm clock.

“I’m going to make you breakfast, and as soon as you’re home from your lesson, I’m keeping you in bed all day.” Oliver started to get out of bed but I whined and clutched at him.

“Can’t I skip today?” I pleaded. I hadn’t missed a single day of school, but I was willing to bail on my lesson for a day in bed with Oliver. He sighed and cocked a brow.

“I don’t know…” I was honestly surprised at his hesitation and I put on my best pout.

“Please?” I tugged at his hair, which I knew he loved and looked up at him from under my lashes. “Don’t you want me in your bed for the whole day?”

“Fine,” Oliver sighed, finally acquiescing. I let out a victorious whoop and dragged him down for a kiss. He laughed against my lips and settled back down on top of me, for which I was very grateful. After a few moments, once I’d relaxed again, Oliver broke our kiss to instead trail his lips down my neck. I hummed and raked my fingers through his hair.

“Feels nice,” I murmured, chuckling as Oliver licked over my Adam’s apple.

“Are you starving?” he asked, lips moving against my skin. “Or can breakfast wait?”

“It can wait.”

Oliver laughed at my rushed response and he grabbed my sides, squeezing me gently beneath his large hands. He continued his exploration, lips and tongue moving over my chest and nipples.

“Happy birthday,” he repeated when he got to my navel. I tucked my arm beneath my head so I could get a better view of him as he ran his nose over my tummy.

“You already said that.” There wasn't any heat behind it. How could there be with Oliver teasing me with his mouth like that?

“I’m very happy you exist.”

“Hmph.” I rolled my eyes and reached down to tug the sheet over his head. “Romantic.”

“Hey!” Oliver cried through peals of laughter as he tried to escape from the sheets. Once he finally did, his hair was sticking up in all directions, and I couldn’t help but giggle. Oliver went back to kissing over my tummy, my whole body now shaking with laughter. That died down, however, when Oliver lapped at my protruding hip bone. I moaned and ran my free hand through his hair as he continued his teasing.

“Please,” I finally said, trying to push his head towards my cock, which was already hard. Oliver just hummed and buried his nose in my pubic hair, practically nuzzling me.

“Fuck, even just the smell of you.” He lifted his head to look up at me, and I could see the desire and possessiveness clear on his face. “Even that just drives me crazy.” I knew exactly how he felt; Oliver’s scent was a true pheromone.

“Elio…” My voice was broken already and Oliver had barely even touched me yet. He moved so that he was finally hovering over my cock.

“Oliver.” He let his tongue dart out over the head of my cock with the L in his name and I shivered, my hand dropping from his hair to instead clutch at the sheets.

“Quit tea-” Before I could finish that thought, Oliver wrapped his lips around the head of my cock. He let his tongue trace along my foreskin before sucking me all the way down. He buried his nose in my pubic hair and inhaled before swallowing around my cock. I tried to roll my hips up, but he pinned me down, large hands spanning over my tiny waist. My fingers found his hair again and I tugged, trying to get him to start moving.

When he finally did move, I cried out and arched my back like a cat. Oliver's mouth was sinful and he knew it. We locked eyes and he winked at me, so I retaliated with another tug on his hair. Oliver just hummed around me and continued bobbing his head.

“Merde! Ta bouche est si bonne.” My babbling caused Oliver to growl, and I could feel the vibrations around my cock and as well as where his ribs were pressed against my spread legs. Oliver elicited multilingual responses from me, which was just as well because he told me, on multiple occasions, how much he loved it.

“Sei stato fatto per succhiare il mio cazzo.” I wasn't sure what drove him crazier: French or Italian, so I often switched between the two. “Per favore, Oliver. Ti amo.” It seemed that the language of choice that morning was Italian, as Oliver bucked his own hips down against our sheets. He looked up at me and winked, causing me to thrust up regardless of his hold on my hips.

“Elio,” I sighed, my left hand tightening in his hair, my right tugging at my own curls as he groaned around my cock. “Elio... fuck, sono vicino…So close...” Just a moment later, my orgasm hit. Oliver swallowed dutifully around my cock, milking me for all I was worth. When he finally pulled off, he lapped over the head and foreskin, making sure I was completely clean. He left me a shivering, whimpering mess on the bed, and I let my arms fall limply onto the mattress as he kissed up my torso.

“Happy birthday,” he murmured against my lips, voice a bit hoarse already from our activities. I surged up to kiss him, chasing the taste of himself on his tongue. I shifted below him, feeling his hard cock against my thigh.

“I want you to come on my face,” I managed to get out between kisses to Oliver’s jaw and chin.

“Fuck, baby,” Oliver muttered, capturing my lips in a quick but searing kiss. “You're gonna be the death of me.” He moved so that he was straddling my chest and I brought two of my fingers to my own mouth as he settled his ass back on my breastbone. I looked up at him as I sucked my fingers and he let out a lewd groan as he finally wrapped a hand around his cock. “God, you're gorgeous like that.”

“I know,” I said after releasing my fingers with a soft pop. I looped my arm around him and let my fingers trail over the cleft of his ass before delving between his cheeks to seek out his hole. I pressed a finger in, reveling in the sound Oliver made. “Feel good?” I asked, wiggling my finger a little deeper.

“Yeah,” Oliver sighed, shifting a little over my chest with the addition of my finger in his ass. He began moving his hand over his cock a bit faster and I couldn’t help but press up to lap my tongue over the head of his cock. I always had been and always would be fascinated by every last inch of his body, particularly his peach and apri-cock.

I loved the way Oliver shivered and tilted his head back with my ministrations, and I pressed my second finger into him in an attempt to find and press down on his prostate. I knew I’d found my goal when he pitched forward, the rhythm over his cock faltering a bit.

“Jesus, I’m close, Elio.”

“Please,” I cooed, resting back on the pillows and looking up at Oliver with pure desperation. I let my free hand wander over his inner thigh, my thumb just barely brushing over his balls. “Want your come, Oliver. I want you to mark me.”

Oliver rocked back on my fingers as he stripped his fist over his cock so fast it was practically a blur.

“I’m-”

There wasn’t much time for Oliver to say much of anything, as he was coming over my face. Long stripes of his semen hit my cheeks, lips, forehead, and nose, even painting one of my eyes shut. My cock gave a feeble twitch and my hole fluttered; even in my post-orgasmic haze, I was still needy for Oliver. Once he regained some composure, Oliver dragged his thumb through the come on my face, effectively smearing it into my skin.

“Mmmh...a facial,” I murmured, turning my head a little so that I could catch his thumb between my lips and suck. I then looked back up at him with the eye that wasn’t trapped under a gob of come. “This is a nice birthday present. I feel like I’m at a spa.”

“You’re disgusting,” Oliver laughed but continued to rub his come into my skin.

“J'accuse!” I cried, mock aghast, clutching my chest. Oliver leaned down and licked up my cheek, making a show of swallowing his own come.

“Go get cleaned up. I’m going to make us a proper breakfast.” He left me on the bed, bereft and chilled.

“Traître!”

After washing up and putting on only one of Oliver’s button downs, I shuffled into the kitchen to find a stack of pancakes already on a plate. I reached for one to nibble on as Oliver finished cooking, but he smacked my hand with the spatula.

“Ow...You’re slowly morphing into Mafalda.”

“For your sake, I hope not. Go set the table, I’ll be done in a second.”

I sighed but did as I was told and set the table, complete with steaming mugs of coffee. Oliver brought in the plate of pancakes, the stack now even higher and covered in butter and syrup; sugary and sticky: just how I liked them. We tucked in and I tangled my feet around Oliver’s as a quiet thank you as I put a healthy serving on my plate. After my first bite, I looked up at Oliver, eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“Stronzo,” I accused, voice a little sharp but laced with humor. “Pesche e crema, eh?”

“I thought the birthday boy deserved some of his favorite fruit this morning,” Oliver said through a huge bite of his own pancake. The peach flavor was subtly perfect, little chunks of the fruit in each fluffy pancake.

After breakfast, I stood to clear our plates, but Oliver stopped me with a hand on my hip when I reached to grab his.

“Hold on,” he murmured, rucking his shirt up a little. I groaned softly as the fabric rubbed against my skin and I leaned into the touch. “Are you only wearing this?” he asked, tugging a little at the navy fabric. I nodded and Oliver slid his hand around to palm at my bare ass. “Mmh...I like this look on you.” I blushed at his praise and leaned down to press a kiss to his forehead. He smacked my ass lightly before letting me continue cleaning up.

After all of the dishes were washed and put away, I slung myself over Oliver, letting myself hang off his neck. “What are we doing today?” I asked, voice practically a purr as Oliver ran his hands up and down my back.

“I have a reservation for dinner, but not until 7.” I squirmed excitedly; I loved when Oliver took me out, and since he had a reservation I figured it must be somewhere fancy. “So I was thinking we could go to Coney Island today. Ride some roller coasters.”

“I’ve never been to an amusement park before,” I said against Oliver’s neck. I clutched at him a little tighter.

“I’ll hold your hand on all the rides. I promise.”

We dressed casually; thankfully it was already starting to get warm out and we didn’t need more than light jackets. Once we settled on the subway, blessedly empty enough that I could sit close enough to Oliver that our thighs touched, I began my barrage of questions.

“Have you been before?”

“To Coney Island? Yes, in college with Grant. I ate too many hot dogs before the Cyclone and ended up vomiting.”

“Can we have hot dogs for lunch?”

“Yes, of course we can.”

“Will I like the roller coasters?”

“Hmm...I think you might.”

“Will I vomit?”

“I hope not, but if you do, I’ll hold your hair back.”

“Ha-ha, very funny.” I glanced down at my watch and then back up at Oliver. “How much longer?”

“An hour or so.”

I fell quiet after that and tipped my head back to rest against the window as we whizzed by station after station. We chatted occasionally for the duration of the ride, but I mostly concentrated on where our thighs were pressed together.

Once we finally reached our destination, it was nearing 11:30 am. I was immediately taken aback by the sight before me: huge rides, colorful tents, a long boardwalk already teeming with patrons, the beach in the distance. Oliver bought us tickets for the rides and as we walked around the park, I desperately wished I could lace our fingers together.

“You want to go on some rides first, then lunch?”

I nodded dumbly, looking up at a rickety old roller coaster with an American flag perched on top. Oliver laughed and tugged me in the opposite direction.

“I think we’ll save the Cyclone for later.”

We started out tame: the parachute drop, a spinning teacup ride, the carousel. Seeing Oliver perched on a plastic horse, surrounded by children, had me laughing until I was crying, and by the second go around, we were both doubled over, laughing at the absurdity of two grown men on a carousel. We stumbled off, clutching at our sides as we tried to calm down.

“Can we go on the big one now?” I asked, pulling at Oliver’s sleeve and pointing up at the Cyclone.

“We absolutely can.”

We got in line and I was jittery the entire time. I could hear riders screaming as the cars soared over the tracks above us. Finally, we were seated in a tiny car, pressed together completely from our shoulders to our feet. I let out an involuntary whine as the ride operator made sure the safety bar was in place.

“This isn’t going to keep me from falling out,” I said warily, shifting around on the seat.

“You’re not going to fall out,” Oliver promised. Before I could protest again, the car lurched forward and we were off, the gears clicking and winding as we ascended the first drop.

“Oliver,” I said, unable to keep the fear from penetrating my voice. “Oliver, when are we gonna drop?”

“We’re almost at the top, Elio. You’re okay. I’m here.” Just before we dropped, Oliver took my hand, squeezing it hard. I felt my stomach swoop violently as we were pitched down. Wind pushed my hair back and I was afraid the force of it would also push the skin off my face. I squeezed Oliver’s hand and swallowed hard, pressing my feet down against the floor of our hurtling car.

“Open your eyes,” I heard Oliver call over the rattle of the wood, but I shook my head. I was afraid that if I did, I’d see us hurtling off the edge of the coaster and to our untimely deaths. I couldn’t even bring myself to scream, too petrified to do anything but clutch Oliver’s hand. Thankfully, it was all over as fast as it had started, and once the ride came to a halt, I felt Oliver gently shake my shoulder.

“Hey. Hey, Elio, it’s over. We’re done.”

I was way too shaky to stand on my own, so Oliver had to help me out of the car and down the stairs. Once we were safely on the asphalt again, I threw my arms around Oliver’s neck and clung to him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered against my hair. “I’m so sorry, baby. I didn’t know you wouldn’t like it that much.”

It was the first time I understood — in a way that was at once inchoate and perfectly clear — that there were things from which the grown-ups couldn’t protect me. Or, perhaps more accurately: there were things they didn’t know enough to protect me from.

It took a while for me to calm down, but once I finally stopped trembling, I stepped back from Oliver’s grasp and looked down at our sneakers against the concrete.

“Sorry,” I said with a sniffle. I dragged my hand over the back of my neck, embarrassed that I couldn’t handle a roller coaster.

“Hey, it’s okay. Maybe we should just stick to the carousel, huh?” I nodded and Oliver squeezed my shoulder. “How about some lunch?”

He brought me to Nathan’s Famous, which he said would be the best hot dog I would ever have. I’d eaten one in Central Park once and I didn’t enjoy it much. I was starting to think coming to Coney Island was a terrible idea. Oliver bought us two hot dogs each, and he brought me over to a bench on the boardwalk so we could eat overlooking the beach. It was still too chilly for anyone to be out aside from a lone jogger and his dog.

“Here you are: hot dogs with all the works,” he said, passing me a paper boat with my two hot dogs. They were both covered in relish, ketchup, and mustard. I took a hesitant bite, afraid that the bread would be stale and the dog to salty like the one in Central Park. Instead, I was met with, as Oliver had said, the best hot dog I had ever had. “Good, right?” Oliver asked, clearly amused as he watched my reaction.

I smiled around my bite and nodded, slowly coming back to myself.

We ate quietly and once we were done, Oliver looked in both directions before discreetly lacing our fingers together. I hummed and shifted a little closer, wishing there was no need for discretion. After a few more peaceful moments, we decided to walk around again to decide which ride should be our last.

“How about the Ferris wheel?” Oliver suggested, knocking his shoulder against mine. “It’s a classic.”

“As long as it doesn’t catapult me to my death, I’m in.”

Oliver laughed and bought a huge cone of pink and blue cotton candy before we got on the Ferris wheel. We had the cabin to ourselves, so Oliver was able to wrap his arm around me as we picked at the cotton candy. On our third rotation, we came to a halt at the very top of the wheel. Oliver turned to me and brought his fingers up to trace along my cheekbone.

“I love you, Elio,” he whispered, leaning forward so that I could feel his lips move against mine as he spoke. “So immensely. With every bit of my being.”

“Oliver,” I sighed, bringing up a hand to tangle in his hair and tug at the soft strands at the top of his head. I hummed and let my eyes flutter closed as a spring breeze brought the scent of the ocean and hot dogs and sugar and the promise of summer.

Summer was filled with possibility. We abandoned our routines, set off for unfamiliar turf, and allowed ourselves to explore the world in a way that we usually didn’t. Done correctly, summer meant trying something new for the first time. I was looking forward to it.

Oliver closed the gap between us and kissed me soft and slow and with that same air of promise. We kissed like that until the ride started moving again and Oliver pulled back just a bit.

“I love you,” I finally said, leaning in to peck Oliver’s lips quickly before we were back beneath prying eyes.

After the Ferris wheel, we walked along the boardwalk for a while, discussing literature or music or anything that came to mind. When we finally decided to head back to the city, it was late afternoon. My anxiety from earlier had died down just as quickly as it came, and I was left with a sleepy sense of security as we rode the subway back into Manhattan. I let my eyes droop closed, and before I knew it, Oliver was gently shaking me awake. I had slumped over and rested my head on his shoulder during my brief nap.

“We’re the next stop,” he said softly, and I wanted so badly to lean up and kiss him, but I knew we’d be home soon.

Once we were finally back in our apartment, I threaded my fingers through Oliver’s and pulled him back to the study. The afternoon sun always came in through the windows so perfectly in that room, and I wanted to curl up on the couch with him. Oliver let me arrange us as I pleased: he was seated and I snuggled up against his side, my feet tucked under his thigh. The sun was bright and warm and I rested my head on Oliver’s shoulder, blinking up at him as if in a haze. He leaned down to kiss me and we stayed like that for upwards of an hour, just lazily making out on the couch.

When Oliver pulled back, he grabbed my wrist to check my watch.

“Mmh…we should start getting ready for dinner. I need a shower if you want to join.”

“Yes, please.”

Together we washed away the grime of the day, taking turns massaging each other’s scalps and shoulders. I loved when Oliver washed my hair. He was so much more thorough than I’d ever been, seemingly intent on making sure each and every one of my curls was individually shampooed. Once out of the shower, I stood in front of my closet, looking over my outfits.

“Will you pick my clothes for me?” I asked, turning to Oliver. He was slinging on a pair of his boxers and he looked at me with incredulity.

“Are you serious?” I shrugged and flopped onto our bed, naked.

“Yeah. I don’t know where you’re taking me so I don’t know how I should dress.” I didn’t admit that I wanted Oliver to pick everything out for me; that I wanted to wear entirely Oliver’s choices right down to my underwear. Oliver came over to the bed and lifted my wrist from where it was hanging limply at my side.

“Well, first things first.” He took off my watch and then the three string bracelets Marzia had made me before I left. They were tattered and dirty. He kissed my wrist once it was bare and then dropped my hand back onto the bed. I looked up at him and lazily ran my fingers over my chest. “You’re making things very difficult for me,” he teased, leaning down in order to kiss over one nipple, then the other, his lips skating around my fingers.

“I like making things... hard for you.”

Oliver huffed and rolled his eyes, kissing the center of my chest once before going back to the closet. He picked out a pair of grey slacks and a light blue cashmere sweater my mother had bought for me in Italy.

“Don’t forget underwear,” I said after he lay my clothes out on the bed. “Unless you don’t want me to wear any.”

He laughed and went over to my dresser to pick a pair of soft cotton boxers, plain white aside from a faint blue checker pattern, along with a pair of grey socks. After placing those items on the bed with the rest of my clothes, he went about dressing himself in slacks and a button down.

We called my parents before we left for dinner, luckily catching them before they went to bed.

"Happy birthday, tesoro," my mom said after they had both sung to me over the line. "We miss you very much. When are you and Oliver planning on coming to Crema?"

I looked up at Oliver who was hunched over so that he could speak to my parents as well.

"Soon, Mamma," I promised, leaning against Oliver's side.

"Well, as soon as you have a date, let us know. We'll buy your tickets for you."

"Oh, you don't have to, Pro," Oliver started, but my father interrupted him before he could get too far.

"No, Oliver. We want you to come stay with us in Crema for at least two weeks this summer. Let us buy your tickets for you."

Oliver took me to Montrachet in Tribeca, even going so far as to hail a cab for us since he knew my threshold for the subway had already been reached given our trip out to Brooklyn. The restaurant had opened recently, and was the talk of the culinary town; I had just read an article about it in the Times the week before.

“Oh Oliver,” I sighed as we sat down. He began pouring over the wine menu and I gently kicked him beneath the table. “We don’t have to eat here.”

“Shush,” Oliver chided, looking up at me over the wine list before looking back down. “How about a bottle of their house white? They’re known for American wines here.”

I wrinkled my nose and shook my head.

“Red?”

“Mmh no...something sparkling?”

“Something sparkling.” Oliver nodded and set the menu aside before blinding me with a huge smile.

“You already know what you’re getting?” I asked, winking at him before looking back down at my own menu.

“Salmon, I think. You?”

“The pork maybe? I don’t know…”

“Anything you want, Elio. It’s your birthday dinner.”

I ended up getting the pork, which went perfectly with the brut champagne Oliver chose.

Oliver watched me with such fondness for the entirety of the dinner, and I truly did not feel deserving of that. He was far to kind, as always, especially when he quietly told me how beautiful I looked eating my molten chocolate cake. I wasn’t sure if the flush of my cheeks was from the wine or his compliments.

We went back to the apartment in a taxi again, and I was grateful for the shroud of darkness as I was able to hold his hand in the backseat. When we got back home, Oliver steered me to the living room and sat me on the couch.

“Stay,” he told me, as if speaking to a small puppy. He left me with a kiss on the forehead and went into the kitchen. I relaxed back on the couch and closed my eyes, rubbing over my tummy which was full of good food. I heard the pop of a cork and I knew it was one of the bottles of prosecco we had in the fridge.

“Oliver, we don’t need to have any more,” I called, but I didn’t bother moving. He’d already opened the bottle. There was no choice but to drink it.

“Yes we most certainly do,” he said, coming back in with two glasses and the bottle. He poured us each a glass and passed me one before raising his up.

“Cin cin,” I murmured, clinking my glass against his.

“Happy 19th birthday, my love.”

We each took a sip and then immediately leaned forward for a kiss, which made me giggle. Oliver set down his glass and then shuffled a few of the stacks of books and papers on the coffee table to reveal a thin box, wrapped up and tied with a bow.

“Now for your birthday gift.”

“Gift?!” I sat up, eyes wide. “Oliver, you made me breakfast, brought me to Coney Island, and took me out to dinner. All of that is gift enough.”

“Mmh, I suppose,” he said, picking up the box and turning it over in his hands. “Regardless,” he held it out with a smile, “this is for you.”

I rolled my eyes fondly and took the box. “Thank you.” I unwrapped it carefully to reveal a black, unmarked box. I looked up at Oliver and he gave me an encouraging smile. I opened the box to reveal a watch with a black leather strap and gold hands. “Oh...oh, Oliver .”

“It was my grandfather’s. My bubbe gave it to him when they got engaged. They were 19.” He took it upon himself to take it out of the box and then held out his hand for my wrist. My hand trembled as I reached it out.

“The same grandmother who taught you the foot thing?” I wasn’t sure why that was the first question that came to mind, but my head was swimming with too many thoughts as Oliver took the watch out of its box.

“Mmhm, the very same.” He turned the watch over so that I could see the inscription on the back:

צו מאַכן הבטחות און צו ליבע טאָן ניט קאָסטן קיין געלט

“What does it say?” My voice sounded small and far away.

“Tsuzogn un lib hoben kostn kayn gelt nisht. Yiddish for: To make promises and to love don’t cost any money.”

Oliver fastened the watch around my wrist and I immediately loved the way the cool metal and buttery leather felt against my skin.

“It’s too much, Oliver,” I said, still with that small voice. “You should wear it.”

“No. I want you to have it. She gave it to him after he’d asked her to marry him. She said he needed something in return for the engagement ring.” He chuckled and brought my hand up to his mouth so that he could kiss over my skin up to where the watch sat. “I surely couldn’t give you her diamond ring, as it’d have to be reset into something less feminine perhaps but…” He trailed off and shrugged, bringing my hand back down so that he could admire the way the watch sat on my wrist. “After my grandfather died, she gave me this. Told me to give it to someone who would wear it for their whole life, just as my grandfather had.”

I had a feeling she had meant a son or perhaps a wife, the rectangular face being small enough that the right woman could get away with wearing it. “Thank you,” I finally choked out, surging forward so I could wrap my arms around Oliver’s neck. We stayed like that for a few minutes until he pulled back to pick up his glass again. He handed me mine as well and I looked down at my newly adorned left wrist with a smile.

“Would you have preferred a ring?” he asked after a sip of prosecco.

“No,” I said quickly, looking up just in time to catch the disappointed look on his face. I laughed and reached up to cup his jaw. “Not like that. I would -” I choked a little and had to clear my throat before continuing. “I would like a ring, I think. But I would want you to have one too.”

“We’ll pick them out together,” Oliver decided, turning to kiss the inside of my wrist.

“Yes, in a few months.”

“In a few months.”

We finished off the prosecco, wrapped up in each other’s arms, before Oliver carted me off to bed.

The last week of April was when things started to get really bad with Daniel. We continued going to the support group, but that couldn’t fix his dwindling weight and bouts of amnesia. Daniel was disappearing before my eyes.

“Do you want to play the keyboard before we leave?” I asked, trying to coax Daniel to do something other than sit on the couch before we headed to the clinic for more tests.

“I guess,” he sighed, reaching out a bony arm for his glass of water to take a sip before he stood on shaky legs.

I helped him settle in a chair at his keyboard, which broke my heart. Usually, he played standing up, banging on the keys with gusto. Now he had to sit and he was unable to hit the buttons and plastic keys with as much speed. He began to play Chopin’s Nocturne and I took that opportunity to go to the sink to clean up our plates from lunch. I frowned when I had to throw away more than half of his tuna sandwich. Just a quarter of the way through the song, Daniel stopped playing. I expected him to pick up with another song, but when he didn’t, I turned around only to find him frowning down at his fingers hovering over the keys.

“I can’t remember,” he admitted.

“That’s alright.” I glanced down at my watch, which made me smile just a little. I had stowed away my old digital watch, swapping it out for the one Oliver gave me instead. “We should probably head out now anyways.”

Daniel was getting tests done at the clinic that afternoon and I watched with a heavy heart and pounding head as he was wheeled towards the back of the building where I knew there were many whirring machines. Prior, the nurse had taken his weight, which was rapidly declining, as well as his blood pressure. Daniel hated coming to the clinic, especially because he was forced to wear a surgical mask and they insisted upon wheeling him around in a wheelchair.

When Daniel returned to the small examination room over an hour later, he was slumped back in his wheelchair, looking up at the ceiling with an unreadable look on his face.

“What’s the result of the tests?” I asked as soon as he was wheeled back in.

“I’m sorry sir,” the nurse said, as she had seemingly thousands of times before. “You know we can only share that information with documented family.”

“I was so at peace, Elio," Daniel said, reaching up for me. I glanced down at him and patted his hand.

“Okay, give me one second, Daniel.” I turned back to the nurse, deeply disturbed by all of this nondisclosure, as I always was. “Look, I am technically his family.”

“There was this...this pink light when the machines turned on.”

“Daniel, can we talk about it later?”

“Sir, I’m very sorry, but unless you can give us identification that proves you are most certainly his family member, I cannot provide medical information.” The nurse snapped off her gloves and headed for the door. “He can get dressed and you’re free to go whenever you’re ready. Thank you.”

The door shut behind her and I was left to help Daniel back into his clothes.

After I made sure Daniel was settled at home, I took the subway back up to my apartment. I immediately regretted having been so dismissive with Daniel. With the onset of his amnesia, I felt like my last strand of connection was being threatened. I had been more concerned to find out what the test results were instead of being with him in that moment. I thought about calling him up when I got home to ask about what he meant when he said he felt at peace, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to remember.

“I think I need to tell my parents,” I said to Oliver after we finished dinner. I was laying with my head on his lap and I pulled his book out of his hands so that I could look up at him.

“About what?” he asked, gently carding his fingers through my hair.

“About Daniel.” I sighed and turned my head so I could press my face into Oliver’s stomach. I hadn’t told them about it yet; part of me thought that if no one outside of our little bubble knew that it would stave off the illness. Oliver picked up my wrist, presumably to check my watch.

“Call tomorrow morning before you leave for class. I can head out early so you can talk to them alone.” I shook my head and wrapped my arms around Oliver, clinging to him tight.

“I need you to stay with me.”

“I will, Elio,” Oliver assured, and I knew he wasn’t just talking about the phone call.

The next morning, I woke up alone when my alarm went off at 7. After pissing and brushing my teeth, I padded into the living room dressed only in a pair of boxers to find Oliver laying on the couch, already reading with two cups of coffee on the table.

“Morning,” I murmured as I clambered between his legs and settled down with my back against his chest.

“Hi,” Oliver said with a kiss to the top of my head. I sighed and closed my eyes, just wanting to bask in his warmth for a few minutes. “They’re in Milan, right?” I felt Oliver move behind me and then a soft catter as he picked up the receiver of our telephone.

“Yes. Can you dial for me?”

He did so and then held the phone against my ear. I felt helpless as I just sat there, letting my boyfriend hold the phone for me.

“Pronto?”

“Ciao, Mamma, it’s me.”

“Elio! We haven’t heard from you in so long. How are you, tesoro?”

“I’m okay. Oliver is here too.”

“Ciao Oliver!” My mom’s voice rang out loud over the phone and I flinched at the increase in volume.

Oliver ducked his head to speak against the receiver. “Hiya, Mrs. P.”

“Mamma, I…” I hesitated. Oliver wrapped his arms around me and held me tight.

“What is it, Elio? Is everything okay?” I both hated and loved my parents’ ability to see right through me.

“Daniel is sick,” I said, the words coming out slow and choppy. “He has AIDS and I…” I shrugged, not sure what else to say.

“Oh, il mio bambino,” she cooed and I let out a soft sob, the tears I’d been holding back finally rolling down my cheeks. “Stay on the line. Let me get Papà.” I heard her set down the phone and a few moments later I heard some indistinct words before they picked up the receiver again.

“Elly-belly.”

“Papà,” I choked out. I turned in Oliver’s arms and curled up on my side. The phone was at an awkward angle and I was sure I was crushing some of Oliver’s ribs, but I didn’t want to move.

“I’m so sorry, Elio. How is he doing?”

“It’s so demeaning, Papà. And I can tell he’s scared. I’m scared too. I used to -” I cleared my throat. I didn’t know if I wanted Oliver to be privy to this conversation anymore. “I think of dying in terms of one year from now, not at the end of my life.” I felt Oliver stiffen and I refused to look up at him.

“This disease does not let anyone die with any type of dignity. I am sorry you have to go through this, Elio. This was not what I had wished for you upon your move to New York.”

I nodded, unable to say much else.

“We love you, Elio.” My mother’s voice came soft and melodious over the line. It reminded me of Liszt’s La Campanella.

“Ti amo.”

“Ciao, Elio. Please call us if you ever need anything. And if you want us to come to New York, we can make the arrangements.”

“Thank you, Papà. Ciao.”

Once my parents hung up, Oliver took the phone away from my ear and placed it back in the cradle.

“You’re not going to die in a year,” he said. I knew he would bring it up. I hid my face in his chest and shrugged. “Elio.” His voice was a little sharper and I knew I had to lift my head to look up at him. Once I did, he smiled down at me, albeit sadly, and pushed my hair off my forehead. “You’re okay. I’m okay. We’re both clean.”

“I know.” I leaned up for a kiss, which he gave me without hesitation. “Can we order Chinese for dinner tonight.”

“Mmhmm. As soon as you’re home I’ll have steaming plates of shrimp lo mein ready for consumption.”

The first week of May brought along with it final examinations. Ever since I moved to New York, Oliver and I had been planning to return to Crema for part of the summer after I finished my exams, but we decided to put our trip on hold in light of Daniel’s illness. I, unfortunately, had to take some time off from accompanying him to appointments as I needed to study for exams and practice for my final performance of the year.

“I hate this,” I declared as I let myself into the apartment just past midnight after having locked myself in a practice room for nearly four hours with nothing but sheet music to keep me company. Oliver was on the couch grading his own students’ papers.

“Tell me about it,” he grumbled, marking up the margins of one paper in red.

I grabbed an apple from the fridge before plopping down on the couch next to him.

“How are the papers? Horrible?”

“You would think that some of these kids never took a grammar lesson in their lives.”

I snorted and looked over his shoulder, wrinkling my nose at the writing. “Are there a few good ones at least?”

“Yes, a few. Thankfully my higher level classes are better than the freshman papers.” We sat in silence for a few minutes while he finished. Finally, he marked the end of the paper with a D- and a note to see him after class.

“And what do you do with your students after class, Dr. Stern?”

Oliver hummed and set his stack of papers on the table before turning towards me and plucking the apple from between my fingers. “Why do you ask, Mr. Perlman?” He took a bite of the apple before setting it down. “Trying to get on my good side for top marks in the class?” I grinned at our flirtation and leaned against him.

“Maybe,” I purred, dragging my fingers down below his button down so I could bury them in his chest hair.

“Flattery won’t get you far,” Oliver retorted, but I knew I had won as he tipped his head back against the couch.

“Oh? What will, Doctor? Inquiring minds ache to know.”

“I believe I can give you a proper lesson in the bedroom.”

“Not at your desk?” I quipped, answering just as fast as always.

“Later.” Oliver stood and pulled me up from the couch, practically dragging me back to the bedroom.

“Does that mean you’ll fuck me at your desk at Columbia?”

“If you want me to, I will,” Oliver promised as he began undressing me, and then himself. I crawled onto our bed and settled on the pillows.

“I do. Very much so.” I ran my fingers over my chest before dipping them below my waist to palm at my hardening cock. “I want the entire department to hear me screaming your name as you fuck me over the edge of the desk.”

“Fuck, Elio,” Oliver grunted, grabbing the lube and practically pouncing on me. He ravaged me with kisses as he opened me up.

Soon enough, he had three thick fingers inside of me, which effectively silenced my teasing and pleading. When Oliver finally pushed inside, I gasped and clawed at his back.

“Oliver,” I choked out. “Ol-iv-er.”

Once he was fully inside of me, Oliver flipped us over so that he was on his back and I was draped over him, knees tucked up on either side of Oliver’s hips. I began to rock my hips back, but Oliver stilled me with large hands on my ass. He spread my cheeks apart a bit as he planted his feet down on the bed and began fucking up into me. I could hear and feel his balls slapping against my skin as he thrust up, and I bore down on him as best I could.

“You like that, baby?” Oliver growled as he set his brutal pace. “Let me hear you.”

“Yes! Yes, Oliver, fuck, I -” I gasped as he sucked marks along my neck. We were both so wound up from all of our studying and grading that I knew this would be over far too soon; I loathed any idea of this coming to an end.

“You what, Elio?” Oliver snapped his hips up, leaving himself buried inside of me for a moment before going back to his set rhythm.

“I love your cock. Love the way you fuck me.”

“That’s right.” Oliver fucked up into me three more times before he was coming without any sort of warning. I cried out on his final thrust, clenching down around him so that none of his come would slide out of me. “Show me,” Oliver panted, helping me sit up on his lap. “I want to watch you get yourself off.” I wasn’t sure how he could be so coherent after his orgasm.

I reached down and began stroking my cock, unable to resist rocking back on Oliver, who was still buried deep inside me. I was sure he was feeling oversensitive, but I didn’t care. He was still hard and keeping me full of his come, so I used it to my advantage as I began jacking myself off.

“I was serious.” My voice was nothing more than a quivering whisper. “I want you to fuck me at Columbia. I want to ride you in your desk chair. I want you to fuck me over your desk. I want you to fuck me so hard I come all over your students’ papers.”

“And what will I tell them?” Oliver asked with a breathless chuckle. He was looking up at me with amused adoration as he gently trailed his fingers over my thighs. “That the dog ate their homework?”

“You’d tell them,” I gritted out, almost pitching forward. But Oliver caught my hips and held me up. “You’d tell them that I was marking my territory.” I came just then, my entire body spasming violently as I made a mess of Oliver’s chest and stomach.

“I am yours as you are mine,” Oliver promised. He looked down at the streaks of my come over his skin and he and I both began running our fingers through the mess at the same time. He laughed and looked back up at me. “Your territory, huh?”

“Yep. You’re mine, Dr. Stern.”

“And I don’t plan on forgetting it.”

I officially finished my freshman year of college on May 7th, 1985. I had a final performance that night and it was the first one to which I was able to invite outside guests. Naturally, I invited Oliver and he asked if there was anyone else I wanted to invite. I insisted that there wasn’t, that the only person I needed there was Oliver. Of course, I wanted Daniel to attend, but I knew he didn’t want our classmates to see him in his current state.

When it finally came time for me to play, Professor Kuznetsov squeezed my shoulder backstage.

“You have done very well this year, Mr. Perlman.”

“Thank you, Professor.”

“Elio Perlman.” My name rang out in the auditorium as I was announced and I took a deep breath before straightening my tuxedo and heading out onto the stage. I still wasn’t used to playing in a full tux, but it was a mandatory purchase for all students. I glanced up when I stepped out onto the stage, surprised to see not only Oliver, but also Pat, Amanda, Grant, David, and Michael. I took another steadying breath before sitting at the stool.

I chose Schumann’s Kinderszenen for my final piece of the year. I had been practicing day in and day out, some days hating the piece and others loving it with all of my heart. It was a bittersweet collection of piano miniatures covering themes like games of chase, night-time terrors, bedtime stories and falling asleep. The most famous, Traumerei, painted a musical picture of peaceful childhood dreams and had become one of Schumann’s best-known works. I thought it the perfect piece to encapsulate everything that had happened since I met Oliver.

When I finished twenty minutes later, I was met with a standing ovation. I was sure I could hear Oliver’s applause over everyone else’s. I stood and collected my sheet music before offering a small bow to the audience, mostly made up of my classmates and their parents and friends. I headed backstage to collect myself; I had to lean against a wall in the dark for a few minutes. It was my first concert in front of an audience larger than thirty and the thrill of it all had my heart pounding against my chest. I wasn’t sure how long I stood there, but soon enough. I felt Oliver’s hands on my shoulders.

“You were amazing.”

“How?” I wheezed, straightening up enough to look at him. “How’d you get back here?”

Oliver flashed a dazzling white smile and leaned in to kiss my forehead. “Never mind that. Now, will you finally tell me what piece you played?” I had kept my selection a secret, wanting Oliver to hear it for the first time from my fingertips. It was my love letter to him.

“Schumann’s Kinderszenen. He wrote them as an adult in 1838; a sort of reminiscence on childhood. He was in love with a woman, Clara, at the time, who he later married. He wrote to her,  ‘I have been waiting for your letter and have in the meantime filled several books with pieces. You once said to me that I often seemed like a child, and I suddenly got inspired and knocked off around 30 quaint little pieces.’” I stood up to my full height so that I could wrap my arms around Oliver's shoulders. I was no longer a child and I wanted him to know that. “‘I selected several and titled them Kinderszenen. You will enjoy them, though you will need to forget that you are a virtuoso when you play them.’”

Oliver chuckled and brushed his fingers over my cheekbone. “I am no virtuoso."

“You are,” I insisted, immediately falling against him at the small touch. “A virtuoso of my body and of my heart and of my soul.”

“I will play you for the rest of my life.”

After the concert was over, Oliver and our friends went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. Everyone raised their glasses in a toast to me, and I blushed under the praise.

“Seriously,” Grant called from the end of the table. “You were the best one in there.”

“Thanks,” I said, tugging at the collar of my tux. I grumbled as I finally wrenched off my bowtie and shoved it at Oliver. “Do something with this,” I demanded. He snorted and rolled his eyes, but took the offending fabric and stuffed it into his pocket.

We enjoyed a large meal and copious amounts of alcohol; it was a perfect ending to the semester and I couldn’t have been happier.

With the semester finally over, I could get back to accompanying Daniel to his appointments and to the support group.

“Elio!” Mark cried as I helped Daniel sit down in his usual chair. “We’ve missed you.”

I smiled and took my seat next to Daniel. “I missed you guys too. The end of the semester has been a busy one.”

“He nailed his performance though,” Daniel said through labored breaths. I wanted to tell him to be quiet, to just relax after the hike up the few flights of stairs to the meeting room. “He’s definitely the top one in our class.” I shrugged, my cheeks flushing bright pink.

“I have no doubt about that,” Mark said as he handed us both cups of water. “You’ll have to play for us sometime.

After the meeting that afternoon, I went with Daniel back to his apartment. It took us nearly fifteen minutes to walk up all the stairs, but once we finally did, I immediately got Daniel onto the couch. I propped him up on a few pillows and tucked him in with a handknit blanket I had brought with me from Italy.

“Comfortable?” I asked over the echo of his wheezing breaths.

“Very. Thanks.” I hummed and kissed the top of his head before taking a seat in the armchair opposite the couch. “Aww, that was very sweet.”

I could hear it in his voice: he was letting go of that grasp on the real world, focusing instead on that world out there that did not include me.

I picked up the battered copy of Great Expectations, which had been reading to Daniel as of late. “Shall we pick up where we left off?”

“Sure. I believe Mrs. Joe has just died.”

“Right you are.” I opened the book to the appropriate page and began reading aloud. Once I finished the next two chapters, I dogeared the page and set the book down.

“I want my funeral to be a joyous event,” Daniel said. I wanted to tell him not to talk about his funeral, but I knew his response would be the same as always: it was going to happen at some point so why shouldn’t he talk about it?

“Sure, we can do that.”

“I want it to be an interment of who I am.” After a brief pause, he pinned me with a glare. “And I am choosing all of the music and words.”

“Of course you are.” I smiled, indulging him. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll write everything down.”

We sat quietly for an hour or so, and I began to doze off, jerked awake only by Daniel making a distressed noise.

“What?” I asked, startled, as I sat up. Daniel had his tongue hanging out of his mouth and he was pawing at it. It was nearly completely white and yellow and I was sure his mouth was dry and sore due to thrush. “Hey, don’t do that.” I came to sit next to him and grabbed his wrist, effectively pulling his hand away from his mouth so that I could help him drink some water. He looked down at his hand and then up at me, completely bewildered. I wasn’t sure if he knew who I was.

After a few sips of water, I helped Daniel change into pajamas. It was only 6pm, but I knew he wouldn’t eat any dinner, as he was experiencing extreme stomach pain lately. I propped Daniel up against the counter in his bathroom as I washed his face with a damp cloth and brushed his teeth for him. I sat him down on the toilet so he could relieve himself without much difficulty.

“Alright,” I said softly as I helped Daniel into bed. I tucked him in and made sure the fan was on as I knew he got hot at night. “If you need anything, you give me a call. My number is next to the telephone.”

“I remember it,” he said, although I didn’t think he did.

“I know you do, but I left it there for you in case. And you have plenty of food in the fridge if you get hungry.” I leaned down to kiss Daniel’s forehead. “Goodnight, mio amico.”

“Ciao, Elio.”

Once I got home, I was sure Oliver could tell the day took a toll on me because he immediately wrapped me up in his arms. “How’s he doing?”

“I think he’s dying more this week than last,” I said, words muffled against Oliver’s shirt. Daniel was the only thing that stood between me and death, and I had to watch him slip away from me a little bit more every day.

 

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe I’ve been here for a year,” I whispered, staring at the lump that was Oliver under our covers. I wasn’t sure if he was awake yet. I was sure it was still early if the bright patches of sunlight coming in through the windows were anything to go by.

“It went fast,” Oliver croaked. He was awake, then. Or just barely.

I hummed and pressed in so that my chest was plastered to his back and I draped my arm over his waist. I was done with my freshman year of college. My grades were due to arrive in the next week but, unlike at the end of first semester, I was sure I had done well.

I truly couldn’t believe it had been a full year since I’d moved to New York and nearly two years since I had met Oliver. We’d gone through so much together, good and bad, and Oliver had been by my side through it all. My stomach swooped pleasantly at the thought of all that was to come over the next few years.

“Any plans for today?” Oliver asked, disrupting my silent reminiscing over the past year.

“No. Daniel mentioned calling the rest of our friends today to let them know. He said he wanted to be alone.” I shrugged and clung to Oliver a little tighter. “You?”

“I was thinking maybe later we could go visit Amanda and the baby. Pat’s up with his family in Buffalo, so they’ll be alone.”

“That sounds nice. We haven’t seen them in a while.” I’d been so busy with Daniel and the end of the semester, that I’d been neglecting some of our other friends, which made me feel infinitely guilty.

“Breakfast first,” Oliver decided, rolling over to kiss my head before sliding out of bed. I watched as he dressed in pajama pants and a tee shirt. “Yogurt and fruit good for you?”

“Good for me.” I curled up in the warm spot Oliver had left behind in bed for a few extra minutes while he used the bathroom. Once I heard him pattering around in the kitchen, I dressed and used the bathroom as well. I came out to two cups of coffee and two bowls full of vanilla yogurt and topped with heaps of fruit and my favorite granola. I plopped down at my seat and immediately dug in. “Than-”

Before I could get out my sentence, our phone rang. I furrowed my brows and let my spoon drop into my bowl. I huffed when Oliver made it clear he was not abandoning his newspaper for the phone, so I bolted up to get it.

“Pronto?"

“Ciao, Elio, it’s Isaac.”

Merda. My mother had asked me to call them before their trip to New York. I had completely forgotten, but she must have given them our number.

“Hey! Hi, I am so sorry. I completely forgot to call you guys.”

“That’s okay,” Isaac interrupted with a laugh. “Your mom told us you’ve been very busy.”

“We definitely have been.” I perched myself on the arm of the couch and cradled the phone against my shoulder. “So, I heard you and Mounir are coming to New York soon. I hope we didn’t miss you.”

“Not at all. We’ll be in town next week. We were hoping to take you and Oliver out for dinner.”

I flushed at the fact that Isaac and Mounir knew Oliver’s name yet had never met him. “Yeah, that sounds great. I’ll have to check mine and Oliver’s schedules, but now that school is over we’re both pretty free.”

“Absolutely. You let us know what works best for you. We get in on Sunday night and we’re staying at the Helmsley. Give us a call there on Monday morning.”

“Sounds good. Talk then.”

“Ciao, Elio.”

"Arrivederci.”

I settled back down at the table and took a long gulp of my coffee before it got too cold.

“Isaac and Mounir?”

“Yep,” I answered as I set down my mug. “They’re going to take us to dinner next week when they’re in town.”

“That’ll be nice.”

I hummed and went back to my yogurt and the paper.

We spent the morning lazily swapping articles from the newspaper and trading slow kisses. Finally, after we’d finished the entire paper, Oliver stood and stretched.

“Gonna call Amanda,” he said, dropping a kiss to my forehead. “Why don’t you go shower?”

“Trying to tell me I smell bad?” I teased. I stood anyways and lightly punched at Oliver’s shoulder. I did need to shower; my hair was greasy and I felt sluggish in my own skin. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t give Oliver shit.

Oliver turned and snatched me around my waist, pulling me tight and close against him. “You are absolutely filthy,” he growled against my lips before punctuating it with a kiss. I giggled and squirmed a little as Oliver trailed his kisses down my neck for a bit.

“Okay, let me go or else we’re never gonna get out of here,” I finally said with a gentle push. Oliver relinquished his hold, but not without a quick kiss first. I bounded off to the shower as Oliver took care of our dirty dishes.

After a quick shower and while toweling off my hair, I rifled through my clothes. It was starting to get warm and I needed to start exchanging my sweaters for tank tops. I opted for light wash jeans and a light green tee shirt.

“Any word from Amanda?” I asked as I came out to find Oliver sprawled on the couch with the TV on.

“Yep. She said we can come over whenever we’re free.” I plopped down onto Oliver’s pelvis, effectively straddling him and trapping him on the couch. “Oof. You’re heavy.”

“I’m not,” I shot back, glaring down at Oliver. He switched off the TV before putting his hands on my thighs and rubbing up and down over the denim.

“I’ve missed you in your summer clothes.”

I hummed and bent down to kiss him, long and slow and sweet. I loved mornings like this: the few minutes or hours we could spend together, just quietly living in our own little bubble. When I finally pulled away, my lips were rubbed red from Oliver’s scruff and I grinned down at him.

“Ready?” I chirped.

“Ready.”

On our way to Amanda’s apartment, we stopped at our favorite bakery and picked up enough cookies to last us the afternoon. Naturally, when we arrived at half past noon, Amanda already had a huge lunch spread already set out on the table.

“Welcome, welcome,” she said, ushering us inside. I was always shocked at how quickly Amanda bounced back after having Kate, not just in the sense of her figure, which was perfect of course, but she was already so put together despite having an excitable seven-month-old. It seemed that just a month after Kate arrived, Amanda was already back to playing perfect hostess and keeping a perfect home.

As soon as Oliver spotted Kate sitting up on her playmat, he immediately beelined for her. “Hey there, gorgeous!” He plopped down onto the floor and pulled a smiling and babbling Kate onto his lap. She laughed and reached up to pat Oliver’s cheeks. “Yes, I’ve missed you too!” I smiled and turned to follow Kate into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry we haven’t been over for a while. It’s been pretty busy.”

“Please, no need for apologies.” Amanda hugged me and kissed my cheek. “I heard about Daniel,” she said softly. I assumed Oliver must have told her on the phone before we came. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks.” I nodded and swallowed thickly, trying to blink back the tears that threatened to spill.

“Oh, Elio,” Amanda sighed, pulling me in for a tight hug. I clutched at her, breathing in her verbena scented perfume. “It’s all going to be okay.” I just nodded and let her hug me tighter. “Okay,” she said after a minute or so. She pulled back and grabbed a napkin to dab at my damp cheeks. “Why don’t you go see what Oliver and Kate are up to while I finish here. Then we’ll have lunch.”

I nodded and did as she said. Oliver was still on the floor with Kate, tickling and hugging and kissing her all at once.

“Look who it is!” Oliver cried as I came to sit down next to him. “It’s Uncle Elio!” Oliver passed me Kate and I settled her on my lap. I immediately felt better with her little chubby body snuggled up in my arms.

Oliver insisted upon holding Kate on his lap as we ate lunch, at which Amanda rolled her eyes fondly. “Just don’t drop food on her head,” she teased as Oliver began eating with one hand.

After lunch, we played with Kate until it was time for her afternoon nap. Oliver offered to put her down as Amanda began making us coffee.

“Come help me,” Oliver cooed to me as he picked up Kate and perched her on his hip. I trailed after Oliver into the nursery and stood next to him as he changed Kate’s diaper and then put her in a fresh onesie. The fabric was soft and patterned with small sheep. “There you go,” Oliver whispered as he finished doing up the snaps. “Nice and clean.” Oliver picked Kate up and began rocking her a bit, but she began to whine and squirm. He looked over at me and sighed. “I never know what to do when she gets like this.”

“Sure you do,” I laughed. I stood behind Oliver to look at Kate, who was perched over his shoulder, and I grabbed her tiny hand in my own. “You’re so good with her.”

Oliver shrugged and turned his head to press a kiss to Kate’s temple. “Shh, it’s okay,” he whispered, starting to bounce her a little in his arms. He began humming a tune and it took me a moment to realize what it was. I began to hum with him and as soon as I did, Oliver began singing along to my melody.

By the time we were done singing Blackbird , Kate was passed out against Oliver’s shoulder. I kissed the top of her head and brushed her soft golden hair off of her forehead. “Dormi bene, bambina,” I whispered once Oliver settled Kate in her crib. I made sure to switch on the baby monitor before we turned off the light and tiptoed out.

“I think she’s down for the count,” Oliver said as he made himself comfortable on the couch. I helped Amanda bring in the coffee and cookies before settling on the couch with Oliver. I passed him his own mug before snuggling up against his side.

“Thank god,” Amanda sighed. She took a long gulp of coffee and then reached for the biggest double chocolate cookie. “She’s been such a handful lately, especially with Patrick visiting his mother.”

“Well, Elio and I are both done with school for the summer. So any time you need a break, you know who to call.”

“I appreciate that. Really.”

We talked about Amanda’s quickly approaching return to work, Reagan’s second term, and our plans for the summer. Kate finally woke up around two hours later and Amanda sighed as she stood.

“She’s probably hungry,” she said, glancing down at her watch. “Shit, it’s almost 4:30. I’m sorry I kept you here all day.”

Oliver brushed off her apologies with a wave of his hand. “No need for apologies. We love being here.” We said our goodbyes to Amanda and Kate and headed back to our own apartment in the afternoon sunshine.

“I don't know what will happen to me without you. Only you. Only you love me. Out of everyone in the world.”

“Elio,” Oliver sighed, looking down at me. I was being maudlin and dramatic, I knew that, but I couldn’t help it. Seeing Oliver with Kate got me thinking about our future together. Would Oliver tire of me? Would he come to resent me? “I do love you, yes. But your parents love you too. And Marzia loves you and our friends love you.”

I just shrugged and looked down at my feet as we walked.

“Besides,” Oliver continued, knocking his shoulder against mine, “You’ll never have to think about that. There’s no me without you.” I nodded and Oliver shook his head. “I promise, Elio. I’m not going anywhere. Okay?”

“Okay.”

The next day, Daniel and I had another group meeting. I had to arrive at his apartment an hour and a half beforehand to make sure we got there in time, despite the church being just two blocks away from his house. The lesions over Daniel’s back and chest were starting to irritate him and I had to rub salve over his skin before helping him dress. We didn’t talk much, especially because his mouth was so dry and sore.

“What do you think happens to us when we die?” Daniel asked as we slowly made our way down the sidewalk. He had to take a deep breath after nearly every word.

“Jews don’t really have a textual rendering of the afterlife.” I was quiet for a few moments as we waited at the corner for the light to change. I thought of some of my happiest memories and tried to imagine which I would like to spend the rest of my life in. I thought of how Oliver and I always spent rainy days snuggled up in our bed with coffee and books and kisses. “I think of it as a rainy afternoon in March,” I finally decided.

“Ooh, how very Greco-Roman.” No matter how sick Daniel got, his sass and sense of humor never seemed to disappear along with the rest of him. “Dead before twenty,” he sighed dramatically as we slowly shuffled across the street, “and robbed of decades of majesty. Poor me. Why me?”

“You’re not -” I stopped myself because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. Of course he was going to die, no matter how much I didn’t want him to.

“There’s no uninfected part of me, Elio. I’m dirty. My heart is pumping polluted blood.” Luckily, we had to put this conversation on hold as we slowly climbed up the stairs to our meeting space.

After our meeting, I stood and held out my hand for Daniel to help him up, but Mark came over before I could get him up.

“You’re still free to meet with me now?” Mark asked, resting a hand on Daniel’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” he said, using both me and Mark to stand. I had no idea he had plans to meet with Mark after the meeting, so I was a bit taken aback.

“Do you want me to wait for you here? Or at your apartment?”

“No,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “No, I’m okay.”

“Are you sure? I’m not doing anything?”

“Elio, really. I’m fine.”

It took another second for me to kick into action. “Right. Okay. Well…” I pressed a kiss to Daniel’s temple. “I’ll see you later.”

I walked over to Washington Square Park, appreciating the quiet of the late morning, and called Oliver from a payphone.

“Hello?”

“Hey. It’s me.”

“Hey, baby.” I could hear his smile.

“I’m down at Washington Square Park. You wanna meet up? Do something?” I heard some shuffling before Oliver answered.

“It’s still early. You aren’t going back to Daniel’s?”

“He has a meeting with Mark and said he didn’t need me to stay.” I turned around in the small booth to look out at the park. I saw a few gay couples walking hand in hand or sitting close on park benches. It was a lot more tolerant down in the Village and I briefly wondered if Oliver and I should move. “Why don’t you come down here?” I offered, suddenly desperate to walk through the park with Oliver’s hand in my own.

“Sure. I can be there in 30.”

Sure enough, half an hour later, Oliver plopped down next to me on the bench where I was swapping between people watching and reading my book. As soon as he was next to me, I broke out into a huge smile.

“Hey,” I said, moving a little closer so that we were completely pressed together.

“Hi. How was your meeting?”

I nodded as I closed my book and stuck it back into my bag. “Fine. You eat lunch yet?”

“Nope.”

We decided to walk through the park first before finding a place to eat. As we did, I took a few deep breaths before threading my fingers through Oliver’s.

“Elio,” he chided with a glance down at me. But, thankfully, he didn’t let go of my hand just yet.

“I saw other couples,” I immediately shot back. “It’s okay down here.” I squeezed Oliver’s hand, not wanting him to let go. “There are more people like us here.”

“Okay.” I visibly relaxed once Oliver finally agreed. “You’re right. Okay.”

I couldn’t keep the smile off my face or my hands off of Oliver all afternoon.

As promised, I called Isaac and Mounir at their hotel on the day they arrived and we made plans for dinner on Wednesday evening at La Grenouille.

“Oliver!” Mounir cried as we walked into the restaurant at the time of our reservation. They were already seated at a table for four towards the back. They both stood and we took turns exchanging hugs and kisses. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.”

“You as well,” Oliver said as he took his seat. “I apologize for not being around when you came to visit the villa.”

“Nonsense,” Isaac said with a wave of his hand. Mounir filled our glasses with the wine that was already chilling in the ice bucket next to our table. When the waiter came by with our menus, my eyes widened a bit at the prices. “Please order whatever you like,” Isaac continued as he glanced down at the menu himself. “We are on strict orders from your parents to treat you well.”

I flushed and shook my head. “Oh no, please. Let us pay. We -”

“No,” Mounir interjected with a delicately placed hand over my own. “It is our pleasure, Elio.”

After placing our orders, Isaac and Mounir told us all about their plans for their week in New York. Oliver and I even gave them a few recommendations. I filled them in on my studies and my new friends and Oliver told them all about his teaching position.

The food was superb and the wine went down easy. We ended up getting a few more bottles, and by the time dessert came around, I was pleasantly buzzed.

“We’re proud of you, Elio,” Isaac said, taking Mounir’s hand. I was taken aback by how bold they were in public, although I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised that their easy physical affection for one another was apparent in public as well. Oliver’s gaze flicked from their joined hands to me and then I felt his warm hand on my thigh. I smiled and practically melted into my chair.

“Thank you,” I said through my last bite of pear soufflé. I glanced over to find that Oliver still had some of his raspberry sorbet left, so I quickly stole a spoonful. That earned a round of chuckles around the table.

“Your parents told us you were doing well here and we, of course, had no doubt that you would but…” Mounir paused and shrugged.

“I know how you feel,” Oliver chimed in. He looked at me with a proud smile that was practically paternal. “He’s acing his classes, making new friends left and right, has such a great grasp on the city already.” He shrugged and squeezed my thigh when he took note of the flush on my cheeks. “I’m...We’re really happy here.”

“I am too,” I said, voice a faint whisper.

We walked Mounir and Isaac back to their hotel. It was getting warmer and the air was thick with the promise of spring. We continued to talk about their travel plans for the rest of the month.

“We try and do a large trip every spring. New York is always on the list. Next week we fly to Geneva, then to Morocco, and we’ll end in Athens.”

“Sounds nice,” I sighed, wishing Oliver and I could take a trip together.

“You’ll have to come stay with us in Paris soon,” Isaac offered. They had a second home there and the prospect got me visibly excited.

“That would be lovely.”

Mounir chuckled and ruffled my curls. “We’ll let you know when we’re there next. Maybe your parents can meet us there too. And that lovely young lady.”

I grinned at the thought of my parents, Marzia, Isaac, Mounir, Oliver, and me all on vacation together. “She lives just outside of Paris, actually. It would be great to see her.” My thoughts wandered to our impending trip to Crema. I was sure Marzia would be there for the summer again but I made a mental note to ask her about it in my next letter.

“I understand one of your friends is sick,” Mounir said as Oliver and Isaac launched into a conversation about a recent exhibit at MoMA.

“Yeah.” I looked down at my feet as we walked and shoved my hands into my pockets. My mother must have told them. “Daniel. He’s my - He’s my best friend from school.”

“Your Mamma tells us you’ve been doing quite a lot for him. It sounds like you’re a great support system for him.” He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and squeezed. “Isaac and I have already lost some dear friends, and many we know are sick. We try to make sure that no one suffers alone. Everyone seems to have a partner or a friend, but there are those that are quite alone in this world. And they don’t deserve to go through this disease without someone by their side.” He squeezed me tight again before letting his hand drop. “You’re doing a wonderful thing, Elio.”

We said our goodbyes but made plans to see more of each other in the next week. With classes over for both Oliver and myself, it seemed that we had infinite free time to visit museums and explore more of the city. When we got home, I left a reminder on the fridge to make sure our bikes were ready for use that summer.

During the last week of May, I decided to sleep over at Daniel’s apartment since he had an early morning doctor’s appointment. Instead of arriving at his apartment at the crack of dawn, we decided it would be easier if I were already there.

“Make sure you call if you need anything,” Oliver said on my way out. I rearranged my bag on my shoulder and leaned in for a kiss.

“I will, I promise. I’ll be home sometime tomorrow afternoon. Have fun with Grant and Michael tonight.”

When I got to Daniel’s apartment, I set him up in front of the TV before starting to clean. He couldn’t do it on his own and I didn’t want him living in a filthy apartment. Once I finished I heated up a can of soup for both of us which we ate on the couch. As I predicted, Daniel only had a few sips before pushing his bowl away. We only sat together for another hour before Daniel said he needed to sleep.

“Alright,” I said as I tucked Daniel in under the covers. “I’m gonna go sleep on the couch. Shout if you need anything.”

“No,” Daniel croaked, snaking a hand out from under the blankets and reaching for me. “I want you to stay. Sleep with me, Elio. Please.”

I pushed his hair out of his face and nodded before getting in on the other side of the bed.

“Goodnight.” I turned so that I could curl up on my side and face Daniel. “Wake me up if you need anything.” Daniel just made a weak noise. I listened to his wet, shallow breaths until I fell asleep.

It was just an hour later when I heard a loud thump from across the room.

“Elio! Please wake up. Please…please wake up.” Daniel’s voice sounded far away and distressed. I threw the blankets off and sprinted to where Daniel was in a heap on the floor.

“Shit. Shit! What happened?”

“Needed water. Thought I was okay. I think something horrible is wrong with me. I can’t breathe.” Daniel struggled through his words; I could tell his mouth was dry and I knew it must’ve hurt. I placed my palm on his forehead and hissed.

“Your head is on fire. I’m calling an ambulance.” I shot up to grab the phone.

“No! I don’t want to go to a hospital.”

“You have to,” I said as I punched the numbers for 9-1-1. “I’m sorry, Daniel, we need to go to the hospital.”

“I just want to lie here. Don’t call.”

“Hi, yes. I need an ambulance as soon as possible.”

“No! They’ll send me there and I won’t come back.” I winced at Daniel’s words and had to try my best to ignore them.

“West 4th and 6th Avenue. As soon as possible. Fifth floor. Yes. Thank you.” As soon as I hung up the phone I sprinted over to Daniel, who was up on his knees and trying to crawl towards me. I crouched down next to him and tried to get him to settle down. “Hey, hey. Shhh, the ambulance is going to be here really soon. You’re gonna feel better soon, Daniel, I promise.”

“I need...I have to go to the bathroom. I have to -” He made a pained noise and clutched at his side.

“Okay. Okay, we’ll get you there.” I tried to get Daniel up, but he just slumped onto the floor.

“I’m sorry,” he sobbed out.

“Don’t apologize. You’re okay.” I reached around to try to pick him up and my hand was met with warm liquid. I pulled it back quickly and saw my palm covered in blood.

“I had an accident,” Daniel admitted.

“That’s - That’s blood!”

“You probably shouldn’t touch it.”

I sat there stunned for a moment, but before I could do anything, there was a knock on the door. I sprinted to open it and when the EMTs came in, it seemed that everything was happening in the span of one second. Daniel was hoisted up onto a gurney and an oxygen mask was strapped over his face. I sat next to him in the ambulance, and after washing my hand with a few alcohol pads, I held Daniel’s hand the entire way.

Once we got to the hospital, Daniel was rolled away from me and into a room. The attending nurse promised I would be able to see him as soon as they made him comfortable. I took the time to call Oliver from the phone at the desk.

“Daniel is at the hospital,” I said, words rushed, as soon as Oliver picked up the phone.

“Shit. I’ll come down there and meet you. You’re at -”

“No. No, it’s okay. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I can call you later.”

“Sorry, no is not an answer, Elio. I’m coming down to the hospital.” I knew there wasn’t any way to fight Oliver once he’d made up his mind, so I gave him all the details. By the time he got there, I had stopped pacing the waiting room and was instead slumped in a green chair.

“Hey baby,” Oliver said as he gathered me into his arms. I pressed my face into his chest and, for the first time that night, I started to cry. “Shhh, I’m here.” Oliver rubbed my back and kissed the top of my head.

We weren’t able to see Daniel for another 45 minutes. When we were finally led back to his room, I clutched at Oliver’s arm. “I’m scared,” I whispered as we followed the nurse.

“It’s okay to be scared,” Oliver said with another kiss to my head. “I’m going to stay right there with you.”

The room was quiet except for the beep of all the machines Daniel was hooked up to and the sound of his shallow breathing.

“We gave him a sedative to help ease the pain,” the nurse said as she set up two chairs by the side of the bed. “He may be a little groggy.” A little was an understatement. Daniel had this glassy, far away look and he could barely keep his eyes open. I sat down on the chair and scooted as close to the bed as I could.

“Hey.” I kept my voice low and gentle as I took Daniel’s hand. He had IV needles stuck into the top of his hand and in the crook of his elbow, so I made sure to be extra gentle. “It’s me. It’s Elio.” He rolled his head to the side and looked at me blearily. I choked on my words and began to cry again.

“Don’t,” Daniel croaked. He brought his hand up to limply wipe at my cheek. “Don’t waste your tears on me.”

I couldn’t help it. I let out another sob and pressed my cheek against his palm. Oliver sat down in the chair next to mine and began gently rubbing my back. “Please don’t leave me,” I begged through ragged breaths.

“ ‘s okay,” Daniel insisted. He didn’t speak for a few minutes and the whirring of the machines filled the silence. “Tell me…about what...you like to...do...during rainy...afternoons...in March.” His words were punctuated with wet wheezing and I wondered if there was fluid or blood in his lungs. I choked out a laugh between my tears.

“This wasn’t in March, but back in Crema, one July afternoon, it stormed so bad the power went out. It was when Oliver was staying with us. I was in the living room with my parents, sprawled out over the couch with my head in my mom’s lap and my legs draped over my dad’s. My mom read Marguerite of Navarre's Heptaméron and she translated from German. It’s about a knight who is so enamored with a princess, but he doesn’t know whether to speak or die.”

“I’m guessing...you spoke…” Oliver chuckled at Daniel’s perceptiveness.

“I did.” The three of us were silent again. I tried to think of my favorite moments with Daniel or with Oliver, wanting to give Daniel some sort of comfort, but I found that I could not come up with the proper words; at least not in English. “Adoro i giorni di pioggia perché significa che posso stare a letto tutto il giorno. Anche se ho lezioni o compiti o responsabilità, c'è ancora qualcosa sulla pioggia contro la finestra che indica un inizio ritardato della giornata. Oliver è sempre caldo e mi piace attaccare i miei piedi freddi tra i suoi polpacci. Lo fa incazzare, ma penso che gli piaccia segretamente. Ci scambiamo baci pigri, al mattino presto, prima di bere il caffè a letto. Oliver una volta mi ha detto che il suo amore è come la pioggia, lavando via i difetti che passano come bicchieri di carta e involucri di gomma che scorrono verso la fogna. Tutti accarezzano, lucidano ciò che è permanente, solido, puro, pulito e ovvio.”

“You’ve...been good to me...Elio.” I shook my head and Daniel sighed. “You have. Thanks...thank you.”

“Why don’t you try to sleep?” I suggested. My voice was thick and nasally and I was sure my eyes and nose were red. “You must be tired.” I kissed the inside of Daniel’s palm before placing his hand back down on the mattress. I curled over and rested my head next to his hand. I felt his fingers slide into my hair and I bit my lip hard, trying to hold back my tears.

I wasn’t sure if he fell asleep, but I knew the drugs the nurses administered must have made him sleepy. I drifted in and out myself but was stirred awake by a harsh and steady beep. I lifted my head and blinked against the bright fluorescent lights. Daniel’s eyes were closed still but I couldn’t place the source of the beeping. Before I could ask, a barrage of nurses came in through the door. Oliver and I were gently coaxed out of the room and I couldn’t find my voice to ask what was happening.

“Just stay right here, okay?” The nurse steered us to the wall right next to Daniel’s door. “I’m going to check in on what’s going on inside and I’ll be right back, okay?” I nodded dumbly and clutched at Oliver, afraid that if I didn’t I’d be in a heap on the floor.

I wasn’t sure if we waited in the hallway for seconds or minutes or hours, but when the nurse finally came out again, she let us know that Daniel had died. After she said that, all I could hear was the beep of the heart monitor as he flatlined. The nurse’s lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear her. She seemed to notice this and instead directed her conversation to Oliver. I turned so that I could hide my face in Oliver’s chest. He wrapped his arms around me and held me close.

After the nurses finished disconnecting Daniel from all of the machines, I was able to go in to say goodbye. He looked so small in the sea of white blankets, but he looked just as beautiful as he always did. Oliver and I hadn’t spoken a word to each other yet, and it stayed that way even as I kissed Daniel’s forehead, even as Oliver led me outside to the curb, even as we waited for a cab to bring us back up to our apartment. I didn’t want to leave Daniel, but I knew there wasn’t anything else I could do.

“Why don’t you take a shower? I’m going to call Mark.” Oliver helped me out of my coat and shoes. I just nodded dumbly and headed to the bathroom.

I stood under the hot water for a few minutes and gave my hair a cursory wash. When I emerged, wrapped in Oliver’s too-big robe, Oliver was on the couch waiting for me.

“I spoke with Mark. Apparently, Daniel wrote out a will with him a few weeks back. He wanted to be cremated.” I settled down next to Oliver and snuggled against his side. “Mark is calling the hospital now to go over specifics. Daniel also wanted a ceremony at the church, led by Mark. There are some other requests, apparently, but Mark wants to go over everything with you in person tomorrow. I told him he could come by at 10 tomorrow morning. We can have breakfast and talk through all the plans.”

“Okay.” It was the first time I had spoken since I told Daniel why I liked rainy days so much. My voice was hoarse from crying and disuse. I glanced down at my watch; it was nearing 2 am.

“Why don’t we sleep?” Oliver suggested when he caught me checking the time. “Morning will be here soon enough.”

Oliver helped me into pajamas and then tucked us into bed. He left the light on in the hall and our bedroom door ajar just a bit. I thought I would have trouble falling asleep, or that my slumber would be plagued with nightmares. But once my head hit the pillow and Oliver’s arms were around me, I fell asleep in seconds and didn’t wake up until Oliver gently shook my shoulder the next morning.

“Mark will be here in about fifteen minutes. I went out and got bagels for us. Coffee is on the stove.”

I dressed in running shorts and Billowy, letting the soft fabric hang down around my frame. As soon as I sat down at our kitchen table, coffee in hand, there was a buzz from the building’s front door. Oliver let Mark up and opened the door when he knocked.

“Elio.” I turned at the sound of my name and a fresh wave of tears came over me when I saw Mark. It looked like he hadn’t slept at all. I stood and crossed the room, hesitating for a second before we both reached out at the same time and hugged each other tight.

The three of us ate breakfast and drank coffee in silence. Once Oliver cleared our plates away, Mark gestured towards his leather satchel.

“I figured we could go over a few things.”

“Why don’t you two go sit in the study?” Oliver suggested. He placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I looked up at him and nodded, hoping he could tell, even in my silence, how grateful I was to have him. I led Mark back to the study and we settled on the settee together. He spread papers on the coffee table in front of us and I took a few deep breaths, trying not to feel overwhelmed.

“I’m sure Oliver already told you, but Daniel wanted to be cremated.” I nodded and looked down at the first stack of papers, watching as Mark pointed out specifics. “I’m going to host a ceremony at the church. He, of course, outline every detail.” Mark chuckled and handed me a piece of paper. I recognized Daniel’s shaky scrawl immediately.

Funeral service to be held at Church of St. Luke in the Field Episcopal Church, presided by Pastor Mark Gallagher. Date and time shall be determined by Pastor Mark and Elio Perlman. Please invite all friends. Please let my family know of my passing. They can be reached at 212-869-4103. Service will be open for them to attend. Please read the attached quote by Oscar Wilde. Elio Perlman is to play the attached song. After the ceremony, I would like Elio Perlman and Oliver Stern to scatter my ashes where they see fit.

Signed: Daniel Reinbach

I flipped through the attached pages and smiled at Daniel’s selections. “Okay,” I said with a nod. “Okay. I can do this.”

Mark took the pages from me and set them aside to instead hand me Daniel’s will and I looked it over. He wanted to donate what little savings he had to Mark to do with it what he pleased for the support group. He requested I go through his clothes and donate anything I didn’t want to a charity of my choosing. He left me his keyboard and his books. He left Oliver his record collection and turntable. His apartment was paid through the end of the month.

“I’ll go after the ceremony,” I told Mark. “Oliver and I can go and make sure everything is ready for the next tenant. I’ll let his landlord know.”

“Why don’t you call your friends today and I’ll give his family a call and see if I can get them to come to the ceremony.”

“When are we going to do it?”

“How about Wednesday at noon?” It was Sunday morning. That would give us plenty of time to prepare.

“Perfect.”

The next two days went by in a blur of phone calls and a flurry of visitors. It seemed that every one of our friends cooked us meals so that we wouldn’t have to worry about feeding ourselves and they all offered their love and support. I didn’t practice the song that Daniel asked me to play; I knew I could do perfectly it the day of. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t be able to do for Daniel.

The day of the service, Oliver and I took a cab down to the church. We arrived around 11 am to help Mark set up. He had purchased copious amounts of flower arrangements which we set up on the altar around the small table upon which sat the small urn that contained Daniel’s ashes. We rolled the upright piano from the back room to its designated spot at the front of the church. We set up the podium with Mark’s remarks.

Friends began arriving around 11:30. Amanda and Pat came with the baby tucked away in her stroller. Javier, Mitch, and about twelve other men I recognized from the various clubs Daniel took me filled in the front pews. Gabriella, Lauren, Cassidy, and Matty all showed. Even David, Grant, Michael, Sharon, and Debs came. Of course, the members of our support group were also in attendance and I gave them all a weak smile as they took their seats in the pew behind me. No one from Daniel’s family showed up, which was what I predicted. Once everyone was settled in, Mark walked up to the podium and cleared his throat. I scooted closer to Oliver in our pew and held tight to his hand.

“Welcome friends. It’s so nice to stand up here and see all of your faces on this gorgeous afternoon in May.” He paused and glanced down at his papers. I knew he’d memorized everything he wanted to say, but I was sure Mark needed a moment to collect himself. “Daniel wanted me to read this excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost :

Yes, death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of death’s house, for love is always with you, and love is stronger than death is.”

Mark stopped after the short blurb and I heard some sniffling from our small audience. I rested my head on Oliver’s shoulder and he kissed my curls.

“I love you,” he whispered, tightening his arm where it was looped around my shoulder. After a few more moments of silence, Mark continued.

“I want to welcome you all to our parish. A few of you have been here before, but I do see some familiar faces. I want all of you to know that about ten years ago, the Episcopal church declared that those in the gay community are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church. I've lived through such terrible times and there are people who live through much worse. But I see them living anyway. Here at the Church of St. Luke, we go on living. We seek hope, we seek more life. I would like to extend the invitation to all of you to join our community of life and hope. The dead will be commemorated. We’ll struggle on with the living. We, the gay community, are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens.”

When Mark stepped down from the podium, there was a beat of silence before everyone erupted into a round of applause. Once it died down, the church was quiet again and I knew it was my turn to commemorate Daniel. I sat up and kissed Oliver quickly before making my way over to the piano. The sheet music was already set up and I made myself comfortable on the bench before playing.

There were a few chuckles as the first few notes rang out. Of course Daniel wanted Elton John played at his funeral and of course he had picked the song bearing his own name. It was so perfectly Daniel; so much so that it was almost as if he was standing there in the room with us. When I finished playing, I barely registered the round of applause I got. I just sat at the piano, looking down at the keys through hazy eyes. I felt hands on my shoulders and knew it was Oliver. We all stayed in the church for another half hour, all of us sitting quietly with our own thoughts.

As we began to file out, Matty and Cassidy both enveloped me in a tight group hug.

“I’m sorry,” I choked, clutching at them. “I’m sorry I haven’t seen you in ages. I was busy with Daniel and with -”

“Shh, Elio, it’s okay,” Cassidy soothed, running her fingers through my hair. They pulled back but each kept a hand on my shoulder. “We get it. It’s been busy, especially with the end of school.” I nodded, grateful to have such supportive friends.

“Give us a call when you’re free,” Matty said, squeezing my shoulder before letting his hand drop. “We should do something fun together.”

We agreed to get together soon and they both hugged me again before leaving. Oliver threaded his fingers through mine as we continued to thank those who came for their support.

“I think I want to go to Daniel’s apartment today,” I said to Oliver, looking up at him with tired eyes.

“You look exhausted, my goose,” Oliver cooed, carding his fingers through my hair. “Why don’t we go tomorrow?” I shook my head and pitched forward to lean against his chest. “Okay,” Oliver sighed, scratching gently at the nape of my neck. “We can go now.”

When we opened the door to Daniel’s apartment, there were already stacks of boxes left in the entryway by the landlord. Mark had given him a call to let him know Oliver and I would be around at some point to pack up. I was glad we could just start and not have to worry about buying boxes.

The first thing we did was pack up his books, records, keyboard, and turntable, which were all coming back to our apartment with us. Oliver decided to clean out the kitchen while I went through his clothes. I decided to keep a few of his shirts and sweaters as well as his Juilliard sweatshirt. The rest I packed into boxes and labeled with the word ‘donation.’ I would have to do some further research on where I would bring them.

“How’s it going?” I asked, finding Oliver in the bathroom. He was going through all of the items in the medicine cabinet even though most everything was being thrown away.

“Good. Kitchen is all cleared out. I made sure all the dishes and everything were clean and put away. I figured we could leave them for the next tenant. How’d the bedroom go?”

“Fine. All his clothes are in boxes. I have another box for our apartment. Just some of his clothes for me and then some of his personal stuff that I haven’t really gone through yet.”

That was the end of our conversation until Oliver finished cleaning out the cabinet. He tied off the garbage bag and brought it out to the rest of the piles of trash that we’d take out on our way down.

“I admire your strength, Elio,” he said, gathering me in his arms. We stood in the middle of Daniel’s apartment, clutching at each other. “I always have. I’ve admired you since the first day I met you.” He pulled back and kissed me, just a soft brush of his lips against mine.

We made a few trips to the trash room and then brought down the four boxes that were coming back to our apartment. Oliver hailed a cab and loaded up the trunk as I got in and gave the cabbie our address, eager to put away Daniel’s belongings in our home and make a permanent place for him in our life.

Chapter Text

The first time Oliver and I had sex after Daniel died was a complete disaster. We hadn’t been intimate for about a week, which was understandable considering our busy schedules. It hadn’t put a strain on our relationship at all, as we had gotten quite good at managing our time and expectations.

After we got back from cleaning up Daniel’s apartment, Oliver went straight to the kitchen to start preparing our dinner. He left me to my own devices, for which I was grateful. I stood in the entryway for a few moments, just staring down at the small urn that I clutched in my hands. I had never buried a friend before. The only funerals I had ever gone to were for distant and ancient relatives to whom I had no emotional attachment. I eventually got myself moving and padded into the living room after toeing off my shoes. I looked around for a minute or so before deciding to put the urn in the study. I placed it on a shelf with minimal books, knowing that the stack was on Oliver’s bedside table and probably wouldn’t be back on the shelf for some time. It was a perfect spot for Daniel until Oliver and I discussed where we would scatter his ashes.

I busied myself with finding spots for Daniel’s belongings in our apartment. I hung up his clothes towards the back of my closet, deciding I would rifle through them more thoroughly at a later date. His records and turntable had a new home on the shelf above our radio and cassette collection. I heaved the few boxes of books into our study but left them there, deciding Oliver and I could find room on our bookshelves together. As for his more personal effects (his journal, a folder of photos, his stacks of transcriptions and original compositions), I stored them in the bottom drawer of the dresser. I left out a picture of us that Oliver had taken in early November with one of Daniel’s disposable cameras. Daniel and I beer standing next to each other, pressed together from our shoulders and leaning against one another. We were both looking straight at the camera, both with our trademark smirks. I stuck it in our mirror next to a picture Daniel had taken of me and Oliver that same night. I wished I’d thought to take more pictures with him and made a mental note to look into getting a nice camera, not just a disposable one. The keyboard I set up on the table we had pushed up against the back of our couch. I didn’t plug it in, positive that I wouldn’t want to play it for a while.

By the time I finished, Oliver had dinner on the table. He made a simple dish of roasted chicken breast and vegetables. He poured us each a glass of perfectly chilled white wine after dressing our side salads with olive oil and vinegar. We tucked into our meal and Oliver immediately let his foot come to rest on the top of mine. I sent him a small smile over the rim of my wine glass. We didn’t talk much over dinner, just Oliver’s occasional query as to if the food tasted okay, which it did. I was surprised that I was actually hungry and that I could stomach my entire meal, but it left me feeling sated rather than nauseous like I’d predicted.

After dinner, I headed to the kitchen to clean up our dirty dishes and pots. Oliver tried to object, but I insisted. He had cooked the entire meal. It was only fair. Regardless, I enjoyed washing the dishes. It was a chore I’d always loathed at home, mostly because if I was forced to do it, it was because Mafalda was on vacation or sick and, although I never admitted it out loud, I did miss her company at times. Once everything was washed, dried, and put away, I meandered around the apartment to find Oliver. The space wasn't that large and it wouldn't take me long to figure out which room he was occupying, but still, I took my time. I eventually found him in bed, propped up against the pillows and reading one of his books.

“Hi,” he said, looking up as I shuffled in. He marked his page and set the book aside, immediately opening up his arms as I crawled into bed. I snuggled up against his side and was content, at first, to just sit quietly in Oliver’s arms. I was eye-level with his nipple, though, and it was far too tempting. I leaned in and laved my tongue over Oliver’s nipple until it was a stiff peak under my lips. I nipped at the nub and Oliver let out a soft groan. He tugged at my curls and I retaliated by lapping a stripe along the hair on his chest. He chuckled and I tipped my head back a bit to look at him.

“I want you,” I stated, voice unmoving.

“Elio,” he sighed, “why don’t we just take it easy tonight?” I whined and clambered to straddle him. Oliver placed his hands on my hips, his fingers spanning practically the entirety of my small body. “It was a hard day for both of us.”

“Don’t you want me?” I asked, full well knowing the answer. But Oliver’s attempt to dissuade me had me immediately thinking the worst.

Of course I want you, baby,” Oliver assured with a soft kiss to my lips. I tried to deepen it but he pulled back. “It’s just that we’ve both had a long day. I think we should try to get to bed early.”

“No,” I whined, not even bothering to disguise the desperation in my voice. I clawed at Oliver’s chest as I scrambled to hitch myself up higher so I could grind our hips together. “Please, Oliver. Please. I need your cock. I need to feel you inside of me.”

“Okay.” He sounded resigned and he was far to gentle with me as he started to unbutton my shirt. I growled my frustration and shoved his hands out of the way to do it myself, fingers running frantically over the fabric.

“Naked,” I demanded, looking up at Oliver with wild eyes before concentrating back on my shirt. “You need to be naked right now .” Oliver was just sitting there, staring at me with a mix of adoration and horror. “ Now , Oliver. What part of that do you not get?”

He jumped into motion at my snapping and unbuttoned his shirt just enough so that he could pull it over his head. I rose up to my knees to shimmy out of my pants and then flipped onto my back to kick them off the rest of the way. Once Oliver was finally, blessedly naked, I grabbed his shoulders and tugged him on top of me. I felt ravenous in my desire for Oliver. It was as if I hadn’t had a sip of water or a morsel of food in centuries. I extended my arm to yank open the drawer of our bedside table and pull out the lube. I heard something clatter to the floor but was too distracted to do anything about it. Before Oliver could snatch the bottle out of my hands, I opened it and drizzled enough lube over my own fingers that a good amount ended up on our sheets. We’d have to put them in the wash as soon as we were done to avoid stains.

“Elio,” Oliver chided, trying to grab my wrist. I scuttled away from him and shimmied my way up the bed to more comfortably rest against the pillows. I spread my legs wide and let my fingers dip between them to run along my perineum.

“Just...just give me a second.” Oliver sat back on his heels and I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from calling him a good boy.

You are good, though, Oliver. So good. So, so, so, so good to me. There is only me for you and you for me, Oliver. Don’t leave me. Don’t you dare ever leave me.

I began fingering myself, immediately starting off with two fingers. I could see Oliver start to protest but he thought better of it and shut his mouth. I arched my back and threw my head back against the pillows, completely exposing myself to Oliver as my legs splayed wider. I only fingered myself for a good two minutes before I reached for Oliver.

“No, baby, you need more prep.” Oliver crawled towards me though, and he slipped one of his fingers alongside mine. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I don’t care. I need you inside me now.” His finger next to mine did feel good though, and I knew I had to keep that in mind for next time. I reached up and tugged hard at his hair with my free hand. “Oliver.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” He removed his fingers and I removed mine. Before he could reach for the lube, I used the excess on my own fingers to slick his cock. “We need more lube, Elio.” I shot him a dirty look and he leaned forward to press a soft kiss to my lips. “Okay. I’m here. I’ve got you.”

Oliver tugged me down by my hips so that I was laying flat on the bed. I immediately looped my arms around his neck and wrapped my legs around his waist. As he pressed in, I really did feel the burn. Oliver was probably right in saying I needed more prep and more lube, but I wanted to feel it. I wanted to feel everything. I wanted it to hurt.

I wanted to feel everything Daniel felt. I wanted to hurt like Daniel hurt.

Once Oliver bottomed out, I gasped and clutched at him for a moment, just letting myself adjust to the stretch. Oliver groaned as I fluttered my hole around him and he squeezed my hips tight. He loved when I did that.

“Move,” I begged, pressing my bony ankles against his lower back as if he were trying to spur on a horse. Oliver began to move his hips, but it was slow, almost brutally so. “Faster. Harder. Oliver, fuck me. Really fuck me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m fucking sure.” I was starting to get hysterical and I knew Oliver could tell by the way he immediately tried to placate me by giving me exactly what I wanted. He pulled his hips back slowly and I was about to complain again when he slammed in so hard that all words were pushed right out of me and I instead emitted a breathy moan. Oliver started in at a biting pace and I dug my fingers into his shoulders, holding on tight as he fucked me.

“Feel okay?”

“Yes! Yes, yes, yes…”

Yes, my Oliver. Fill me...fill me with all of you.”

“Christ, you’re so tight, Elio.”

Open me up. Make me yours. Yours, yours, yours.

“Make me yours. Open me up, Oliver. Turn me inside out.”

“I’m here, baby. I’m right here.”

“Fuck...fuck!”

Oliver pulled back just a bit so that he could kiss me. Our lips and chins and noses and teeth clashed as we tried to kiss. We traded kisses and curses and each other’s names until Oliver was panting against my lips that he was close. My thoughts briefly flickered to the future. To images of myself and Oliver growing old together. Just me and him.

“I want to have your babies,” I said, my filter completely gone.

“Elio…” Oliver sounded completely wrecked and his rhythm faltered at my words.

“I want your come. I want your come inside me, Oliver. I want to have your babies.” I was panting, my heart pounding hard against my chest. I felt like I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain. “Please! Please, I need your come.” Oliver thrust into me hard and as he started to come, I clutched at him tighter. “I want your babies, Oliver.”

“Elio, you know we can’t-”

“Then I wish you were sick!” My voice reached a fever pitch and I started to cry. “I wish you were sick so you could fuck me bare, breed it into me, and give me something. Give me your dirty come. Knock me up with your diseased sperm. I want to have a piece of you in me always. And then you'll never leave me. You'll breed me, knock me up with it, and we'll both be sick and never leave one another.” My words were punctuated with harsh sobs and wet gasps for air. Oliver pulled back a little but didn’t pull out yet; he knew I liked to keep him inside of me for as long as possible.

“Don’t say that.” I tried to pull at Oliver’s shoulders. He was too far away. “No, Elio. Look at me. Come on, baby.” My eyes fluttered open and I looked up at Oliver from beneath my lashes. My face was wet with tears and I could feel snot dripping from my nose. “Please don’t say that.”

“But it’s true,” I said weakly. My heart was still racing and my head was spinning and I still couldn’t draw in a full breath. “I want you to give me part of you. I can’t have your babies. I need something from you, Oliver.”

“But you already have all of me.” Oliver’s voice was soft and soothing as he ran his hands up and down my sides in an effort to calm me down.

“Can’t...I can’t breathe.” Oliver tried to pull out, presumably to give me some space, but I just clutched at him harder.

“I think you’re having a panic attack, Elio. I just want to clean you up and get some water. I’ll be right back.” Oliver pulled out and got off the bed, easily slipping out of my grasp. Despite how hard I clung to him, Oliver was still bigger and stronger than I was.

I could feel his come slipping out from my abused hole so I immediately shoved my fingers back inside myself, pushing it all back in. Oliver came back in to find me thrusting down against my fingers.

“Elio…” I turned my head on the pillows to look up at him. He had a damp washcloth and a glass of water for me. “Elio, baby, come on. Why don’t you sit up and drink some water for me.”

“Don’t - I don’t want to lose it. I want your come inside me.”

“I know,” Oliver placated, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “But why don’t you just relax so I can clean you up and as soon as you’re ready, I can fuck you again and you can keep my come in you for as long as you want.” I knew he was just pandering to me, but I was also desperate to curl up in Oliver’s arms, and I knew I couldn’t comfortably do that with my fingers shoved up my own ass. I nodded and let my fingers slip free. “That’s it,” Oliver cooed as he gently cleaned my hand and then ran the cloth over my hole.

He took his time cleaning me up, which I appreciated because my skin felt raw and used, and not just where Oliver fucked me. By the time Oliver ran a clean corner of the cloth over my tear stained cheeks, my eyes were closed and I’d managed to somewhat regulate my breathing. I startled a little and looked up at Oliver. He smiled down at me and leaned down to kiss my forehead. He tossed the washcloth to the floor and then grabbed the glass of water after helping me sit up a bit against the pillows.

“There you go.” He held the glass for me as I chugged some water. I hadn’t realized just how thirsty I was. “I brought some of the sleeping pills if you want.” We didn’t normally rely on sleep aids, but Oliver kept a stash for emergencies and long plane rides.

“Yes please,” I croaked as I dragged the back of my hand over my wet lips. Oliver handed me two small purple pills and I swallowed them down with the rest of the water. Oliver shut the bedside lamp and got into bed next to me. He pulled the covers up over us and I immediately rolled onto my side so I could cuddle into his chest.

“Elio,” he murmured against my curls as he wrapped his arms around me. “I need you to talk to me, okay? Don’t retreat into yourself.” I wanted to feign sleep, but I knew that even with the sleeping pills it was too soon for me to go under.

“ ‘kay,” I mumbled into Oliver’s chest hair.

“No, I’m serious. If you need help or aren’t feeling well or don’t know how to deal with this, I need you to tell me.” He held me tighter and kissed the top of my head. “I don’t want to hear you say you wish we were sick.”

“I didn’t really mean it,” I said immediately. That was true. There wasn't a single part of me with wished any sort of illness on either of us.

“I know you didn’t.” He kept his voice low and soothing. “But I still don’t want to hear you say it.” He held me a little tighter and fell quiet. I assumed that was the end of the conversation but then, “You know I’d give you babies if I could, Elio.”

I sniffled and nodded. “I know.”

“I would give you anything , Elio, I swear it. I would give you absolutely anything and everything to make you happy. Anything except for that , because I know it wouldn’t actually make you happy.” I nodded again and I knew that Oliver could feel where my tears were getting trapped in his chest hair. “I don’t ever want to see you suffer.”

“Nor do I,” I croaked, cracking a smile when I realized how that sounded. I pulled back so that I could look up at Oliver with my small smile. “I mean that I don’t want to see you suffer either.”

“I know,” Oliver chuckled as he wiped my cheeks with my thumbs. "And I'm going to be with you forever, Elio. No matter what." I shuffled so that I was on the pillow too, eye-level with Oliver. The tips of our noses touched and I hummed as I closed my eyes.

“Elio,” I whispered, instantly transported back to Crema that first night when Oliver asked me to call him by his name. I could practically feel the breeze from the open window and I could smell Mafalda’s lavender detergent and the chamomile soap.

“Oliver.” I smiled, loving the way Oliver breathed his name in three distinct syllables. I nearly told him I loved him, but I knew I didn’t need to. Instead, I just said my name again, over and over until I fell asleep.

After that, I didn’t try to initiate sex, and neither did Oliver. I assumed he wanted to give me space and let me take my time. For that first week after Daniel died, I had no idea what to do with myself. I wasn’t occupied with doctor’s appointments or just visits to Daniel’s apartment. I wasn’t distracted with schoolwork. I slept late and went to bed early and Oliver and I filled the hours in between with quiet walks through the park. I wasn’t sure how to verbalize my grief and I didn’t know if Oliver knew how to deal with it.

Exactly one week after the funeral, Oliver took my hand as we walked through the park. I stiffened for a moment, but I remembered our silent pact to try to start being more open after seeing a few brave same-sex couples around Manhattan.

“Elio,” he started. He paused to swallow and I blinked against the bright sun to look at him. “Elio, I want to apologize for not really being all here this past week.”

“Oliver,” I chided.

“No, I mean it. I feel like I’ve been so useless.” He sighed and slowly swung out arms between us as we ambled about. “I’ve got to go up to Columbia tomorrow to submit my students’ grades to the registrar.”

“Mmmhm,” I nodded. I smiled and knocked my shoulder against his. “I do look at our calendar you know.” He laughed and squeezed my hand.

“Yeah, yeah.” He rolled his eyes and looked down at me. “Well, I was thinking we could meet for lunch or something.”

“Sounds good. I can meet you up at Columbia.” He hummed and I could tell he wasn’t finished with his suggestion.

“I actually think you should stop at Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It’s on 112th and Amsterdam.”

“Oliver,” I said around a laugh, “no offense or anything, but I don’t know if a Catholic church is going to appreciate having a gay Jew step through its doors.”

“Elio,” Oliver admonished with a frown.

“Okay, okay, geez. I’m sorry. But you know it’s true.”

“I’m being serious here. And besides, it's Episcopal."

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and steeled my expression before looking up at him with a furrowed brow and pouty lips. “Continue, Professor Stern.”

“Asshole,” he muttered, albeit fondly. “And that’s Doctor Stern to you. Anyways. Just...yeah. You should go tomorrow morning and then come up to Columbia whenever you’re done. You remember where my office is, right?”

I had only been to his office a few times but I nodded, remembering exactly which building and floor it was on. “See you tomorrow, Professor."

With that, I quickly pecked Oliver’s cheek and broke off into a run towards an open grassy field. I heard Oliver shout behind me and I looked over my shoulder to find him chasing after me. I squealed with delight and pumped my legs harder, but Oliver was getting back into the groove of morning jogs now that we had nice weather, and he caught up with me quicker than I anticipated. He wrapped his arms around my waist from behind and picked me up before tumbling down to the grass and bringing me with him. I laughed, loud and genuine, for what felt like the first time in weeks. We rolled around in the grass a bit until we finally flopped, panting and on our backs, side by side. We looked up at the clouds, our arms pressed together from shoulder down to where our fingers were laced.

“I think we should still go to Crema this summer,” I finally said. I lolled my head to look over at Oliver.

“We don’t have to if you’d rather stay here.”

“I was hoping we could go for two or three weeks at the end of July. That gives us plenty of time to get our stuff together and book tickets.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Oliver said softly, also rolling his head to the side so he could look at me.

“I’ll call my parents today and let them know. They said they’d buy us tickets too,” I reminded. I knew Oliver was aware of that detail, but he’d tried desperately to convince my parents that they need not be burdened with buying our tickets. But they insisted and therefore so did I.

“Mmmh…” Oliver closed his eyes and turned his face back up to the warm sun. “What will we do there?”

I laughed and closed my eyes too but tilted my head so that the crown could press against Oliver’s shoulder. It had been far too long since we’d been back to Crema. Almost two whole years.

“Swim,” I answered.

“I figured.” He laughed and shifted a little closer. “What else?”

“We’ll ride our bikes all day. And go to my special spot. I’ll read to you when it rains and you can read to me when we relax in the orchard.” I let out a content breath and wriggled happily on the grass. “We’ll play tennis and volleyball and harass Mafalda until she cooks exactly what we want for dinner. At night we can share an entire bottle of wine between us, but you’ll give me more so that you have to carry me up to our room.”

“I think I know what comes next,” Oliver husked. I lifted my head so I could bite his shoulder.

“Tell me,” I begged after gently nosing at the spot where I just bit.

“I’ll lay you out on our bed.” His voice was quiet and he turned so that he could rest his chin on the top of my head. “I’ll fuck you any way you want, Elio. Anything you want is yours, baby. I’ll fuck you until the sun starts to peek over the horizon and then you’ll fuck me until Mafalda rings the bell for breakfast.”

I groaned and had to restrain myself from jumping Oliver right there in the park.

“And we’ll start our day all over again. Swimming and tennis and reading.”

“Swimming and tennis and reading,” Oliver repeated. I could hear the smile in his voice. He sat up a bit and ducked his head so that his lips pressed right against my ear. He kissed me there before speaking. “And one afternoon, we’ll sneak up to the attic and fuck an entire basket of Anchiese’s peaches.”

“Only if you let me eat yours after,” I retorted before I could stop myself.

“We’ll eat ours and each other’s.” Oliver moved his lips to my cheek where he brushed a kiss to my heated skin before laying back down. We dozed in the warm sun until mid-afternoon when we headed back to our apartment. I called my parents as soon as I was home to arrange the trip. I hadn’t told them about Daniel’s death yet. Since our trip was finalized I decided I would tell them once we got to Crema. After our afternoon in the park and a light dinner of tilapia and sweet potatoes, I was feeling more myself.

The next morning, I woke up at 10 am to find Oliver already gone, but he’d left me a short note on his pillow.

For Oliver -

Don’t forget - 112th and Amsterdam. See you later.

- From Elio

I smiled and pressed the note to my nose and lips. I took a deep breath before rolling out of bed and getting ready for the day.

Although the church was relatively far away, I opted to walk for 45 minutes rather than take the subway. The weather was nice and I even stopped for an iced latte on my way. Once I reached the church, I took a moment to just admire the façade. I had to stand across the street and tilt my head back to get the entire cathedral within my line of vision. I squinted against the sun as I studied the building. It was just as grand as some of the churches in Italy, which was saying a lot. Once I’d gotten my fill of the outside from afar, I crossed over and took my time walking up the steps. I then walked along the front of the building to admire the intricate carvings before stepping inside. A blast of air conditioning hit me as soon as I stepped through the door and into the vestibule. I shoved my sunglasses up to perch on the top of my head as my eyes adjusted.

The interior was stunning, and I tried to keep my footfalls quiet out of respect for the few parishioners scattered about. I began a loop around the outer aisles next to the windows. There were small altars along the walls dedicated to various saints and I shoved my hands in my pockets as I walked. Once I reached the main altar, I took a moment to stand in front of it and look up at the architecture. After admiring the art for a bit, I continued on my journey around the opposite wall and wondered briefly why Oliver sent me there. I came around to the back of the church again, now on the opposite side from where I entered, and spotted a book perched on a podium behind the last row of pews. There were a few rows of candles next to the book as well as a table of red ribbons.

I approached the book slowly, not sure exactly what drew me to it until I read the title page, to which the book was open:

AIDS Memorial Book of Remembrance

Dedicated to those persons who have died of AIDS

I flipped to the first page and saw names and dates, all in different handwriting; it was a place for the living to commemorate those who had died. I flipped to where a red ribbon was hanging from the bottom of the book. I found the next empty spot on the page and picked up the pen from the table next to me. My hand shook as I wrote Daniel’s name and the date he died.

As I wrote each letter with slow and deliberate concentration, I realized why this location was so poignant.

Harlem, which housed a large Black community, was to the North. To the East was a concentrated population of Hispanics. The gay ghettos of the Upper West Side and the Village were to the South. All of these groups had been impacted the most by the AIDS epidemic, and there I was, standing in the middle of it all.

After writing Daniel’s name, I fished around in my wallet for cash. I pressed my donation into the box, on top of which was propped a sign indicating that all proceeds would go to AIDS research and support. I lit a candle and watched the flame flicker for a moment before catching on the wick. I stood there and studied the wax as it began to melt. Two more men came to write in the book and light candles while I stood there. I hoped that writing their friends’ names in the book brought them closure. I hoped writing Daniel’s would bring me closure as well.

Columbia was just a five-minute walk from the cathedral, and once I finally snapped out of my daze, I practically ran all the way to Oliver’s office. I was desperate to see him and thank him for sending me to the church. When I finally reached the fourth floor of the philosophy building, I sprinted right past his office without realizing it. I spun on the linoleum floor and ran back to the correct door. I burst in without preamble and Oliver’s head snapped up from the paper he was reading. When he saw it was me who was panting and sweating in his doorway, he immediately smiled.

“Did you go over to St. John’s?” he asked, putting down the paper and sitting back in his chair. I had a brief vision of Oliver, three decades older with greying hair at his temples and glasses perched on the edge of his nose. I shook my head and dropped my backpack as I stepped forward, letting the door slam closed behind me.

“How did you know?” I asked, ceaselessly amazed by Oliver’s perceptiveness and how he always knew exactly how to help me. “How did you know it was there?”

“There’s a gay-centric magazine that the undergraduates publish.” Oliver opened one of his drawers and shuffled around a little before pulling out a thin magazine, obviously published under a small budget. “One of my students accidentally left it in my classroom and I just decided to leaf through it.”

He shrugged and held it out for me. I could see a Post-It note sticking out from the pages. I dropped into one of the chairs in front of Oliver’s desk and took the magazine from him with shaky hands. I flipped through until I hit the bookmarked page, which contained a brief article about the book at St. John’s as well as a history of the gay community at the church. Once I was done staring at the pictures, I gently placed the magazine on Oliver’s desk, deciding to read the rest later.

“Thanks,” I said softly, offering Oliver a small smile.

“You’re very welcome. Although, I don’t quite know what you’re thanking me for.”

I rolled my eyes and stood. Oliver swiveled in his chair to face me as I approached.

“Thank you for being the best boyfriend I could ever hope to have,” I clarified as I sat on Oliver’s lap. I curled up on his strong thighs like a kitten and clung to him. I let out a relieved sigh once Oliver wrapped his arms around me to secure me on my perch.

Oliver kissed at the top of my head before breathing in the scent of my shampoo. I’d recently purchased a line from Clairol named Herbal Essence. It was green and in a see-through bottle and it smelled like strawberries and flowers and summer. It was definitely intended for women, but I found that it detangled my hair the best out of all the brands I’d tried. Plus, Oliver adored the way the scent clung to my curls.

“Mmh…Did you put his name down?”

I nodded, “I did. There are already so many names. And so many more that aren’t written in.”

“I know.” Oliver’s hold on me tightened and he went back to kissing the top of my head. I unbuttoned his shirt a little, which earned me a chuckle, and relaxed against Oliver’s now bare chest, my ear pressed right over his heart. I closed my eyes and hummed a slow melody using the beating of his heart as my metronome.

“Do you have lotion?” I asked after a few quiet minutes.

“I do.” Oliver brushed his fingers over the top of my hand where I was clutching at his shirt. “I thought your dry skin was better with that Eucerin we have at home.” I flushed and nodded and wiggled a bit on Oliver’s lap.

“It is. But I want you to fuck me on your desk.”

“Elio.” Oliver’s voice was tentative and soft. “Maybe we should go home.”

“I don’t want to.” I wasn’t panicked or frenetic like the last time. I felt calm and at ease, especially with the window open and the light breeze coming in and tickling the back of my neck.

“I don't want to hurt you.”

“You won't.”

Oliver sighed and continued to run his fingers through my hair. We were quiet again and I snuggled a little closer.

“Can I at least suck you off?” I pleaded, grinning when I felt Oliver's cock twitch against my ass. I knew how much he loved watching me blow him and I was eager to have him in my mouth.

I didn't wait for Oliver to answer. I just slid off his lap and onto my knees between his spread legs. I settled back on my heels and looked up at Oliver as I began to unclasp his belt.

“Elio, I have -” Oliver hissed when I leaned in to nuzzle against his crotch. I lapped at his hardening cock over the khaki fabric of his shorts. “I have two late papers to grade.”

“So grade them,” I said simply as I finally unbuttoned and unzipped his shorts. I pulled Oliver's cock through the slit in his boxers and groaned at how obscene it looked. “You're not expecting anyone, right?” Oliver shook his head. “Good.”

“Ah, fuck .” Oliver's hands shot to my hair as I took the tip into my mouth, but I pulled off immediately, much to his dismay.

“I thought you had papers to grade,” I teased, looking up at Oliver with a cocked brow. Before he could object, I pushed Oliver's rolling chair back a bit so that I could settle under his desk on my knees. I rolled him back towards me and gently pushed his hands away when he tried to go for my hair again. “Grade your papers, Dr. Stern,” I chastised.

Oliver seemed to catch on and he slowly dragged his gaze away from me and leaned over his desk so that he could continue grading. I hummed my contentment and went back to sucking Oliver's cock.

I had no idea if he was actually reading the papers, but Oliver kept his hands to himself and didn't move from where he was hunched over his desk. I took his cock all the way down to the base and closed my eyes. I didn’t move for a moment, just reveling in the feel of the ridges of Oliver’s cock against my tongue. I was about to start bobbing my head when there was a knock on the door. Before Oliver could say anything I heard it swing open. It surprised me and I jumped a bit, thudding the top of my head on Oliver’s desk.

“You almost done with those papers, Stern?” The intruder’s voice was deep and gruff, but kind. I could tell he was an elderly gentleman and I assumed it was the head of the department, Professor Johnson. I swallowed around Oliver’s cock and began to slowly bob my head.

“A-Almost.” There was a slight quiver in Oliver’s voice and I took great pride in that. I began to bob my head in earnest and Oliver shifted above me. I could just imagine how he looked: cheeks flushed pink, lower lip swollen from where he was biting it, shirt still open and askew.

“Try not to get too many stragglers next semester,” Professor Johnson said with a good-natured chuckle. “Although, you have far less than last semester. Your students like you, Oliver. You’re good to them.”

“Thank you.” Oliver moved above me again and I rubbed my hands over his strong thighs as I continued to suck.

“Think of it this way: the sooner you have all of their grades in, the sooner your vacation starts. It’s an advantage to you to not accept late papers!” Oliver huffed a laugh.

“They’re usually two of my best students. I’ll be knocking them for being late, but I -” I pushed my lips all the way down Oliver’s cock and gagged quietly before pulling back up and suckling at the head, “ fuck - I wanted to give them a fair shot.”

There was a slight pause. I knew Professor Johnson had heard Oliver’s expletive and I briefly wondered if the professor had seen my discarded backpack. Did he know I was under the desk with Oliver’s cock down my throat? Was he there to get Oliver in trouble?”

“You alright there, Stern?”

“Yes, Greg, sorry about that. I managed to roll my ankle while out on a run this morning and it’s been giving me trouble all day.” Professor Johnson seemed to accept that excuse because I heard footsteps retreating back towards the door.

“You take care of that foot now, Oliver. I don’t want your summer ruined just because of some exercise! Make sure you get those grades into the registrar today. And after that, I don’t want to see you at all until the semester starts! Enjoy your break Oliver; you deserve it.”

“Thank you, Greg. You too.”

As soon as the door clicked shut again, Oliver sat back in his chair and shoved his hands down to grasp at my curls. He tugged hard at my hair and thrust up into my mouth, coming seconds later. I choked a bit on his cock, some of his come and my saliva dripping down my chin. When I pulled off, I looked up at Oliver. We were both gasping for air and staring at each other with wide, wild eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I said after a beat. I tried to wipe the back of my hand over my mouth but Oliver grabbed my wrist and stopped me. He dragged the thumb of his free hand through the mess on my chin before pushing it back into my mouth to suck, which I did with gusto.

“You could have gotten me fired, Elio.” He pulled his finger from my mouth with a pop and I swallowed.

“I’m sorry,” I started again, but Oliver stood and tucked himself back into his shorts.

“Clean yourself up. I’m going to give the registrar my final grades. We’ll go home when I get back.” I looked up at Oliver from my perch under the desk and watched as he gathered his papers. “I have water and tissues on my desk.”

Oliver left me alone and I sulked as I swished some water around and fixed my hair. By the time he came back, I had my backpack on and was waiting by the door with my hands in my pockets. Oliver shuffled around at his desk, throwing a few things into his briefcase before locking the drawer. He slung his briefcase over his shoulder, flipped off the light, and walked out.

“Shut the door on your way out, Elio. The door self-locks.”

I did as I was told and then raced to catch up with Oliver as we walked down the stairs and out the building. The silence continued as we headed to the bus stop. Once we were settled on the bus, I turned to him and tugged at his shirt sleeve.

“Oliver,” I said quietly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble or anything. I didn’t want anything bad to happen, I swear. I just wanted to-”

“We can talk about it at home.”

I settled back into my seat and held my tongue for the rest of our journey. Once we got off the bus, I trailed a little behind Oliver, my hands shoved deep into my pockets and my head hung, curls in front of my eyes. How could have been so stupid? I was only a child, and he was a professional adult. I shouldn’t have put his job in jeopardy.

Please don’t hate me, Oliver. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t hate me.

I followed him up to our apartment and walked in when he opened the door for me. After he shut and locked it, I was about to apologize again, but before I could, Oliver had me wrapped up in his arms.

“How did I get so lucky?” he asked. His voice was low, soothing, and incredibly sexy. I whimpered and sagged against him, letting him hold me up as he closed the gap between us and captured my lips in a slow and searing kiss. “God, Elio,” he whispered as he pulled back, leaving me completely breathless.

“You’re not mad?” I asked, blinking up at him with bleary eyes.

“No.” Oliver chuckled and kissed the tip of my nose. “I mean, I’m very relieved Greg didn’t see you under my desk with my dick down your throat, but no, Elio, I’m not mad.”

I sighed, relieved, and let my head thunk down against his chest. Oliver laughed and held me there, rubbing over my back. We stood there for a few minutes before I tilted my head back to look up at him again.

Now will you fuck me?”

“How about some lunch first?”

I whined, but I couldn’t deny the pangs in my belly.

“Fine. After?”

“We’ll see.”

Oliver and I put together sandwiches and fruit salad and decided to eat out in the park with a bottle of Prosecco between us. After lunch, we went over our plans for the summer.

“So we fly out July 19th. Our flight gets in that evening and my parents said they’d pick us up from the airport.”

I arranged Oliver on his back on the grass and he watched me with an amused expression but let me do what I wish. Once he was artfully arranged to my liking, I lay down as well with my head on his stomach. He began playing with my curls and I hummed my approval.

“We come back here on the 10th of May, right?” I nodded. “That’s three entire weeks.”

“Mmmhm. Three entire weeks in Heaven.”

“Would you want to take another trip for a few days while we’re there?”

I shrugged and rolled my head on Oliver’s stomach so that I could look up at him. “Maybe. Maybe we could go to Genoa for a few days. Stay somewhere by the beach.”

“That sounds nice.” Oliver tugged at my curls and I smiled at him. “I love any excuse to keep you in a bathing suit.”

“Rumor has it there’s a gay sauna there too.”

“Oh?” Oliver raised his brows and pulled a little harder at my hair. “So maybe no need for a bathing suit after all.”

“You’re disgusting,” I accused.

“Hey! It was your suggestion!”

“Yeah, yeah. Now be quiet and keep playing with my hair.”

“Bossy.” But Oliver did just as I requested and continued to card his fingers through my curls.

We spent the afternoon in the park, snacking on fruit and finishing our bottle of prosecco. After lunch, we walked hand in hand to a nearby coffee shop. I loved how open we were starting to be out in public. Of course we still got some confused or dirty looks, and there were a few areas in which we’d never dare hold hands, but for the most part, Oliver and I were both comfortable with small public displays of affection.

“So uh…” I paused and looked up at Oliver as we headed back to our apartment.

“Uh-oh.” He knocked his shoulder into mine as he took a sip of his iced coffee. “What’s up?”

“So I was going through that small box we found at Daniel’s and I kinda...well, he had a huge stash of pot.”

Oliver burst out laughing as he stuck the key into the door of our building. “Oh?”

“Yeah. I was thinking maybe…” I shrugged and stepped into the building, sighing happily at the cool air. It wasn’t even that hot out yet and I was already sweating; we were in for a warm summer. “I was thinking maybe we could dabble.”

Oliver and I had only smoked a handful of times together. It wasn’t something we did often, mostly because I usually already felt so calm and at ease around Oliver, but it was nice to let go every once in a while and get a different kind of buzz. Oliver punched the button for our floor on the elevator and then leaned in to brush his lips along my jaw.

“How about you put away our picnic paraphernalia and I’ll roll us a joint.”

“There’s rolling paper in the box,” I breathed as Oliver nipped at my neck. “It’s in my bedside drawer.”

As promised, Oliver had a joint rolled and ready to go by the time I was done putting everything away. I changed into a fresh tee shirt before joining him in the study. He pushed the desk to the side so that we could perch on the windowsill. I settled next to him and he handed me the spliff, which I promptly put between my lips. Without having to ask, Oliver lit it for me and I inhaled, my eyes fluttering closed as the earthy taste hit my tongue. This particular strain had a citrusy undertone and inhaled again.

“Don’t be a hog,” Oliver teased. He plucked the joint from my lips and sucked in as I exhaled. We traded the joint back and forth for a few minutes, just sitting quietly on the windowsill and watching the world go on below us. Oliver took another hit and I turned my head to take the joint from him. Before I could though, Oliver leaned forward and captured my lips with his own. He let the stream of smoke out into my mouth and I dutifully inhaled as we kissed. We added gentle kisses into our puff-puff-pass until the joint was completely burned out.

“ ‘s too quiet,” I murmured, pitching forward so that my forehead was pressed against Oliver’s collarbone. Oliver hummed and wrapped his arms around my back. He held me tight for a few minutes before I started to get antsy. Oliver chuckled and sat back to kiss my forehead.

“Alright, come on.” He stood and fit my hand in his so he could pull me up with him. I let go of his hand to instead loop my arm around his. I leaned against him as he led me into our living room. He began fiddling with our radio until coming onto a non-staticky station. The end of Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” Oliver turned up the volume and I hummed as the music filled in the quiet space in the room.

I laughed when “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came on and realized it must have been a timeless hits sort of station.

“Listen baaaaaby-” I shoved at Oliver’s shoulders and he laughed and wrapped his arms around me. “C’mon you gotta be Tammi. Ain’t no river - wiiiiiide enough, baby.” I blushed when Tammi started to sing and hid my face in Oliver’s shirt, missing her entire first verse. Oliver piped in with Marvin’s “don’t worry baby,” with a surprising amount of gusto.

“Just call my name, I’ll be there in a hurry.”

“That’s it, baby!” Oliver laughed and pulled back a little, taking my hands just as the chorus started. We jumped around, dancing and singing for the entire song without pause and without concern for our downstairs neighbors. Oliver really kicked it up, spinning me around as he ooh- ed and ahh- ed along with Marvin.

We continued dancing and singing - the Allman Brothers, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, the Police.

“And here’s one from Pauly and Wings - a little something to get you through the afternoon haze…” The DJ faded out and I laughed out loud as the first mellow organ riffs of Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” came over the speakers. Oliver tugged me close and I fell against his chest, wrapped up and safe in his arms. He began to sway as the guitar rang out and I sang along with Paul’s echoed vocals.

“I can’t tell you how I feel...my heart is like a wheel…”

“Let me roll it...let me roll it to ya…”

Oliver tugged me over to the couch and we fell onto it in a heap of limbs. He pulled me onto his lap and I settled down, still singing. Oliver started to kiss me between words, and I was only able to breathe out a few words as Oliver captured my lips in kiss after kiss. Soon enough, we were making out on the couch like insatiable teenagers, which I supposed I was, slowly grinding against each other to the rhythm. We spent the rest of the afternoon like that, wrapped up in each other’s arms and making out until both of our stomachs were grumbling.

“ ‘m hungry,” I slurred as I pulled back. Oliver chased my lips, but I leaned further back, so much so that Oliver had to hold me up with strong arms on my back.

“Order in?”

“Yes please,” I said with a laugh. We were both far too high to cook.

“Pizza?”

I wrinkled my nose and shook my head.

“Sushi?”

“Too hungry for that.”

“Chinese?”

“Chicken and broccoli for me.”

Oliver laughed and brought me in for another quick kiss before reaching for the phone and dialing our usual Chinese takeout place. I pressed kisses to his neck and jaw as he ordered. Once Oliver hung up I moved my kisses to his lips.

“Thank you,” I murmured, suddenly feeling overwhelmingly grateful for having Oliver by my side through everything.

“For what?”

“For everything. For this. For helping me and for knowing I need to wait even when I didn’t.”

“You’re welcome,” Oliver said as he pushed my curls away from my face. He didn’t comment further, but it went unspoken between us that Oliver would wait for as long as I needed before we had sex again. We went back to our kisses until the buzzer pulled us away from one another.

I decided to visit Mark a week later. As much as Oliver had been helping me, I knew it would be beneficial to uphold my relationship with Mark. I knocked on the door of his humble office at the rectory and he looked up a notepad from where I presumed he was writing his next sermon.

“Elio.” I’d forgotten how much I missed his kind voice. He stood and beckoned me over. “Please, come in.”

“I hope I’m not interrupting or anything,” I said as I closed the door and sat down in one of the chairs by his desk.

“Not at all. I was actually hoping you’d come by.”

I blushed and shrugged, suddenly feeling incredibly guilty for not visiting Mark earlier. “How are you?”

“I’m doing just fine, Elio.” He stacked up his papers and pushed them aside. “I think the more important question is how are you ?”

“I’m...I’m doing okay. Oliver’s been great.” I smiled and nodded through the tears that came upon me too suddenly for my liking. “I miss him though.”

“I’m sure you do. I miss him too.”

We lapsed into silence and I quickly wiped my eyes with the back of my hands.

“I’ve been thinking about what to do with the money he left in my care,” Mark said slowly. I could tell that he wanted my opinion on whatever he was going to say next. “A good friend of mine, Reverend Mead Miner Bailey, is helping found the AIDS Resource Center.”

“I’ve-” I sniffled and wiped my nose. “I haven’t heard of that.”

“They’re still relatively small, just a few apartments in Chelsea and Greenwich. They’re trying to open the first residence for AIDS patients and they’re in need of some financial help.”

“I think that’s perfect,” I said, not letting Mark go any further. “And Oliver and I will make a donation as well.”

“Thank you, Elio. I appreciate your-”

“And I want to volunteer,” I said before I could stop myself. I took a moment to compose myself; I didn’t want to submerge into my frenetic tendencies with Mark. “Whatever they need, I want to help. Oliver and I are going to Italy for three weeks in July, but I’ll be here before then. And after.”

“How about after?” Mark offered with a warm smile. “I know Reverend Bailey has been looking for volunteers, and they’ll definitely need them once the residence opens.” I nodded and was about to say I could start as soon as possible, but Mark continued. “As much as I know Reverend Bailey needs your help, I want you to enjoy your summer and your time off with Oliver. It’s been a long journey for you, Elio, and I don’t want you to tire yourself out.”

“Yeah,” I breathed, not realizing how tense the idea of starting to volunteer so soon made me. I knew Mark was right; it would be beneficial for me to spend time with Oliver and establish a new normalcy before starting to volunteer.

“There actually was something else I wanted to ask you,” Mark said with a small smile. I nodded for him to go on. “I’d love for you to continue coming to group meetings. Not all of them, of course, and you can definitely say no if you want to. But I think the guys miss you. And it’ll definitely be good to have you if any of them decide to bring friends or family along.

“That would be nice.” I returned Mark’s smile and nodded. I was glad Mark asked me back. I did miss the other men in the group and not having that weekly meeting to go to anymore was leaving a large gap of time that I didn’t know what to do with. “Speaking of family...did you ever hear from Daniel’s?”

“Sadly no,” Mark sighed, rubbing at his temples. “When I called to tell them, his mother answered. She hung up right after I told her he had AIDS. I’m not even sure if she realized I was calling because he died.” He sighed again and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.

“Did Daniel leave their address?”

“Mmhm, he did. They’re on the Upper East Side.”

“Do you think I could have it? I um...I have a few things of Daniel’s I think they might want.” Mark smiled at me and rifled through his desk for a moment before taking out a piece of paper with Daniel’s writing on it. Mark coped down his parents’ phone number and address on a sheet of paper for me.

“I am always astounded by your generosity, Elio.” His sincerity made me blush. I looked down at the address before tucking the slip of paper into my pocket. “Daniel was very lucky to have you. And so is Oliver.”

I laughed and shook my head and I looked down at the watch on my slender wrist. “Thanks,” I said as I ran my fingers over the sleek face, the inscription on the back running through my mind.

To make promises and to love don’t cost any money.

I thought of Oliver, my beautiful, smart, strong Oliver. That same image of him a few decades older came to mind and my heart skipped a beat. I was eager to continue building my life with and around him. I thrummed with excitement for what was to come for both of us in our professional and personal lives. I even ached for the few and far between, but unavoidable, times when we would get mad at each other. I looked forward to each new kiss, each new day with Oliver. We were committed to one another, heart, mind, and soul.

“I love him, and I’ve promised myself to him.” I shrugged and looked back up at Mark. “It was an easy promise to make.”

Chapter Text

Oliver and I had an entire month and a half in New York before we left for our trip to Crema. We spent most of our time riding our bikes and picnicking in the park. It was nice to not have any responsibilities outside of spending time with one another.

One morning in early June as we walked to a new coffee shop in Midtown, I stopped short in front of a Canon store. Oliver kept walking for a few paces before realizing I wasn’t next to him anymore. He was laughing when he sidled up next to me in front of the window.

“See something you like?”

“I think so,” I said slowly, stepping a little closer to the glass. I’d been wanting a camera for some time. Oliver had suggested a Polaroid for ease of use as well as instant gratification, but I’d always hated the overdeveloped look of the too-small prints. “Can we go in?”

“Sure,” Oliver said, knocking my shoulder before stepping over to open the door for me.

I sighed happily as the air conditioning blasted over us. It was still so early in the summer and already hot and humid. I was happy we were going to get away from the swampy months in New York. I meandered over to a table of intimidating looking cameras and tried to make myself as small as possible so as not to accidentally knock into something and break everything in the entire store.

“Please let me know if I can help you with anything.” A man in his mid-fifties with a graying beard approached us with a kind smile.

“Actually, I was thinking about getting a camera,” I started warily. I looked up at Oliver who gave me an approving nod before looking down at the cameras again. “I don’t know…I’ve never really used one except for disposable. Maybe this wasn't the best idea. Thank you, though.”

The man laughed heartily and shook his head, clapping me jovially on the shoulder. “I don’t think the F-1 is for you,” he said, gesturing to the table full of bulky components that I’d never know what to do with. He steered me toward another table at the opposite end of the store. “We launched our T-series in March ‘83.” There were three different cameras on the table and I listened closely as he described the differences between the T50, T70, and T80.

In the end, I went with the T70. Since its release in April of 1984, it was the most technologically advanced camera on the market. According to the salesperson, the photographer had a lot of control over the camera's operation while keeping simplicity intact. I was eager to try it out, especially on Oliver, who I knew would be my main subject.

When our salesperson went into the back room to get a new camera with all of the accessories, I spun on my heel to face Oliver with wide eyes.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” I asked as Oliver nudged me over to the counter.

“Of course it is,” he said softly with a squeeze to my shoulder. This was a conversation we had often. I sometimes felt like a freeloader, what with Oliver supporting us financially. My parents were, of course, paying for my education and they had also wired me a good chunk of money, but Oliver had insisted I put it all into a savings account. I didn’t have a job and I often offered to get one, but Oliver always shut that idea down, promising that once I was done with school and could properly enter the workforce, I could start paying my dues.

“It’s expensive though,” I murmured. I fiddled with the hem of my shirt and shifted from foot to foot. I still sometimes wasn’t comfortable with Oliver making big purchases when they were only for me.

“We’re both going to get use out of it,” Oliver reasoned, even though I knew it was mainly for me. “And it’ll be good for our trip.”

I nodded, slightly reassured, and stood to the side as I watched Oliver pay for my new camera as the gentleman stuck the box in a bag.

“There you are,” he said, passing it to me. “I’ve included quite a bit of film for you for free as well and a list of reputable developers in Manhattan. I hope you enjoy it and come back when you’re ready for the F series!”

I wanted to go straight home and open my new camera, but Oliver still wanted to get coffee. I grumbled for all but a second before immediately shutting up at Oliver’s promise of a frappé at the new Greek place to which we were headed.

As soon as we were home, I beelined for the couch and opened up the Canon box with utmost reverence. Oliver chuckled and ruffled my hair as he came to stand behind the couch and look over my shoulder. I wasn’t usually one for instruction packets, but I vowed to read the entire manual before taking even one photo. Once Oliver realized I wouldn’t be paying a lick of attention to him, he kissed my temple and stood up straight.

“I’m gonna go read in the study.”

“Mhm.”

“Let me know if you need anything.”

“Mhm.” Oliver laughed again and leaned over the couch to give my cheek a quick peck before he headed into the study.

It took me over an hour to thoroughly read through the manual and another 45 minutes to mount the lens and load and advance the film so that it was ready for use.

“I think it’s ready!” I announced, not sure if Oliver was still reading or up to something else. He’d been dutifully quiet the entire time.

“Come test it out!” he called back. I smiled and draped the strap around my neck before I stood. “Bedroom!”

I padded in and smiled at the sight. Oliver was flopped on our bed in one of my favorite oatmeal colored sweaters, the sheets and pillows all astray. He grinned sheepishly at me and tossed aside the book he’d been reading.

“I tried to change the sheets but you know I don't like to do it alone. I can’t get the corners as crisp as you do. Mafalda taught you well.” I rolled my eyes and perched on the edge of the unmade bed. “Did you figure out that contraption? Looks a lot bigger than in the store.”

I looked down at the camera hanging around my neck and shrugged, watching the way it moved with my frame. I smiled as I ran my fingers over the buttons. “Alright, you,” I said coyly as I brought the camera up to my eye. I squinted through the viewfinder and fiddled with the focus ring until Oliver wasn’t blurry. “Give me your best ‘I got my dick sucked under my desk’ look.”

Oliver shifted to drape one arm over his stomach and he brought the other up behind his head. He looked right at the camera and gave me a little smirk. I pressed down on the shutter button right then, capturing my first photo of Oliver on my new camera.

“Wish I could see it now,” I lamented, lowering the camera down and looking at it with a frown.

“Well, just 35 more pictures and you’re done with your first roll.”

I grinned and set the camera on my nightstand so that I could curl up on my side next to Oliver on the bed. “Thank you,” I said, tracing my fingers over the scruff on his cheek.

“You’re welcome, my goose.” He leaned forward and dragged his chin over my cheek before kissing over to my lips.

“You better shave before we go home. My parents won’t recognize you with this caveman beard.”

“Oh shut up. You love it.”

I wriggled a bit and tilted my head back so that Oliver could kiss down my throat. I did love his stubble, and he knew it. Oliver laughed and rolled on top of me as he kissed down my neck. He rucked my tee-shirt up as he went down so that he could kiss bare skin once he got to the bottom of my ribs.

“Oliver,” I sighed, carding my fingers through his hair. “We gotta put the sheets -”

“Shh, I got you, baby.” He ran his hands over my sides as he kissed the patch of skin just above my denim shorts. I shivered and closed my eyes, sinking into the mattress as Oliver’s hands enveloped my tiny frame. All too soon though, Oliver’s hands were off my skin and I whined, feeling positively bereft. But before I could complain, Oliver was unbuttoning and pulling down my shorts. “Hands and knees,” he said with a tap to my thigh once I was dressed only in my shirt. I squirmed on the bed, instead wanting his hands or mouth on my rapidly hardening cock. Oliver just laughed and helped me flip onto my stomach. He grasped my hips and tugged up so that I was on my knees, my back arched obscenely.

“Oliver.” The pleading lilt to my voice wasn’t lost on either of us and Oliver groaned as he palmed my ass. I heard him shuffle a bit and then the bed dipped where I assumed he was kneeling behind me. I gasped when he ran his prickly cheek over the cleft of my ass.

“Hah. I knew you liked the beard.” I just shoved my hips back in response, silently begging Oliver to get on with it. “Alright, alright.”

Oliver lapped a stripe up between my cheeks, his tongue sliding right over my hole. I shuddered and grasped the sheets. He pressed a soft kiss against my fluttering hole before licking in earnest, pressing the flat of his tongue right against my ass. After a few moments, I felt his tongue breach my hole and slowly start to slide in.

“Ahh, that’s incredible. Fuck, don’t stop.” My voice sounded strange to my own ears, almost as if someone else was urging him on, someone outside of my body.

He didn’t break from his rimming to answer me, only flicked faster and faster, pressing deeper as he tasted and drank down my taste. My cock hung heavy and hard between my legs where I was dripping pre-come onto the mattress.

“Gonna, fuck, Oliver, I’m gonna ruin the bed.” But he didn’t pull away and neither did I. It was too good to stop and I rutted my hips back against his mouth. His stubble scratched against the sensitive skin around my asshole and I knew I’d be rubbed raw.

He licked and kissed and sucked until I was dripping and open and begging for more, more, more . Once Oliver wrapped his hand around my cock, it was all over for me. My orgasm plowed through me and left me shaking. As I came back to myself I heard Oliver chuckle as he kissed over my asscheeks. I felt raw and used and open and so deliriously happy.

“You managed to only come on the sheets.” I looked down between my legs to confirm that there was indeed a pool of come in a crumpled part of the sheets. “Sheer perfection even in the throes of passion.” I rolled my eyes and flopped onto my back to look up at Oliver with a lazy grin.

“C’mere,” I begged, reaching out with grabby hands. He laughed again and leaned forward to kiss the tip of my nose.

“That was just for you. Why don't you go shower and I'll make the bed.” I narrowed my eyes skeptically and he swatted my thigh. “I will, I promise.”

When I emerged from the shower some time later, I found Oliver lounging on our made bed with a book and a cup of coffee. I dressed in black lounge pants and a sweatshirt before crawling in next to Oliver.

“Well color me impressed,” I teased as I plucked Oliver’s coffee cup out of his hands. “A year of living together and I only just find out that you actually can make a bed.” I grabbed my copy of Tolstoy’s Resurrection and curled up against the pillows. We sat quietly and read for a few hours, just snuggled up next to one another.

“Hey,” Oliver said, closing his book and rolling over me. I thought he was trying to look at the clock on my bedside table, but he sat back up with my camera in hand. “Only seems fitting that the second picture on the roll is of you.” I sat up and rolled my eyes, but marked the page in my book. “Just like that,” Oliver said, stopping me from moving further. He brought the camera up to his eye and I brought my feet up on the edge of the bed, hunching over a little and propped my head on my hand. Oliver smiled and snapped the picture.

June was full of bike rides, strolls through the park, and many photo shoots both in and outside. It only took me two weeks to use up my first roll of film, and I dedicated half of a second to just pictures of Kate for Amanda and Pat. I also spent quite a bit of time rebuilding relationships with my friends. I had been so busy with Daniel over the past few months that I’d ended up neglecting Matt and Cassie as well as Oliver’s friends. We slowly started to get back into our social circles but I also made it a priority to spend time with Oliver. It was nice to reconnect with him, especially since we were both off from school and had no other obligations.

“Hey.” It was an early morning in late June and I’d been happily asleep. I groaned and tried to shove Oliver off of me, desperately wanting to stay curled up in bed, half asleep with sunlight streaming through the window. He continued his barrage of kisses against my cheek even as I tried to pull the covers over my head. “Hey, Elio.”

“What?” I rolled onto my back and glared up at him, even going to far as to giving his chest a light shove. “This better be good.”

“The department faculty wants to go for a group dinner on the 28th.”

“ ‘kay. Just put it on the calendar.” I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but Oliver grabbed my shoulder.

“It’s like a...couples thing.”

“Oh, Oliver,” I sighed, reaching up to run my fingers over his cheek. “You know I’d come with you if I could.”

“But that’s just the thing,” he started. He turned his head to press a few kisses to the inside of my wrist. “You could come with me and I want you to.”

“Oliver, you know I want to be there for you. But I don’t want to put your job at risk.”

“Professor Johnson isn’t going,” Oliver said quickly. “It’s really just the younger professors. Pat and Amanda will be there!”

“I-”

“Please, baby. I want them to know. It’s only four others besides me and Pat. And if they aren’t accepting of you, then I don’t want to work in that department.”

“Can - Can I think about it?”

“You’ve got four days.”

I spoke with Amanda on the phone about it for a good two hours, as well as my parents. The general consensus was that if Oliver wanted me there, and if I was comfortable being out, that I should go. I, of course, had no problem with Oliver’s coworkers knowing I was gay, but I worried that they would be prejudiced towards Oliver.

“So are you coming with me tonight?” Oliver asked the morning of the 28th. I bit at my lower lip and rolled onto my side to look over at him as he got ready for his morning jog. He usually went out around 8:30 or 9, leaving me to get coffee and breakfast ready.

“Yeah,” I finally said as Oliver threw a tank top over his head. I much preferred him without a shirt and wished I could keep him in bed with me all day.

“Thank you,” Oliver said after a beat. He leaned down to kiss me and I could feel his smile against my lips. “It means a lot to me, Elio. Really.”

“Of course.” I pushed myself up a little to kiss him again before he stood. I could tell how much Oliver needed and wanted me there and I ultimately decided it was too selfish of me to make him go alone. “What do you want for breakfast?” I asked as I flopped down on the bed, letting Oliver get back to dressing.

“Eggs?” Oliver suggested. I wrinkled my nose and he laughed. “Why do you even ask me if you’re just going to make what you want anyway?” I just pouted instead of responding and Oliver kissed me again after lacing up his sneakers. “Be back in 45.”

Craving an iced coffee the size of my face, I ended up going to our usual bagel spot a few blocks away to pick up breakfast. We spent the day lounging around the apartment, moving from the living room to the study to the bedroom and back to the living room with our books. It was soon time for us to get ready for the dinner, and I buttoned up my shirt with trembling fingers.

“Hey,” Oliver said, coming to stand in front of me and take over. He buttoned up my shirt for me and fingered the ruffle along the collar. “It’s gonna be just fine, Elio, I promise.”

I nodded and smoothed my hands over Oliver’s denim shirt. “You look nice.”

“So do you.” He leaned in and gave me a quick, reassuring kiss.

“Let me take a picture of you before we go?”

“I was actually thinking we could take a picture of the both of us.” Oliver tugged me out to the dining nook and set up my camera on one end of the table. He sat down in his usual spot and I sat in my chair across from him. We sat there quietly for a second before both laughing. I then decided to lay across the table and rested my head on my hands. Oliver laughed as I shook my curls out of my eyes. “Perfect.”

He reached over and pressed the shutter button. I knew we had ten seconds to get ready before the shutter went off, but we didn’t really need it. Oliver leaned over the table on one arm, meeting me halfway, and draped his other arm over my back. He kissed the top of my head before we both turned to face the camera, both steeling our expressions before the shutter clicked.

Later, as we were walking towards the subway, I looked down at my pink ruffled shirt. “You don’t think this shirt is too…” I trailed off and shrugged, plucking at one of the ruffles. Gay, my mind easily supplied.

“No,” Oliver insisted, “it’s perfect.”

We headed down to the South Street Seaport to Bridge Cafe. It was packed with people around Oliver’s age, and I was suddenly very happy that I came with him. I looked up at Oliver and he returned my gaze with a wide smile. Sticking with him tonight was definitely the best choice. Luckily, Amanda and Pat were already there and the only two sitting at the table. They waved us over and Amanda immediately wrapped me in a tight hug.

“I’m so happy you decided to come,” she whispered, squeezing me tight before sitting back down.

“Me too. How’s Kate?”

We launched into a conversation about the baby until the rest of our dinner companions arrived. They all showed at the same time: Glen and his wife Jodie, Adam and his wife Brynne, Ross and his girlfriend Louise, and Adrian and Tracy, who had been dating for just a few months. I received a few curious glances as Oliver introduced me, but no one made any comments.

We placed our orders and our table was soon full of beers and steaming plates of food. The conversation wasn’t stilted at all, but I was glad to have Amanda next to me to pull me back into when I fell silent. I spoke at length about growing up in Italy and the program I was in at Juilliard. Oliver beamed with pride next to me and I let him snake his foot underneath mine.

Pat, Amanda, Oliver, and I decided to split a cab back up to our neighborhood. We said our goodbyes to the group and made promises to get together more often. As I stood on the curb watching Oliver hail a cab, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing much of his coworkers. They were very nice and didn’t say anything derogatory, but only the women really engaged me in conversation. Throughout the entire dinner, I could feel a slight undercurrent of awkwardness that I hope would dissipate by the time the school year came around. I didn’t want Oliver to be ostracized by his department, or worse.

“I think that went well,” Amanda said as she slid into the back seat with me and Oliver. Pat sat up front and turned in his seat to look back at us.

“We really should try to do that more often.”

“Maybe just the staff,” I piped in. Amanda chuckled and patted my knee.

“You okay?” Oliver asked, ducking his head so he could whisper against my ear.

“Me okay,” I murmured in response, letting my own hand drop to his thigh.

The cab let us off first and we paid our half of the fare and promised Amanda and Pat that we’d get together before we left for Crema.

“I hope they don’t all hate you now,” I lamented as I flopped down on the couch in the study. Oliver followed me, stripping his clothes off as he went and leaving a trail behind him. He sat next to me, clad only in boxers, and I lay down with my head in his lap.

“I don’t think they do.” He began carding his fingers through my hair and I arched into it, practically purring under Oliver’s care and comfort.

“Il mio gattino,” he teased. I had been helping Oliver with his Italian so he could surprise my parents with more than a barely strung together sentence, but it wasn’t coming along too well. So far, all he could say was a few pet names as well as, “I want to fuck you,” which definitely wouldn't impress my parents; perhaps just amuse them.

“No, io sono il topo e tu sei il gatto,” I said, keeping my words slow as if talking to a child so that Oliver could follow along. He smiled down at me. “Ah, vedi? Questo è il tuo sorriso da predatore.”

“Se tu sei il mio topo,” he said slowly, stumbling over the words a little bit, “allora ti mangio, sì?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” I shot back, but I turned my head so that I could nip at his stomach.

“Come to bed, topino,” he said, gently shifting out from under me. “I want to be the cat that got the cream and the mouse.”

Two days before we went to Crema, Oliver begged me to leave the apartment and not come back until the afternoon.

“But I need to finish packing!” I tried, even as Oliver ushered me towards the door. He’d been acting cagey all week, taking longer runs and disappearing in the late afternoon. He’d promised it was for a surprise for me and I suspected that him kicking me out meant that I would receive the surprise that afternoon. Still, I didn’t understand why I had to vacate.

“Please, baby, just a couple hours.” He kissed me quickly and handed me my keys.

“Fine,” I huffed, snatching my keys out of his hands. “I have to pick up a book at the library anyways.” I kissed him again and he laughed before giving me a gentle shove.

I headed to the library first and decided to treat myself to a small picnic in the park. The weather was beautiful and I almost regretted leaving New York for so long. However, as I lay in the warm grass with the sun washing over me, I couldn’t help the giddy excitement that took over at the notion of going back to Crema with Oliver as my partner. I ended up falling asleep for a few hours, which was great as I found I still had time to kill when I checked my watch. I roamed around the park for a bit before making a stop at the New York Historical Society to check out an exhibit on the architectural similarities between New York and Chicago.

By the time I was done, it was nearing 4 pm, and I assumed Oliver had enough time to accomplish whatever he needed to get done. I stopped at our favorite little coffee spot on the way home to grab two coffees and two cookies, which I hoped we could save from Oliver’s sweet tooth for after dinner.

“Hello?” I called as I let myself into our apartment. “Is it safe?”

“Yes!” Oliver’s hurried voice came from the bedroom and I chuckled as I toed off my shoes. I left our treats in the kitchen and headed back towards the bedroom but Oliver came barrelling around the corner to catch me before I could go inside.

“Hi.” I leaned up for a kiss and Oliver indulged me for a moment but he was smiling too hard to keep the kiss going for much longer.

“I’m guessing you want to see your surprise?”

“You guessed right.”

“Okay.” He moved to stand behind me and covered my eyes with his hands.

“Oliv-”

“Shh, let me lead you.” Oliver shuffled forward and I did the same. It felt like forever until we finally stopped. Oliver then turned me around, hands still over my face. “Okay,” he said moving a little to the left and situating me to his liking. “Okay. If you don’t like it we can always -”

“Oliver,” I interrupted, “show me please?”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” As soon as he lifted his hands, I blinked my eyes open. On the wall above our dresser, Oliver had framed and hung eight pictures.

“Oh,” I breathed, taking a step forward.

“The one of you and your parents I got blown up.” I recognized the picture from the smaller version I had on my bedside table. “Same with the one of you and Daniel.” I flicked my gaze to the left and there was the picture of me and Daniel that I’d found in his apartment.

“Those too?” I asked, looking up at two pictures of me and Oliver from the same night I’d taken the picture with Daniel.

“Yes, those too.”  

Oliver had also framed the first two pictures taken on my camera: the one of him sprawled on our unmade bed and the one of me with my Tolstoy book. In the center, he’d also hung the one we took draped over our kitchen table before the dinner. Those three were in black and white and played perfectly with the color of the other photos. The last was one Cassie snapped last time she was over of me and Oliver in the kitchen with Matt in the background.

“I figured we could get more framed as we go along,” he said tentatively, coming to stand behind me. “Do you like them?” I turned and immediately flung myself at Oliver, clutching at him and trying to climb him like a tree.

“Thank you,” I whispered as I hooked my leg over his hip. He laughed and cupped one hand under my bottom to try to hold me up. “Thank you so much, Oliver. It’s perfect.”

“I figured we needed a little more personalization around the house. Especially now with my little amateur photographer.”

I burrowed my face into his neck and nodded, clutching at him harder. Oliver was right. Of course, we did have our personal effects around the house, mostly in the form of books and sheet music, but we definitely needed photos of us with our friends and family.

“We can make a whole wall of pictures from Crema,” I said, words muffled against Oliver’s shirt where I was currently trying to push closer to Oliver.

“Of course we can. I even made sure to get you ample rolls of film.”

“Hey, Oliver?” I said after a few moments of quiet. We’d been just standing in our bedroom, wrapped up in one another, which I loved.

“Yes, baby?”

“Can we take pictures of each other?”

“We already do that.” He laughed and slid the fingers of his right hand into my hair.

“No, I mean like -” I broke off and hid my face further against Oliver’s neck. “Like pictures of each other in bed .”

“Yeah, baby,” came Oliver’s soft response. I was thankful for our ability to pick up on each other’s verbal cues. He squeezed me tighter and laughed humorlessly. “You know? I really could have used a picture of you naked before I came back to the States.”

“Right back atcha,” I said, returning the squeeze. We stood there for a few minutes more before I pulled back. “Okay. I really need to pack.”

After much petty arguing about what we should and should not bring on our trip, Oliver and I made it to the airport on the 19th with two suitcases each.

“We definitely didn’t need to bring sweatshirts,” Oliver said as he grumpily wheeled his suitcase behind him. I smiled at how irritable long travel made him.

“It might be cold!” I defended.

“Elio, we’re only there for three weeks.”

I glared at Oliver and nudged his shoulder as we headed towards our gate. “Don’t be snippy.”

As soon as we settled on the plane, I was immediately reminded of my flight to the states a little over a year ago. I bounced my leg anxiously in my seat and bit at the nail of my thumb as I looked out the window as a few men loaded suitcases into the belly of the plane.

“Hey,” Oliver said softly, picking up the armrest between us so that we could press our shoulders together. I looked over at him with wide eyes. “I brought the Benadryl if you want to just pass out.”

I considered it for a moment, but the thought of being groggy and sleepy if the plane were to crash got me feeling even more nervous. I shook my head and glanced back out the window.

“It’s okay,” Oliver said as he spread his legs a bit so that our knees could touch as well. “The flight is gonna be over before you know it and soon we’ll be by the pool with a bottle of wine.”

I nodded and closed my eyes, letting my head roll to the side and onto Oliver’s shoulder. He chuckled and shifted down a little in his seat so that I could more comfortably slump against him. I quickly fell asleep, and when I woke we were already up in the air and halfway through our flight.

“He’ll do the chicken,” I heard Oliver mumble. He shifted and although I could tell he was trying to be gentle, he jostled my head off his shoulder a bit. “I’ll take the lasagna I think.” I sat up and blinked rapidly as the dim light of the airplane came into focus. “Hi, sleepyhead,” Oliver said as he leaned over to pop down my tray table and put down my in-flight meal.

“Thanks.” I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and stretched as best as I could in my seat. Oliver grabbed my wrist to check my watch before I could open my meal.

“Just about four hours left.” I wriggled with anticipation and Oliver and I shared an excited grin.

Once we deplaned and made it through customs, I was immediately on high alert for my parents. We were planning to meet them at the arrivals gate so they could drive us back to the villa.

“Elio!” I spun on my heel at the sound of my name and as soon as I spotted my mom, I broke out into a jog.

“Mamma!” I threw my arms around her and buried my face in her neck, loving how she always smelled the same no matter how long we were apart for.

“Ciao, tesoro,” she cooed with a kiss to my temple. She pulled back only to be enveloped in another tight hug from Oliver. “Our muvi star.” She kissed both of his cheeks and then stepped back to look us over. “Let’s get you two home. Mafalda is cooking up a storm. Come, Papà is waiting in the car.”

The car ride home was full of chatter about all the latest Crema gossip. My parents had arrived a few months before us and as soon as they started talking about all the goings on of town, I was instantly envious of all the time they got to spend in our little slice of Heaven.

“It’s not the same without you both,” my mother said as we turned onto a familiar dirt path. I knew that once we turned around the bend, the villa would come into view. “We’re very glad you’re here.”

Once we got out of the car, my dad immediately wrapped me up in a hug. “We’ve missed you, Elly-Belly.” He pulled back and shook Oliver’s hand before pulling him in for a hug as well. “Come, Mafalda is desperate to see you, Oliver. We’ll leave the bags for later.”

I rolled my eyes and let my father usher Oliver in. My mom draped her arm around me and leaned heavily against her as we followed our partners inside.

Signore Ullivar!” Oliver suddenly had an armful of a blubbering Mafalda who was openly weeping and clutching at him. I was sure I’d never seen so much emotion from her unless she was yelling at me for being out too late with my friends. “Oh, mi sei mancato tanto! Sei sempre stato così alto? Ho preparato tutti i tuoi cibi preferiti per cena, ma mi dici cosa vuoi mangiare mentre sei qui, va bene?”

“Ciao, Mafalda. Mi manchi e sono entusiasta di mangiare di nuovo la tua cucina.” Oliver spoke very slowly, only messing up his much-practiced words just a little. It just made Mafalda cry even harder and me laugh even louder, which earned a light smack to my arm from my dad.

We all sat down to dinner soon after, Anchiese and Mafalda even joining in so that they could hear all about what Oliver and I had been up to. Once it hit 9:30, I was yawning into my wine glass.

“Why don’t you go up to bed?” my mother suggested, reaching out to push my curls out of my eyes. “You look exhausted. Tomorrow we can lay by the pool. Anchiese has been very successful out in the orchards this summer so we’ll have a fruit feast.”

I blushed and giggled, the strong Italian wine making my head spin and my eyes droop.

“Come on, lightweight,” Oliver teased, helping me up. I wound my arm through his and hung on, just like that night we stumbled down the streets of Bergamo together. My dad followed us up to our room with suitcases in hand, chuckling behind us as Oliver dragged me up the stairs. Once we opened the door to my bedroom, I paused, looking at the room with wide eyes.

“We thought you’d sleep better this way,” my dad explained as he gently moved past us to put our bags down. The two beds were pushed together and fitted with a larger sheet to give the illusion of one mattress. The room was otherwise untouched, my posters and the few books I didn’t bring to New York behind still stood where I’d left them. It was much better than the last time my parents had decided to fix my room without consulting me.

“Thank you,” I said as Oliver led me into the room and sat me on the bed.

“Goodnight, Elly-Belly. Get some rest.” My dad kissed the top of my head and then clapped Oliver’s shoulder, the both of them chuckling at my expense.

I sighed happily and flopped back onto the mattress with a deep inhale. Mafalda still used the same lavender detergent. I heard distinct clattering as Oliver went about shutting the bedroom door and opening the windows. A light breeze came in and I hummed, moving so that I could curl up on the middle of the bed.

“Does this make you happy?” Oliver asked as he crawled into bed next to me. We were still in our dirty travel clothes and I knew we should probably shower and brush our teeth, but I couldn’t bring myself to move once Oliver curled up with his back pressed against my chest.

“Very much so,” I replied as I wrapped my arms around his torso and pushed my face into the back of his neck. We were both exhausted, the sounds of cicadas and the fountain running outside lulling us to sleep.

My mother made good on her promise, and the next morning after a late breakfast of soft boiled eggs, the four of us set up camp out by the pool. My parents took their usual lounge chairs as Oliver and I sat on the ledge with our feet in the pool, each reading our books. Once I got too warm, I tossed my book aside and slid into the cool water. I dipped under, and upon emerging, my mother was also wading in. I paddled over to her and we relaxed against the wall together.

“How is Daniel doing?” she asked softly after taking a sip of apricot juice. I immediately blanched and had to swallow twice before answering. I felt guilty for not having told them when he died, but I wanted to tell them in person.

“He uh...He passed away.” I hated the euphemism, but I wasn’t sure how to not sound crude.

“Bambino,” my mother cooed, running her hand through my curls. I grabbed my sunglasses off the ledge and shoved them onto my face so that I could hide the way I had to blink back my tears.

“He wanted his ashes scattered. Oliver and I -” I choked and turned my head away so I didn’t have to look at my mother or at Oliver, who was glancing at us over his book. “We brought them. We’re going to do it somewhere here.” I paused and nodded. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“It’s okay, tesoro. I’m sorry you didn’t get more time with him, Elio.” She kissed my temple and didn’t say anything else, for which I was grateful.

“Marzia and Chiara arrive tomorrow,” my father informed us later over lunch. We ate in the kitchen in order to escape the unrelenting summer sun.

“Really?” I asked, immediately perking up. I hadn’t heard from Marzia in a few weeks and she never got around to telling me when she was coming to Crema.

Oliver chuckled and snagged the bowl of pomegranate seeds from my hands so that he could take them back outside. “We only have 24 hours until they descend,” he called over his shoulder. “Come back to the pool.” I grabbed a bowl of fruit that Mafalda had prepared for us and followed Oliver outside. My parents stayed in the house and I was happy to get some time alone with Oliver. We waded back into the pool and leaned against the ledge with our bowls of fruit.

“Hi,” I said, pressing up against his side.

“Hello.” We traded fruit sticky kisses, the warm sun and the sound of the fountain lulling me into a daze. I pulled back, eyes closed against the blinding sun.

“Open.” Oliver pressed something cool and slippery against my lips. I parted them and took the fruit into my mouth, smiling around my bite at the taste of a perfectly ripe peach.

“Stronzo,” I accused fondly, squeezing Oliver’s side under the water. He hummed and pressed the peach slice to my lips again. When I bit in, a bit of juice trailed down my chin and Oliver chased it away with his tongue. He dipped his other hand below the surface of the water to press against my rapidly hardening dick.

"Peaches still do it for you, huh?”

“Oliver, don’t tease.” I tipped my head back as he moved to stand in front of me, effectively trapping me against the edge of the pool.

“I’m not planning on teasing, baby.” He pushed my trunks down my hips just enough to get his hand under the elastic band and around my cock.

“Ol-Oliver!” I gripped at his shoulders and tilted my head back. He leaned in and lapped at the water droplets on my neck. “My parents!”

“Shh. They’re inside.” He moved his fist fast over my cock, and I was soon reduced to a shaking mess.

“God, I’m gonna...I can’t come in the pool, Oliver.”

His hand was off my cock in a flash and I whined at the loss. He grasped my hips and hoisted me up so that I was sitting on the ledge of the pool with Oliver between my legs. I yelped and tried to cover myself with my hands, but Oliver sank his lips down around my cock before I could. I was coming in an instant, my fingers weaving into Oliver’s hair as I held him there against my crotch, feeding him every last drop of my come, marking him from the inside.

After our poolside tryst, Oliver and I fell asleep out in the garden until dinner. We indulged again in strong wine and good food and retired to the living room.

“Play for us, Elly,” my father insisted. I pouted, about to remark on how I wanted to sit and have a digestif with the rest of them. My father gave me a pointed look and I spun dramatically to face the piano. I hadn’t played in so long, and I actually found that I was itching to sit down again, especially at the piano I had grown up playing.

I decided on “The Lark”, a section from Mikhail Glinka’s A Farewell to St. Petersburg. It was my favorite song from the opera, and I had been transcribing the music before we’d left for Crema. The piece was only about six minutes, but I adored the colorful arpeggios which reminded me of sunny afternoons in the park with Oliver.

Once I finished, I received a lively round of applause and I took a small bow before I curled up on the couch with Oliver. He passed me his glass of chilled limoncello and I dutifully took a sip. I missed evenings like this with my parents: a light breeze coming through the open windows, digestifs after playing my latest transcription, idle chatter about books or art. It was exactly how I wanted to live the rest of my life, and I could easily imagine myself and Oliver doing the exact same at my parents’ age.

We finally headed up to the bedroom close to midnight. After quickly brushing our teeth and shedding our clothes, Oliver and I climbed into bed, giggling like idiots.

“I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you last night,” I murmured as we slid under the crisp sheets.

“Pretty sure I was the one who fell asleep first.” Oliver pulled me in close, kissing over my eyes first and then over my cheeks and nose and finally my lips.

“Well, we’re awake now.”

“We are.” I let Oliver kiss me then, completely surrendering as he held my head in his hands.

“Lube,” I gasped as he pulled back. “Please. Need you.”

Oliver rolled out of bed and I kicked off the sheets as he fumbled around in his suitcase. He came back moments later, fingers already slicked up as he pushed his hand between my spread legs.

“Do you have any idea what you do to me?” Oliver asked as he pressed the first finger in. I hissed and shook my head. “Fuck, baby. Something about being back here.” He pushed in his middle finger alongside the first and I whined at the intrusion.

“I know,” I gasped as he brushed his fingers against my prostate. My cock twitched against my stomach and there was soon a puddle of precome on my skin. “God, Oliver, fuck. Missed our bed.”

Our bed. Our first bed. Our first time. Ours ours mine mine mine ours.

Once Oliver was satisfied with his preparation, he pulled back and slicked up his cock. I expected him to resituate himself between my legs, but he instead rolled onto his side next to me.

“C’mere.” He tugged at my hip and helped me onto my side as well so that my back was pressed against his chest. I bent my top leg as Oliver pulled me closer and I groaned when I felt his cock nudge against my hole.

“Elio,” I sighed as he finally pressed in.

“Oliver...Oliver Oliver.” He breathed his own name right against my ear and I tipped my head back in order to get closer.

Oliver’s grip on my hip tightened as he thrust his hips forward and bottomed out. He didn’t continue to thrust though, just rolled his hips, buried deep inside me. After a few moments, his hand left my hip and he instead wrapped his fingers around my cock. The wine from dinner and the digestif had me feeling dizzy with desire for my Oliver. I moaned, probably too loud in the otherwise quiet house, but couldn’t bring myself to care.

“Love you,” I managed to choke out as Oliver rolled his hips forward again. I cried out as he twisted his wrist on the upstroke.

“Ask your parents to leave while we’re here,” Oliver murmured against my ear. “I wanted to fuck you against your piano tonight. I want to sit on the bench and have you ride me while you play.”

“Fuck...I love you, I love you.” I was cut off from saying anything else, as I came seconds later. Just a few more thrusts and Oliver was coming too, filling me and marking me and claiming me. He tried to pull out but I whimpered and clenched down around his cock.

“Do you think Mafalda will still look for signs?” he rumbled against my ear as he wiped his dirty hand against the sheets. I chuckled and closed my eyes, snuggling back into Oliver. I loved having him in of me after we were both sated and sleepy, holding all of his come inside me.

“Don’t care if she does.”

Oliver chuckled and kissed over my neck and jaw before settling back down. We fell asleep like that, tangled in each other's arms, with Oliver still inside me.

I awoke first the next morning, far earlier than I had meant to. It was nearing seven when I finally slipped out of bed and headed downstairs after getting dressed. I raided the fridge for a pre-breakfast breakfast of melon and prosciutto. After my snack, I aimlessly wandered around the lower floor of the house, shuffling my feet and tilting my head back to look up at the ceiling. After a while, I checked my watch and was happy to find it was 7:30. I bounced over to the piano and started playing Liszt’s Transcendental Études, truly banging out the first few notes. I grinned wickedly when I heard a door slam and the flush of a toilet upstairs.

My parents were the first to descend, looking sleepy but happy as they started in on making coffee. Oliver followed a while later and he tried to drag me away from the piano, but by that time, I was heavily involved in the song. I played the full piece, finally standing up and cracking my back at just past 8:30. I padded outside to find Oliver out in the grass with a book. As I walked by, I plucked up the transistor radio by his side and started fiddling with the dials.

“Hey, where do you think you’re going with that?”

“Not listening to me play, eh?” I teased, turning to look at him over my shoulder as I headed towards the pool.

“It was off and you know it was!” I just laughed and continued to play with it until I found a pop station. I set down the radio by the pool and dropped a kiss to the top of my mother’s head before taking off my shirt.

“When will the girls be here?” I slid into the pool and sighed happily as I submerged myself in the cool water.

“Dinner time. Mafalda is making eggplant just how you like.” I subconsciously licked my lips at the thought of Mafalda’s perfectly baked eggplant dish and my stomach growled. I pouted, having just realized I forgot about my second breakfast and it didn’t look like Oliver or my mother were getting up any time soon.

I swam a few laps before leaning against the wall by the fountain and closing my eyes, just listening to the pop music come through over the staticky radio. The station mostly played songs that had been popular in the states for a few months, but I enjoyed listening to Italy’s summer’s chart toppers. An indeterminable time later, I was splashed in the face as Oliver jumped into the pool.

“Lunch is in twenty,” he said as he emerged. I grimaced and dramatically wiped the water from my forehead as Oliver shook his now soaked hair out of his eyes. I’d lost track of time dozing under the sun and when I looked up, I found my mother had abandoned her perch, but the radio was still on the same station. A song I was unfamiliar with was playing and I furrowed my brows.

“Is that Elton?” I asked, pushing off the side of the pool to get closer to the radio and turn up the volume. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head at the falsetto. “No…”

“It is, actually.” Oliver swam up to my side and kissed my cheek. “Elton and George Michael. This song came out months ago."

“George Michael,” I repeated, squinting at Oliver as if he’d morph into the man himself. I’d heard the name before and I was sure I had heard some of his songs, but nothing was coming to mind. Oliver just laughed and kissed my forehead.

After lunch, Oliver claimed he needed to run an errand in town.

“I’ll come too!” I said, pushing my chair away from the table and standing. But Oliver insisted he go alone and I pouted as he went to grab his bike.

“You can help me get the house ready for our guests,” my mother cajoled, wrapping an arm around me and leading me inside. I ended up helping Mafalda in the kitchen, requesting that she show me how to make her eggplant dish so that I could recreate it for Oliver.

Oliver didn’t come back until thirty minutes before Marzia and Chiara were due to arrive. I’d been standing out on the balcony, watching the driveway with eagle eyes, awaiting his return. When he came into our room, I spun to face him with my arms crossed over my chest.

“What took you so long?” I asked immediately, stalking towards Oliver. He frowned, obviously taken aback by my bad mood.

“I told you,” he said, fumbling with a bag behind his back. “I had to go into town for something.”

“What?” I asked, not meaning it to come out as sharp as it did. “And why couldn’t I come with you?” I knew I was acting like a petulant child, but I couldn’t help it. Not after having been reminded of all the days that summer when Oliver would take his bike disappear until late at night. “Were you gambling?”

“No, Elio. No. I wanted to get something for you.” He shrugged and held out the bag. “I wanted to wait and give it to you when we got back home, but I figure I should just give it to you now.”

I eyed him warily before snatching the bag out of his hand and plopping down on the bed. Inside were both of Wham!’s albums: Make It Big and Fantastic .

“Oh…” I ran my finger over George Michael’s face, first on Fantastic and then over his bleachy hair on Make It Big . I bit my lip and looked up at Oliver, immediately ashamed for having thought the worst. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Oliver leaned forward and kissed me before I could look back down at the albums. I was eager to play them, but I knew it had to wait as the girls were arriving soon and I wanted to savor them, but I didn’t mind having a few minutes to study George Michael’s face. He was pretty handsome.

Before I could say or do anything else, my father called us down. I heard a car door slam and immediately bolted down the stairs.

“Elio!” I soon had my arms full of Marzia, her curly hair in my face and made even bushier due to the heat.

“I missed you,” I whispered as I wrapped my arms around her trim waist and picked her up. I spun her around before letting go and she squealed.

“Oh,” she breathed as I set her down and stepped back. She gave me a once over and I blushed. “New York looks good on you.”

Luckily, Marzia had already told Chiara about mine and Oliver’s relationship, so we were saved from having that awkward conversation. Dinner was a lively event, with far too much wine to go around.

“So you’ll come out with us?” Marzia asked for the hundredth time as we said goodbye. She and Chiara were expected at her parents’ house before dawn. But we’d made plans to see each other quite a bit during our three-week stay.

Yes , yes. Of course. We’re free any night.” I kissed both her cheeks, and then Chiara’s, and Oliver followed suit.

“Man,” he said, mock disappointed, as I closed the door, “I totally thought she was going to throw herself all over me.” I knew he was teasing but I rolled my eyes.

“Don’t be vulgar, Oliver,” I warned with a gentle shove to his side.

Our days were filled with much of the same: lounging by the pool, riding our bikes into town, eating copious amounts of fruit, reading, playing the piano, taking pictures, catching up with Marzia and some of my other friends. The villa was like a central hub of activity, friends and relatives coming in and out each day. Most nights, Oliver and I headed up to our bedroom after a glass of limoncello with my parents. We did, of course, have to make good on our promise to Marzia and Chiara to go out to a club, and they were finally able to drag us out a week and a half after our arrival.

We decided to drink at the villa beforehand and by the time we got into the cab, I was pleasantly buzzed. I leaned against Oliver, Marzia on my other side, but I paid her no attention as I leaned in to nibble along Oliver’s jaw. Marzia just rolled her eyes and leaned over me to start talking to Chiara in French.

We arrived at a club I’d never been to, but Marzia assured me it was by far the best one in a two hundred mile radius. As soon as we walked through the doors, there was a cry of, “Marzia, qui!” and Marzia scuttled off to a table with four boys about my age.

“Ciao, Alessandro!” She gave this mystery man a rather long kiss and I looked up at Oliver with a grin as I waggled my brows. “Alessandro, this is Elio,” I smiled and shook his hand, “and Oliver.” Oliver did the same. “This is Alessandro.”

“Boyfriend?” I asked her, and I was happy to see Alessandro blush.

“Oui.”

“How come you didn’t tell me?” I asked, mock scandalized as I held a hand over my heart.

“It was too much to put into a letter!” she claimed, and I was glad that we had the advantage of French.

“Drinks?” Alessandro asked, able to tell from our exchange that he needed to intervene before it could escalate.

“I like him already.”

Alessandro brought along his friends Riccardo, Davide, and Giuseppe. They all lived just one town over from Crema. As soon as we had a few drinks, we all hit the dance floor, and I was suddenly upset that we hadn't met the other boys a few summers back. They were fun, much more fun than some of the other friends I had in town.

As much as I loved dancing with Marzia, Chiara, Oliver, and our new friends, I ached for the gay clubs back home. I frowned when Marzia and Alessandra started dancing, and then Chiara and Davide. I wished I could do the same with Oliver, and if the way he fucked me that night was anything to go by, so did he.

We planned our trip to Genoa for the Thursday-Monday before we left to go back to the States, which left us a week in Crema afterward. It was only a two-hour drive, so my parents graciously lent us the car.

“Be careful, stay safe,” my mom murmured against my ear as she hugged me goodbye.

“We’ll be back before you know it,” I promised with a kiss to her cheek.

I was giddy and restless for the entire drive, squirming in the passenger seat the whole time. We booked a room in a house right on the water, just a few minute’s walk to the beach. I already made a list of everything I wanted to see and do during our trip. We mostly planned on visiting the numerous palazzos and museums, but we also decided to spend a day at Aqua Club, a gay sauna, on Saturday.

As soon as we got to our lodgings in mid-afternoon on Thursday, I immediately kicked off my shoes and started rifling through my suitcase.

“Where are you rushing off to?” Oliver asked, clearly amused.

“The beach!”

“I was hoping we could get familiar with the room before we go out.”

“There’s plenty of time for that later. C’mon, it’s gorgeous outside.”

Oliver acquiesced and we were soon spread out on two towels on the crowded beach. I hummed and settled on my back in the sand, tilting my head up to the warmth of the sun. I loved the sounds of music, children playing in the water, adults laughing and opening bottles of chilled wines.

“I love this, Oliver,” I sighed, turning my head to look at him. He was lounging back on his elbows, legs crossed, with a smile on his face as he watched a group of kids play fighting in the water. He was in his red trunks, the very ones I had put over my head two summers before.

“Can we go to your special spot when we get back to Crema?” I laughed and turned my head back up towards the sun. I closed my eyes and hummed.

“Only if you fuck me in the grass,” I requested, shivering a little at the thought of Oliver fucking me where we had our first kiss.

Our first two days in Genoa were like a blur of paradise: hours spent on the beach, roaming around palazzos in the afternoon, dinner at outdoor cafes, dirty sex on the balcony of our room, overlooking the ocean.

On Saturday, I awoke with Oliver draped over me. He’d decided to take off from his morning runs during our little weekend trip, and I was so glad to wake up with him in my arms. I squeezed him tight and smiled, excited for the day ahead. Aqua Club was the only gay sauna in Genoa and probably the only one in Italy for a few hundred miles. It was closer to the outskirts of town and it was a bit of a walk, but my stomach flipped with giddy anticipation. They had Turkish baths, saunas, steam rooms, a restaurant, and even a bar that turned into a club in the evening. I had heard about saunas from one of Daniel’s friends, who had visited all of the popular ones out in San Francisco.

“Stop moving,” Oliver groaned, trying to hide his face in my neck. I laughed and pinched his arm where it was draped over my chest. We’d had quite a bit of wine at the restaurant the night before and I knew Oliver was paying dearly for it. I, on the other hand, felt totally fine.

“Come on. The sauna opens at 10 and it’s already 9:30.”

“Babe, it’s like...ten minutes away.”

“Yeah, I know ,” I punctuated my words with another pinch, “but by the time you actually get out of bed, it’s going to be 10:30.”

I let Oliver sleep for another ten minutes before I slipped out of bed, taking the blankets with me. Oliver whined and curled in on himself, but I have his ass a light slap on my way to the bathroom. “Let’s go, pigro.”

“Not lazy!” Oliver defended from the bed. I rose my brows as I brushed my teeth, impressed with his Italian comprehension. “Just hungover.” I let him sleep while I got dressed and packed up my knapsack for the day. I finally got him out of bed once he caught sight of me in my new swim trunks, which were just as short and tight as his were on him.

“When did you get those?” he asked as we made our way down the cobblestone streets.

“Marzia helped me pick them out that day we went into town for lunch,” I said around a bite of a plum.

We arrived at the sauna exactly at 10, and I slipped my fingers between Oliver’s as we made our way inside. We purchased day passes and rented lockers for our belongings. I stuck close to Oliver as we headed back to the locker room. The club had just opened and was already packed with patrons. We shed our shoes and shirts and secured our backpacks before heading towards the Turkish bath.

We sat close to one another on the marble bench, and I breathed deeply as I began to relax. The dry heat of the first room made me sweaty and nearly delirious, and once we were ushered into the second, hotter room, I had to hang onto Oliver.

“You okay?” he asked as he helped me sit on the bench in the second room. I just smiled dopily and hummed, leaning heavily against him. He chuckled and kissed the top of my head. After the second room, we were brought into a large room with a huge pool of cold water. We joined the other men, some of whom were alone and others who were either chatting or coupled up. As we waded into the pool, I immediately clung to Oliver. He laughed and let me cling to his front like a koala.

After, we spent the morning moving from the sauna to the steam room and back again. We broke for a light lunch at the bar around one before going back to the spa. We decided to check out the Roman style bath, which ended up just being a large room with a pool of steaming water. We waded in and sat on a stone bench submerged under the water. I snuggled up against Oliver and he wrapped his arms around me. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I noticed quite a few men coupled up either in the water or along the edge. I didn’t really pay it any mind until I saw two men who definitely did not know each other start sucking each other off.

“Oh,” I breathed, realizing that most of the men were probably there to meet anonymous hookups. I pressed closer to Oliver and he tightened his arm around me.

“You okay?” he asked, looking down at me as I pushed my face into his shoulder. I nodded, but all I could think about was the anonymity of AIDS.

“Can we go back to the sauna?” I pleaded, not recalling having seen much-debased behavior there.

Oliver immediately got out of the water and helped me up with him. We went back to the sauna, and I had to avert my eyes as we entered to find a large group of older men who were completely naked. I heard Oliver giggle and I had to bite my lower lip to stop myself from doing the same. He settled into a corner of the room and I was about to do the same, but Oliver quickly pulled me onto his lap. I hummed and rested my head against his collarbone.

“You sure you’re okay? We can leave.” It was only 5, and we had plans to stay for dinner and go to the club when it opened at 7.

“No, I’m fine. Just...can you kiss me?” I wasn’t sure if Oliver would be averse to kissing me under the prying eyes of our fellow sauna-goers, but he dipped his head to capture my lips with his own. We sat there for a while, just trading slow kisses and letting our hands wander over warm skin.

“Shower?” Oliver finally asked, glancing up at the clock mounted to the wall. It was quarter to 6. I nodded and clambered off of Oliver’s lap to head for the exit.

“Dove stai andando?”

I turned my head at the man’s voice, expecting to see someone I knew. Who else would be concerned with where Oliver and I were headed? I furrowed my brows when I was met with a man in his forties, lounging back on the bench, completely naked and half hard. I blushed, realizing he must have been watching me and Oliver kiss.

“Non sono affari tuoi,” I answered, taking Oliver’s hand in mine and tugging him towards the door.

“Sei bello. Perché non rimani e mostrami come ti piace succhiare il tuo ragazzo?”

“Partivano. Ciao.” With that, I tugged Oliver out and towards the locker room. He didn’t ask about it until we were in the shower together.

“What was that about?”

“He wanted us to stay,” I said, still pouting. Oliver frowned and shook his head.

“That wasn’t all he said.”

“He wanted to watch me suck you off.” Before I knew it, Oliver had me shoved up against the tile wall and he kissed me hard.

“You’re mine,” he promised as he nipped along my neck. “Only mine.” He kissed me again before stepping back, both of us breathing hard. We were quiet for a second before we both started to laugh.

“I wasn’t expecting everyone to be so...horny,” I said as I shampooed my curls.

“When it comes to you, I understand,” Oliver teased. “Who can resist?”

We dressed and headed to the restaurant for a light dinner of various meats, cheeses, and crudo. Just as soon as we finished, it was about 7, and the other patrons in the restaurant all headed out towards the bar. I glanced over at Oliver and wiggled my brows. He laughed and took my hand as we followed the crowd.

The dance floor was already packed, men of all ages jumping and grinding and having a good time. Oliver led me over to the bar before we hit the dance floor so we could grab a drink or two. Soon enough, after two cocktails and a tequila shot, I was pleasantly buzzed and I tugged Oliver towards the dancefloor.

“Wanted to dance with you so bad when we were out with Marzia,” I said over the music as I dragged him to the center of the mob. The DJ played mostly Italian songs mixed with some UK and American pop hits from a few years back. Soon enough, we were both covered in sweat and Oliver had to unbutton his shirt halfway.

The first few notes of Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf rang out and I wrapped my arms around Oliver’s neck. He caught on quickly and his large hands settled over my tiny, narrow hips. He pulled me in, lining us up perfectly as we began to grind and sway to the music. I ran my hands through Oliver’s hair before letting my fingers come to play with his Star, nestled in his thick chest hair. I was completely wrapped up in Oliver, looking up at him and only him, completely ignoring everyone around us, encased in our little bubble. Oliver pulled me tighter against him and ground his hips harder and slower against mine. I groaned and tilted my head back and Oliver’s lips soon found my exposed neck. I was sure that anyone who looked at us could tell that we were completely head over heels for one another. He lapped at the chain of my Star before sucking the pendant into his mouth.

“Wanna go home,” I said two hours later. We were still wrapped up in one another, oblivious to those around us as Oliver ground his half hard cock against mine to the pulsing beats. “Want you.”

Oliver must have agreed because he grabbed my wrist and tugged me out of the room towards the lockers. We grabbed our stuff and headed back to our place, stumbling down the sidewalk and having to pause every few minutes to make out against stone walls.

We spent our last day in Genoa lounging on the beach. After a quick breakfast in bed of pastries and fruit, as well as a quick fuck, we were out on the beach to enjoy our last day in paradise before heading back to Heaven.

“Thanks for planning all of this,” Oliver said as we sunbathed.

“We should take more trips.” I turned my head to glance over at him. “I’d like to see more of the States.”

We cooled off in the ocean for a bit before heading back to our place to shower and get ready for dinner. We took it easy that night, considering we were driving back to Crema early the next morning. We ate at a casual cafe and shared a bottle of red. As soon as we got back to our room, I practically jumped Oliver.

“I like being on vacation with you,” I purred as I began pulling off Oliver’s clothes. “It’s...liberating.”

“I think about our trip to Bergamo often,” Oliver said as he pulled my shirt over my head. “How I could finally have you to myself, without abandon.”

“Fuck…” He dragged his lips down my neck to my chest and lapped over my nipple then kissed his way over to the other. “Bed.” As soon as Oliver stripped us both of our pants, he steered me to the bed and then straddled my hips. He reached over for the lube but I caught his wrist and shook my head. “Want you like this. Want you to come on me.”

“Shit...yeah. Yeah, baby, fuck.” Oliver settled with his ass on my stomach. I grinned up at him as he took himself in hand and started stroking. “God, you’re gorgeous.”

“I know,” I shot back with a wink. I ran my hands up and down his strong thighs, loving the way the thick hair felt under my fingers. My cock twitched and I bucked up a little, desperate for contact. Oliver could tell, so he shifted his hips back a little so that I could slide my cock up between his cheeks. I cried out and arched my back as I pushed my hips up again.

“That feel good?” Oliver asked. I nodded as I picked up a steady rhythm. I clutched at Oliver’s thighs as I thrust my hips up, loving the way his skin was warm to the touch from our days spent out in the sun.

“God...I’m already so close,” I admitted, cheeks flushing bright pink. Oliver always got me so close so fast, and I sometimes wished I could last longer.

“Gonna edge you one day, baby,” Oliver practically growled. I whimpered and my steady thrusts faltered as my cock pulsed between Oliver’s cheeks. I broke eye contact with him to instead watch his hand move over his own cock. “See how long you can last before I finally let you come. Maybe I’ll keep you on edge all day, never let you get out of bed.”

I cried out Oliver’s name and my own name like a prayer as I came, spurting over the cleft of Oliver’s ass and even onto his lower back. Oliver followed soon after, his entire body shaking as he marked my tummy with his come. I was about to run my finger through it, but Oliver leaned down at lapped up a stripe, winking at me before crawling up my body and capturing my lips. I let him kiss me for a bit until our come was starting to cool and become tacky on our skin.

“Towel,” I requested, gently shoving at Oliver’s shoulder. After cleaning up, Oliver and I snuggled up in bed, the windows wide open. I loved hearing the ocean at night, and I let it, as well as Oliver’s steady breathing, lull me to sleep.

I stirred in my sleep a few hours later and rolled over to find Oliver’s chest again. Instead, I found an empty bed. I sat up, brows furrowed when I heard soft snuffling from the bathroom.

“Oliver?” My voice was thick with sleep and I cleared my throat as I stood and shuffled into the bathroom. Oliver was sat on the floor, curled up with his knees to his chest and his head hung low. His shoulders were shaking and I could hear him sniffling. “Are you okay?” I asked, immediately rushing to his side. I assumed he wasn’t feeling well; perhaps the wine or food from dinner was disagreeing with him.

“I shouldn’t -” He stopped and let out a sob. He lifted his head and I gasped; I had never seen Oliver like this. It was obvious he had been crying for a while as his eyes were wet and puffy, his lashes clumping together, and his nose was red and runny.

“Oh Oliver,” I cooed, wiping at the tears on his cheeks. My chest tightened as he rested his head in my hands. “What’s going on? C’mon, talk to me.”

“Shouldn’t have left you.” Oliver’s voice was hoarse and he choked over his words as a fresh wave of tears hit. I furrowed my brows and shook my head as I pushed his hair off his forehead.

“You didn’t, baby. You’re right here.”

“The first time,” he clarified through shaky gasps for air. “Shouldn’t have left you like that.” I then realized the end of our trip to Genoa must have dredged up buried feelings from our last night in Bergamo. My heart broke for Oliver and I leaned in to kiss the tears from his cheeks as he’d done for me many times. “ ‘m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said quickly. I didn’t want Oliver feeling guilty or angry with himself for leaving. “Shh, it’s okay. You don’t have to apologize.”

“Can I hold you?” Oliver asked through a hiccup. I smiled and lifted his arm so that I could snuggle into his embrace. He held me tight against his chest and I curled into him as best I could.

“I’m not angry at you for leaving,” I said after a few minutes. “You know that, right?” Oliver nodded and began rubbing his hand over my shoulder. “We’re together now. It all worked out. The past is the past; we’ve moved on from that.” Oliver kissed the top of my head and I smiled.

“God, you were so perfect that night,” Oliver mumbled against my curls. “I didn’t sleep at all after. I just watched you sleep. The entire night, until you woke up.”

“Until I woke up,” I repeated, tilting my head and looking up at Oliver with a small smile. “Until I woke up and you fucked me all slow and gentle as if I would break.”

Oliver huffed a laugh and kissed the tip of my nose. “I was actually more afraid that I would break or self-combust. Wanted to savor every last second with you.”

“I love you,” I said suddenly, words rushed a little. But the feeling was so overwhelming, so all-encompassing that I felt dizzy with it.

I love you, I love you, I love you, my sweet Oliver.

“Ti amo, I love you, je t’aime, I love you.”

“I love you too, Elio. Very much.” He kissed me quickly and I tucked my head back under his chin. We stayed on the floor for a bit, just wrapped up in one another. We finally migrated back to the bed once the sun started to tinge the sky pink. We slept for a few hours before hitting the road, leaving the ocean in our rearview mirror. Thankfully, I’d devoted an entire roll of film to our trip to Genoa, and I was excited to see all the pictures I took of Oliver on the beach.

We got back to Crema in the early afternoon and my parents had a large lunch all ready for us. They were excited to hear all about our trip, and we eagerly told them all about the palazzos and the beach.

“You look well,” my mother said later as I helped her bring our empty plates into the kitchen. “Very rested.”

That night, after Oliver fucked me on our balcony, we lay in bed and traded a joint that Marzia had supplied.

“I think I know where I want to scatter Daniel’s ashes,” I said after an exhale. I passed the joint back to Oliver and he rolled his head over on his pillow to look at me with raised brows, waiting for me to continue. “Remember when we went to Sirmione? For that statue, the one they found in Lake Garda?”

Oliver hummed around his inhale and nodded.

“Yeah...I think I want to rent a boat and do it out in the lake.”

“I think he’d really like that,” Oliver said. I plucked the joint from his fingers and took a puff before extinguishing it in the ashtray on the table next to the bed.

“Wednesday?”

“Wednesday.”

The next day was only Tuesday, so we had an entire day before our drive out to Sirmione, and after breakfast, Oliver suggested we go on a bike ride. I packed a light lunch for us, as well as a few other necessities, and we hopped on our bikes. Without saying a word, we both headed down the path towards my special spot. I grinned over at him before he started pedaling faster, overpowering yet challenging me at the same time.

Once we arrived at the spring, we threw our bikes and knapsacks to the ground. We were laughing as we both tore off our shirts and kicked off our shoes before chasing one another into the freezing water. We play wrestled a bit, splashing and chasing each other until I finally jumped onto Oliver’s back and he stumbled into the water. I slid down his back and moved so that I could drape myself over his front instead. I took in a deep breath. I hadn’t been back to my special spot in two years . It seemed like an eternity.

“I’ve missed this,” I murmured as I let go of Oliver to instead float on my back. Oliver watched me for a moment before joining me.

“Me too.”

“I’m sorry I took you away from here,” Oliver said, suddenly standing up. I fluttered my eyes open and looked up at him. He had his head tilted back to the sky and I kicked out my foot to splash him.

“You didn’t,” I insisted. “I wanted to come to New York. There isn’t anywhere I’d rather be.”

“Then I’m sorry we didn’t come back sooner.”

I stood as well and wrapped my arms around Oliver’s neck, forcing him to look down at me. When he tipped his head down and wrapped his arms around my waist, I smiled and pressed a little closer and Oliver smiled before dipping me back. I squealed and clutched at his shoulders. He kissed me then, slow and deep which made my stomach swoop.

“Want you,” I pleaded after he pulled back. “I want you where we kissed.”

Oliver kissed me again before grabbing my wrist and practically dragging me out of the water. I laughed and stumbled after him to where our things were strewn in the grasp. He snatched up his backpack, rifling through it for the lube. I made my way over to the little patch of grass, the location that had been so ingrained in my mind for the past two years, and shed my shorts on the way.

“I wanted you so bad,” Oliver said as he came up behind me. He palmed my ass and then brought me down with him as he sat down in the grass. He was naked as well and I settled myself over his hips. I looped my arms around his neck and groaned when he brought two already lubed fingers between my legs.

“Elio,” I breathed, head tilted back as Oliver sunk both fingers into me in one go. Once I was fully seated on his fingers, I began to rock my hips, garnering my own pleasure from his body.

“Oliver. Oliver, Oliver, fuck. You’re always so tight.”

“Now. Please. Need you inside me.” Oliver scissored his fingers a few times before pulling them free and lubing up his cock. The stretch was slightly painful, but I didn’t care; it was exactly what I needed.

We were so close, Oliver sitting up and holding me on his lap as I ground my hips, my own cock dragging against his stomach as I moved. I squeezed my eyes shut as I let the feeling of Oliver rolling his hips up completely overtake me. I could almost imagine that we were two years younger and Oliver hadn’t retreated after our first kiss.

“Oh god,” I whined squeezing my eyes shut tight at the thought. “Oh god, I want you, Oliver. Want you to show me everything.” He laughed and ran his hands over my thighs. “Teach me, Oliver. Show me how to make you feel good.”

“You do,” he insisted, gripping my hips tight. “You do, baby. Can you touch yourself for me, Elio?”

I nodded and brought my hand down to my cock. I forewent any teasing, just immediately started jacking myself off fast and hard. “Like that?”

“Just like that.” I tipped my head forward again and opened my eyes to find Oliver staring down at my cock. I groaned and pressed my forehead hard against his. He got the picture and tilted his head up, kissing me just as my orgasm hit. I knew I was making noises or saying something, but I couldn’t get my mind and my ears and my lips on the same page. Everything was a haze of Oliver’s sweet words murmured against my ear as he thrust up into me and finally came. We rested there for a few minutes, until Oliver went soft inside me, and then rinsed off in the spring before laying out to dry off in the sun and pick at our lunch. I couldn’t stop smiling and I felt as if all of my childhood dreams had come true after our fuck on Monet’s berm.

The next day, we decided to head out to Sirmione right after breakfast.

“Drive safe,” my father said as my mom kissed us both goodbye.

“We’ll be home soon,” I promised, sunglasses fit snugly over my face as I climbed into the passenger seat, clutching the urn with Daniel’s ashes.

“Take your time, tesoro,” my mother said as she ruffled Oliver’s hair before he got into the car and started the engine.

He and I were silent for the hour car ride. I stared out the window, watching the scenery change from rolling hillsides to small beach towns as we got closer to the lake. My father had made arrangements with his friends there for us to use their small motorboat for the day. We parked the car in the municipal lot and Oliver took my hand as we made our way down to the beach.

“Oliver,” I said warily, trying to tug my fingers out of his grip, but he wouldn’t relent, “maybe we shouldn’t. Not here.” Not everyone in Italy was as tolerant as my parents.

“Elio,” he admonished, “let me.” I did, and he held my hand the entire way to the boat. I stood off to the side, watching as Oliver untied it from the dock and carefully climbed in. After helping me onto the small boat, he started the motor and I wondered where he’d learned how to do that. I briefly imagined an eleven-year-old Oliver dressed in pink shorts and Top-Siders taking sailing lessons.

Once Oliver got the motor started, he plopped down next to the rudder and gave me a small smile as we navigated out towards the center of the lake. Once we were out relatively far, he cut the engine and let us idle for a few moments. I looked around, squinting against the sun at the dots of buildings along the shoreline.

“Here?” he asked. I nodded and returned my gaze to Oliver. Without having to ask, he carefully moved so that he was sitting next to me. “Do you want to save some of them?” he asked as I unscrewed the lid of the urn. I looked inside once the lid was off, my stomach churning at the grey ash. I nodded and looked over at Oliver. “Go on, baby.”

I turned so that my back was to Oliver and he wrapped his arms around my waist, holding me tight. I immediately relaxed in his hold as I reached out and tipped the urn. The water was cerulean and clear and I could see where Daniel’s ashes sunk beneath the surface. I tipped the urn back up before all of them could spill out into the sea and I quickly screwed the lid back on.

“Oliver…” My voice was shaky and I wished I could hide my devastation.

“I’m here, Elio.”

“Can we go home?” We had originally planned to spend the day in Sirmione, but I just wanted to be back at the villa.

Without another word, Oliver went back to the motor and brought us back to shore. He docked the boat and took my hand again as we made our way back to the car. Once home, I set the urn on the table in the entryway and immediately went up to my bedroom.

“Elio!” Oliver called, following me up the stairs and putting his hand on my shoulder. I shrugged it off and shut my eyes tight.

“Can I be alone for a little?”

“Of - Yeah, of course you can.”

I left Oliver standing on the stairs and headed up to our room. I kicked off my shoes and immediately curled up on my bed under the sheets. I didn’t realize how drained I would feel after scattering Daniel’s ashes. I hated watching them sink into the water, and as soon as they’d left the urn, I wanted them all back. I wanted to keep them forever despite his last wishes.

Some time later, there was a light knock on the door. I grunted and expected Oliver, but it was instead my father who perched on the edge of my bed.

“Hey, Elly-Belly,” he whispered as he pushed my hair off of my forehead. I took a shaky breath and moved so that I could put my head on his lap and wrap my arms around him, my face pressed into his soft belly. He sighed and combed his fingers through my hair.

“When your heart breaks, you should die,” I said through my tears. “But there’s the rest of you, your whole body, which is amazingly stupid. My body doesn’t get it. I just want him. Want him back.”

“We must face loss with grace,” my father consoled. “Remember what I told you?”

“If there is pain, nurse it,” I answered, unable to ignore the ache in my chest.

“We are split with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly. God reaches in and grabs ahold of you, squeezes hard and pulls and pulls until all of your organs are yanked out. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled, and torn. It is up to us to do the stitching.”

“Can you get Oliver for me?” I sniffled and pressed my face into his shirt. My dad sat with me for a few minutes more before easing out from under me. I stayed like that, curled up with my face pressed into the sheets until Oliver came up. He settled on the bed and let me weep against his chest. We didn’t go down for dinner that night; I cried until I fell asleep, wrapped up in Oliver and the scent of chamomile and lavender.

After that, we only had three days left in Crema, which put me in a horrible yet fantastic mood. Horrible because we would be leaving soon, but fantastic because who could be miserable in a place like Crema?

I could tell Mafalda would miss us most and she was definitely trying to get us to stay by cooking so much of our favorite foods that we could barely move after each meal. We spent more time with Chiara and Marzia, even getting to have lunch with Alessandro. He was kind and obviously enamored with Marzia. I was happy for her; she deserved it, especially after what I had put her through.

The girls had plans to leave the day before us for Spain, and Marzia promised to come visit us in New York through tearful goodbyes.

“And please write back more,” I begged in French as she pulled back from our hug. I glanced up and had to stifle a laugh as I watched Oliver give Chiara a slightly awkward goodbye. “You’re terrible at answering my letters.”

“Yes, that’s because you write me full-length novels full of poetry and prose about the park and the buildings and your music. It’s a lot of pressure!”

As much as I did miss Marzia, I was happy to have my parents to myself for our last day in Crema. I awoke early on Saturday, before Oliver, and threw on a tee-shirt and boxers before padding into my parents’ room and crawling into their bed like I did as a child.

“Buongiorno, amore,” my mother said without opening her eyes as I settled between them. I hummed and burrowed under the covers, letting myself doze off again until Mafalda rang the bell for breakfast.

I let Oliver use my camera for the day, as he’d insisted that I’d gotten far too many of him and there weren’t enough of me on the roll. He and I full well knew that there were quite a few photos of me naked in our bathroom, on our bed, and on the balcony, but he insisted on taking some of me by the pool or at the piano or with my parents.

“We never got to fuck on the piano,” I lamented with a sigh as I played after lunch. My parents were helping Mafalda with the dishes and Oliver stood behind me, massaging my scalp as I played slow melodies.

“That means we’ll have to come back.”

“I was thinking we could make plans to go to Milan for Christmas this year,” I offered, leaning my head back so that I could rest it against Oliver’s stomach. I closed my eyes and continued playing, which elicited an impressed sound from Oliver.

“That would be nice. I’d like to meet your school friends.”

“School,” I groaned, letting my fingers fall away from the keys without finishing the piece. “We only have...a month left of summer.

“Would you rather stay here?” Oliver asked, dropping his hands from my curls to my shoulders. He squeezed before massaging my tense muscles.

“Oliver -”

“You could go to the conservatory in Milan and I’m sure your father could help me find a job.”

“Oliver,” I tried again, only to be cut off once more.

“And we could come to Crema all the time and take trips every weekend. It’s a lot easier to travel in Europe. That being said, I’d have to get a visa, but that shouldn't take too long if your dad -”

“Oliver!” I punctuated his name with a dissonant interval. He fell quiet and I opened my eyes to look up at him. “I do love being here. And I love being close to my parents. The weather and my special spot and ease of travel. I’ve missed my piano and my friends and Mafalda’s cooking. And honestly, sometimes I do hate New York. I hate how it gets so humid in the summer and absolutely frigid as soon as fall is over. And I hate the way the spring makes my allergies flare up. I hate that Daniel isn’t there anymore and sometimes my classes make me want to quit school altogether. It’s expensive, disgusting, and smells bad. I’m constantly sidestepping dog shit or trash and God, Oliver, it’s so damn loud.”

I took a deep breath and I shrugged out from under him. I turned to look up at him properly. Yes, that was all true…

“But Oliver, I love our life in New York too. I love our apartment and my classes and our friends and our walks in the park. I love going to dinner with you or to clubs downtown. I love waking up with you, and only you, and fucking up soft boiled eggs so bad that we have to eat cereal. I love when you fuck me in our bedroom and in the shower and on the couch. I love reading with you in our study or swapping sections of the newspaper over breakfast. I love stale hot dogs and New York coffee and how diverse the city is. Yes, it smells like garbage, but it also smells like fresh bagels and pizza and Oliver, the museums and all the culture! I’ve never encountered such a dynamic city: a living, breathing creature that thrives on success and devours insecurity. Since moving, since meeting you, I am bolder and more myself. New York is home, Oliver, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. At least not yet.”

 

Chapter Text

IMG_20180408_165504
Okay, first things first, here's the façade of the building, which I have visited on many occasions! Another:

IMG_20180203_164022

Now, here is a floorplan. Yes, this is a real building, but I didn't use a real floorplan!
74th and Columbus Floorplan

Now here's where the fun begins :) We'll start off with the bathroom!
Bathroom 1
Bathroom 2

And then onto the kitchen!
Kitchen 1
Kitchen 2

Alrighty. Here's where I had the most fun! Living room is up next:
Living Room 1
Living Room 2
Imagine those shelves with a lot more books/records/papers!! (peep Daniel's record player on the right)
Living Room 3

On the way back towards the bathroom/bedroom/study, there's a little dining alcove to the left, and hallway with a linen closet to the right.
Living Room 4
Living Room 5
Living Room 6

If you recall, Oliver has a two bedroom apartment, but he turned the smaller room into a study! Imagine it with A LOT more books/papers (the site does have some limitations!!)
Study 1
Study 2
Study 3
Study 4
Yes, this is the ACTUAL view they would have from the 5th floor of that specific building!
Study 5
Complete with a bust of Beethoven!! :)

And now...the bedroom...
Bedroom 2
Bedroom 1
Bedroom 3
Oliver's bedside table (let's pretend that book isn't about bathroom interiors lol...)
Bedroom 4
Elio's bedside table (complete with lube...)
Bedroom 5
Bedroom 6

And now for Oliver's wall of pictures, which got me started on the idea to put together their apartment in the first place (and YES, I photoshopped Elio into a picture of Andrew Garfield as Daniel lmao)
Bedroom 7
Bedroom 8
The urn with Daniel's ashes.
Bedroom 10
(yes, yes, they are hung all the way to the ceiling but the site is very finicky!)

Anyways, that's their apartment, or at least how I see it! I imagine Oliver got most of his furniture from friends or thrift shops. Also, some of it maybe doesn't look as '80s as I would prefer, but the site mostly has modern furniture. Also, I would think they'd have A LOT more books and papers everywhere!! Hope you all enjoyed this and I'm looking forward to starting in on Part 2!! :)