When I had finished up my graduate studies in music and turned 22, I had decided to go on a backpacking trip around Bergamo. In truth, it had been my boyfriend, David’s idea - but we had broken up before graduation when it turned out our ideas for the future didn’t line up at all, and I had decided to take the trip on my own.
Being finished with my studies, at least my formal ones, seemed as good a time as any to get away on my own and to take the opportunity to better understand myself. It was an old kind of concept, a trip on the continent, but with my family and friends being so close, I had rarely been alone for more than a few hours a day for most of my life. On a trip like this, I could take my walkman and some batteries, so I would still be able to transcribe or listen to music, I could take books, so I could read, and otherwise I could reflect on what I’d done and what I still wanted to do. Papá thought it was a brilliant idea - he quoted The Odyssey and Romantic poetry in turn, and he even managed to convince my mother in the process.
It would be good for me - we had all agreed. So, single, on my own, armed with gear and still the hope that there would be empty cabins along the trail, I set out to go backpacking and camping around the mountains and falls of Bergamo. There was the bus ride to the city, the taking a borrowed bike to the trailhead, and then the start from there.
It was breathtaking and unimaginably intimidating all in one to stand at the base of the mountain trail and to look up where the mist from the falls seemed to mingle with the clouds. Lines from Shelley swirled through my head - “And this, the naked countenance of Earth/On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains,” and I muttered them to myself as I started my hike. The mountains of Bergamo were no Mont Blanc, but they inspired the same kind of awe in me, for my own reasons.
The one thing I hadn’t quite remembered or forgotten in full was that it was impossible to walk the paths in the mountains and falls near Bergamo without thinking of Oliver. That had only been a passing thought when I was meant to have company, but alone, it was like my own memories were ghosts that actively inhabited the trail itself. Walking through the same spaces where the two of us had once run, shouting our own names and the lyrics of Psychadelic Furs songs, laughing and stumbling - I could still see it all clearly in my mind’s eye. In certain spots that brought back the most vivid memories, I would lean down and touch the grass, brushing my hand over it like the ground might still contain some memory of that day, and I might absorb it back into myself through osmosis.
In all my studying, I had read once that the cells of the body were completely renewed every seven years, essentially meaning that every part of the body has been effectively replaced, and we become entirely new people. After my 21st birthday, when theoretically I had gone through three of these complete cycles in my life, this had become one of my most constant fixations - that someday I would no longer be the same person who had loved Oliver, and that depending on the cycle of cell renewal, it could happen without my notice, outside of my consciousness.
Truly it had been long enough now that I had loved other people, had longer relationships that could have meant just as much, but Oliver would always be who I thought of as my first love. There was no replacing that, and so when I was alone in the night and struggling to sleep, I still often thought of Oliver, just like anyone might think of an ex-lover - especially one so essential to all the relationships that had followed.
Here, though, the thoughts were completely inescapable. As much as the phone call in Winter of ’83 had felt like a kind of resolution, my father had never spoken of Oliver’s wedding, and Oliver had not gotten in touch again while I had been there to hear. I couldn’t know where Oliver had ended up, or how he was doing - that left a level of uncertainty to any of my pondering. Now that I was on this trip, taking the time alone, allowing myself to remember, I thought it would be nice to know - to be able to have that sense of final resolution.
In a moment of true weakness, I took a blade of the grass, tore it from the ground and placed it between my teeth. I only chewed for a moment, then spat it back out, embarrassed at my own silly thoughts. It had been five years - the grass was more likely to be completely different that I was. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, then stood and continued hiking.
Perhaps I could call Oliver when I returned from this hiking trip - or perhaps I could ask Papá for his address. Surely he still had it. In the meantime, I would have to at least be more mature in my reminiscing.
The first days of my hike were slow and leisurely. I’d listen to my music, pause to admire the falls when they were in view, stop and sit to read or to write. The weather was lovely, early summer in the mountains being cool, but not cold. I could easily camp in the tent I’d brought, or even sleep under the stars some nights.
After a few days at a slow pace, I encountered one of the first cabins. I stayed there for a few days, too, enjoying the view and the chance to watch the sunrise, transcribing and writing music as I sat by the window, in the sun.
The peaceful mood continued, and I went back to hiking. I went past a few cabins I chose not to stop in because the weather had been so lovely - then came a few overcast days. It hadn’t started to rain just yet, but it was getting cooler and I thought it might be nice to stop in at the next cabin I found - from the outside, I couldn’t see anyone in it.
I knocked at the door, and heard no response, so I opened it. To my surprise, I found someone else inside, approaching to open it to my knocking - a man, tall and broad, with dark blond hair and the beginnings of a beard. “Ah, mi dispiace,” I said, and moved to step back out.
“Scialla - wait.” The voice, and the switch into English, suddenly sounded painfully familar. “Elio?”
My name, in his voice, sent a shiver up my spine. There was more emotion in his tone than I could fully process. Now that I had paused to look at him properly, it was certainly him - and yet this seemed like something I had conjured up in the dreamy haze of the hike. It was more likely that I had fallen asleep and into a dream than that Oliver was here, in this cabin, and that I had stumbled into it. “Oliver? What are you doing here?”
“I feel like I could ask you the same thing.” His clothes were different, his skin had lost some of its tan, and his muscles were not as defined as they had once been five years ago from what I could see - but his voice was just the same. So was his smile, which he turned on me.
I was helpless to do anything but smile back. “I asked you first.”
“I guess that’s true.” He paused, just looking at me for a long moment. “I’m working on a book. I remembered seeing these cabins when we were here, and. Well it’d been so long since I’d seen Italy. I missed it. I used the savings from my teaching stipend and decided to come here. Decompress after finishing my dissertation. I just finished my Ph.D., actually."
“You could have called my father. He would have been glad to host you again.”
“I... thought the scenery here might be good for me.”
There was something in that phrase, hidden behind what Oliver wouldn’t say, but I still wasn’t sure I would have the time to deconstruct it. “I’m here hiking. To answer your question. I thought it might be good to take some time for myself. I finished my MFA in music and wanted to take a trip.”
“You’ve gotten your MFA?”
“Mm. In piano and guitar.”
“Elio. That’s amazing. Congratulations.”
“You finished your Ph.D. Sounds much more impressive to me, doctor.”
Oliver rolled his eyes. “I’m glad the title impresses you at least. It took me a year longer than most of my cohort, so no one else is really impressed. Your father did congratulate me, but my family was less than delighted.”
“Papá knew you graduated?”
“...He kept in touch. Just letters.”
“Mm.” I hadn’t heard from Oliver since that Hanukkah phone call. Apparently my father had, more than once, and hadn’t felt the need to tell me. Perhaps he’d thought it would be easier for me. I looked around the cabin, finally - some of Oliver’s things were familiar, and others weren’t. One thing stood true - it was only Oliver’s things I saw scattered around the wooden floors. “You’re here alone?"
“There wouldn’t have been anyone to bring.”
Startled, I glanced at his hand. Seeming to understand my curiosity, he held it up. There was no wedding ring.
“I never actually got around to getting married, it turns out. In fact, it turns out... Well. It doesn’t matter. She didn’t want to marry me after all. Once I could, I kept my focus on school, and now I’m here. There’s not much to tell.”
I blinked. “You never said. Or... called.”
It was obvious I’d hit a nerve - Oliver flinched. I got a sort of twisted pleasure out of it, out of still being able to hurt him after so long, and after he’d announced his marriage over the phone so callously. I hadn’t forgotten my inability to answer his “Do you mind?” over the years, no matter how hard I’d tried.
“I wrote a letter to your father, when she broke off the engagement. I asked him to tell you. In a bit of advice that was perfectly sound and exactly like him, he told me that telling you was my responsibility. He was right, but I... I knew that I’d hurt you. The way I left, not calling for so long, then only calling to tell you I was getting married. It didn’t seem right. I decided at first that it was too soon, and then as time went on, the less I felt I deserved it, or that you’d even care to know. Writing you went from difficult to impossible. So I decided against it. But now, I suppose, here we are.”
How bizarrely fateful it was, the two of us meeting again in a place where so many memories lingered. I knew he was thinking it, too, and that even after all this time, in this one moment we understood each other perfectly. We weren’t even in my parents’ home, we hadn’t sought each other out intentionally, but by chance, here in Bergamo - a place that had apparently left an impact on both of us.
“It would have been nice. If you’d written. I decided not to bother you - if your wife asked questions about my letters. If you had children. I didn’t think you’d want that.”
“...I would have loved to hear from you.”
The conversation made Oliver oddly vulnerable - maybe it had come with age. He was still shy of 30, of course, but five years or perhaps just the surprise of my entrance seemed to have caught him off guard.
In the silence, I was tempted to murmur my own name - to see if he remembered. Then I thought maybe that would only hurt us both more. “I suppose I should... continue on. Find somewhere else to stay."
“Elio, don’t be crazy.” He reached out, and put a hand on my shoulder. it was nearly the same placement as the first time he’d touched me at the volleyball game, only he was in front of me now. Still. Though I had grown an inch or two taller, I’d never really gotten much broader, and his hand still spread over my collarbone and gripped just gently. He was warm, even through my shirt. “You can stay here. If you want, I can sleep on the floor, we don’t have to share a bed, but there’s no reason you should sleep out there when it’s only me in here. Unless - if you want to leave that badly.”
I shook my head. “No. I can stay. You’re right.” I didn’t address the bed - not yet. Some small part of me had hoped he would ask me to stay, or insist, but now I still wanted to get a sense of where we stood, and what we were both feeling.
He smiled, and even in spite of the beard, I could still see the way it lit up his face, and his eyes, and I could still get a sense of the shape of his jaw. I looked down to the curve of his neck, down to where his shoulders were hidden beneath a sweater, down to where he’d pushed up the sleeves. One of his hands was still on my shoulder, because he hadn’t let go yet. I was overwhelmed with the urge to pull him into a hug, to see if he still felt the same way pressed against my body and in my arms. It was reason enough that we hadn’t seen each other in five years, and that he’d touched me first, so I gave in to my own desire and wrapped my arms tightly around his waist, pressing my face against his shoulder.
It was only a moment before he responded, wrapping his arms tightly around me as well. He was still strong, and he held me tightly. It might have been true that my first impression was correct, and he was a little softer around the edges, but our embrace felt almost just the same. I inhaled, and was overcome to find that he even smelled the same - at least underneath it all. That summer his own scent had been mixed with sweat and the fruit trees and the water in the river. Here, it was just the fabric of his sweater and the wood of the cabin mixed with something more familiar. I sighed, and lingered.
“It’s good to see you,” I said. Saying that I’d missed him seemed like too much - and it wasn’t entirely true. That day I had been missing him, but there were plenty of times in the past five years I had looked back on my memories fondly and only in passing. It was, though, good to feel him close again, and know that he was doing well, and that he hadn’t forgotten me.
I wanted to keep it more brief than the hug we had shared on his final day, at the train station, so I stepped back instead of lingering.
He was still smiling at me. “It’s good to see you, too.” His hand twitched on my shoulder, like he thought of moving it somewhere, but then he simply dropped his hand, and we stood there and let the empty space come between us.
His cabin was small, but as I looked around I realized that it could comfortably fit both of us. There was a main room with a desk by the window and a small kitchen. There was a bedroom I could see, and a bathroom off of it. There was also a ladder to a small loft - I could certainly sleep up there if nowhere else. It reminded me of the old storage room I’d once used in the summers.
“So what else have you been up to, besides your Ph.D.? There must be more than that, in five years.”
Silence still couldn’t be comfortable with all the time separating us as well, so I was hoping that we could get all of that out of the way at once, sharing more of what we’d done and seen and been through so we could start over and be at ease again. I wasn’t even certain that I wanted things to be the way they’d been that summer, but even before Oliver and I had really come together, we had understood each other. I wanted that understanding back. I wanted to see if Oliver would still react in the same ways, if he still hated or loved the same things. I wanted to see, too, what he had learned and read and come to know, to see if we could still have conversations on the things we’d read and if he’d still tease me for all that I knew.
“Have you eaten?” he asked in place of an answer.
“Not since breakfast. But you’re not getting off that easily.”
“I know that - I didn’t think you’d changed that much. I just thought I could make you something to eat while we talked. Come on.” He walked over to the small kitchen area and rummaged through the fridge. “I’ve got enough here I could make you a sandwich. There’s some fruit as well, and eggs, although I can never seem to get those quite right.”
I smiled, and reached into the fridge to grab the carton of eggs. “You just have to know how to do it.” I took a pot of water and carefully set things up to soft boil the eggs, and Oliver watched me. “You can start answering while I do this, you know.”
“...Right. Everything and nothing, really. I read, I wrote. I didn’t go out much. I struggled a little - that’s why I didn’t graduate sooner.”
“Struggled with what?”
“...I would think you’d be smart enough to figure that out, so that I don’t have to say it.”
Of course I had an idea of what Oliver was saying - but it didn’t keep me from wanting to hear him say it. I turned towards him, fully away from the pot and the eggs, and our eyes locked. “How about this - we’ve somehow both ended up here, like something out of a dream. Why don’t we make something of it - let’s promise to be completely honest with each other. No holding back. While we’re both in this cabin, we tell the truth. And all of it. Both of us. You can ask me anything you want, too.”
“But first I’ve got to answer this, right?”
I watched as Oliver sagged, just a little. “Fine. Yes. I’ll agree.”
I reached out a hand, and Oliver shook it. His thumb brushed up to my wrist for a moment, which I hadn’t been expecting, and I shivered. It reminded me of our truce moment, on the beach at Lake Garda, but I wasn’t going to bring that up, at least not at that second. Anyways, here, the buffer of the statue arm was removed, leaving us with a much more intimate handshake. I turned back to the pot, so he wouldn’t have to watch my face as he spoke unless he really wanted to.
“I struggled with leaving you behind. With leaving Crema and your family, with all of it. I went home and I tried to do what I was supposed to do and be who I was supposed to be, but I did a real piss poor job of it. I got engaged, because I was supposed to, but I...” There was a long pause. Something Oliver clearly didn’t want to say again, but that he knew he had to, now. “I got drunk one night. I told her I slept with men. That I preferred men. I suggested we come up with some kind of arrangement, because I was drunk and stupid. She was disgusted with me. I woke up the next day and she told me she wouldn’t tell anyone, my family or hers, but that she wouldn’t marry me. That was the end of that.” I thought he might stop there, but he kept going. “That summer made me realize I didn’t have to live the way I’d been living. Maybe it would have been better if I’d never known the alternative, but after I got home, I did. I knew what I could have, and so going back and trying to pretend couldn’t work the same way. I could only think of how your parents had told me I could stay, and how you’d held onto my shirt and wouldn’t let go at first at Clusone, and... that last night we had together in Bergamo. Sometimes I could hardly eat or sleep. Especially after Caroline left me. I managed to pull it together eventually, throw myself into my work to get over it all, but it put me behind in my studies. So there’s your honest answer.”
If I had been five years younger, my gratitude at Oliver’s honesty may have brought me to tears. Now, I merely looked at him with respect - the same basic look as that summer, but with a touch more maturity - at least I’d like to think so. “Thank you. For being honest.”
“And you answered. I do appreciate it, Oliver.”
He hummed, but otherwise seemed finished with honesty for now. I could take that.
“Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”
I glanced at him, and he shrugged. “My question is probably easier. What have you been up to?”
I shrugged, too, and watched the water in the pot begin to steam and simmer. “I told you I got my MFA. It was an accelerated program. That’s why it didn’t take me very long. It was a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed myself. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do with it - it’s part of the reason I thought I’d take this trip. Figure things out.” I paused. Then I decided I might as well tell him the whole truth. “I’d planned to come with someone I was seeing. His name is David. But we broke it off because he was planning to move back to England, and I decided to come on my own after all.”
“So you’ve... seen people.”
“Mostly. Marzia and I have stayed friends. There was one girl at University, but it wasn’t anything serious.” I wasn’t entirely certain I could guess at his thoughts anymore, but still I turned back around to face him, leaning against the counter, my arms crossed. “You didn’t mess me up. That summer was something all its own, and I would never pretend otherwise, but I’ve seen men and women, slept with people, my own age, older, younger. It’s been five years. I’ve done plenty of things.”
Oliver looked me in the eye, then nodded. That was what he’d been asking, then, and I’d read his mind as effectively as he’d once seemed to read mine. It felt good.
I could have stopped. Let the silence stand. Instead, once the water had started to boil and I turned off the heat, I placed the lid on the pot and stayed looking down at it. There was one more thing I wanted to say - in the spirit of total honesty. “The only thing you ever did that really hurt me was your phone call. And even then, there was really only the one part that stood out.”
“...I’m sorry, Elio. Again. For the way I told you.”
“It wasn’t that. It wasn’t - I could have been happy for you. Maybe. Still sad for myself, sad for... lost potential, maybe. It was when you asked me if I minded.”
I heard him shift, but refused to turn to look. “Ah.”
“You made it sound like my answer mattered. But I was still only 17, and... you were you.”
“...You’re right. It wasn’t fair. But your answer did matter. It might have mattered. Might have... sped the process along on my end. But that wasn’t fair to you, for me to put you in that position. It was my responsibility to deal with my own apprehensions. I just... wanted it to be easier. I wanted you to... insist I not get married, demand I come back, give me a reason to leave. It would have let me off the hook just a little, in all of my mess. That shouldn’t be your job, though. And it wasn’t. It was mine.”
“So you would have left her?”
“Maybe not right away. Maybe just... sooner. Maybe differently. Maybe I would have told you, straightaway.”
The eggs were nearly done. I got out a bowl and filled it with cold water, took the eggs out of the pot and gently placed them there instead. Out of the hot, into the freezing cold. Then, I finally turned to face him again. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t tell me."
His eyes were fixed on me. He was beautiful, still. Maybe even more beautiful. I glanced away from his face, from the distraction of it, only to notice that his feet were bare, and the cuffs of his pants were rolled up. There was something vulnerable about his exposed ankles, something just as endearing as there had always been about the pale soles of his feet. “Elio... It wasn’t... I told you I didn’t want to mess you up, and I didn’t want you to pay for this. What I meant was... you were young. What we had should have been a summer fling for you. Short, memorable, maybe even formative, but that was that. For me to come barging back in and risk pressuring you to feel obligated to... do anything just because I’d broken things off with Caroline. I didn’t want that.”
“My age doesn’t change the fact that what we had was... different.”
“Well. It was for me. I wasn’t sure that you could know it was. It wasn’t my place to lay claim to any of that. I wanted you to have the space in your life to figure all of that out, and I figured you couldn’t do it with me hovering around. No matter what I felt.”
“And what did you feel?”
He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back. It made me remember the way I’d always touched his hair that summer, ruffling it, then tugging gently. “Elio.”
“Complete honesty. We promised. We shook hands.” I knew in that moment I sounded childish - but maybe I only felt that way because I sounded so vulnerable. Maybe I had conflated the two things in my head in a way that was unfair to myself.
I watched his face, and he watched me right back. We were waiting each other out. For a moment, his expression steeled, like he was bracing himself, and then he closed his eyes, as if pained by something. “I loved you. Very much.”
The past tense stung me, and surprised me, although I knew it shouldn’t have. Why should he love me still? With five years between our past selves and our present ones, we barely knew each other. Still, my own answer sprang to mind without a moment’s hesitation. I love you, still. I was surprised by myself as well, but I shouldn’t have been. I knew, somewhere in the deepest place within myself, there was a part of me that would always love Oliver. His golden hair, his golden skin, his warmth, the way his hands felt on my body, the way he’d tenderly massaged my feet when I’d gotten a nosebleed, the way he’d held me when I cried, or guided me gently back to the hotel after I’d vomited in Bergamo, and kissed me against the wall, after he’d helped me wash my mouth out in the fountain. Having been in more relationships now, I’d still never had someone that I shared as much of myself with - or who had shared so much of themselves with me. The way we had shared our names with each other was something that no other person could ever touch or take away - it was something uniquely mine and Oliver’s. Mine and Elio’s.
In place of saying any of this, I pulled the eggs from the cold water. I found egg cups - perhaps he’d brought them - and opened both eggs, slicing the top off his, remembering the way he’d always struggled, even after Mafalda taught him. He’d nearly always ended up with eggshell in his breakfast.
He took the egg and offered me a sort of half-smile. Maybe he recognized the thoughts and feelings behind my gentle treatment of his egg, and of my offer, or maybe he was regretting what he’d said, accepting my silence as an answer of its own. I’d lost the ability to read him again.
He ate, but hummed after only his first bite. “These are just like Mafalda’s. God, I’d forgotten how good they were.”
“They ought to be - she taught me how, before I left. She told me she wouldn’t have me running off without knowing how to make my own breakfast. She taught me nearly everything. Made me a pretty popular roommate in University - that I could cook nearly anything. On a special occasion or a weekend sometimes I’d even make tortelli cremaschi. Everyone loved that.”
“I could barely make toast without burning it when I was in undergrad. I had to figure all that out for myself just so I didn’t starve to death. I’m still not very good.”
“And yet you offered to make me food. Sounds like you might have poisoned me.”
Oliver scoffed, and bumped our shoulders together. “I’m not that bad.”
“Mm, I think I’ll have to wait and make that judgement myself, if you can be bothered to cook at some point.”
“I’ll make you dinner tonight, and you’ll eat those words.”
I smiled at him, and he smiled back. In just a moment, we were settled again. We could still nudge and play and tease each other - that much was safe.
I ate my egg, and had another. We ate in silence.
Once I had finished, I wandered over to his desk and ran my fingers over his books. He’d shooed me away from the sink, clearly wanting to rinse the dishes as payment for my having cooked the eggs. There was one book that was out on his desk, separate from the larger stack he had piled in the corner. This was the published, final version of his book on Heraclitus, which he’d been working on the summer he stayed with us. I opened it and flipped through. He cleared his throat, finally turning his attention on me now that he’d finished washing up the dishes. I lowered the book enough to raise my eyebrows and bat my eyes at him over the top of it.
“Why on Earth would you want to read any of that? Didn’t you hear enough of it that summer?”
“I never saw the published version. You’d read me things to make fun of yourself, but isn’t it exciting to see it in print this way?”
He shrugged. “It might have been, if it hadn’t just been a reminder of sorts.” Suddenly a guilty flash crossed over his face and he held out a hand. “Just. Here. Let me have it, will you?”
I blinked at him, but handed over the book. “Is there something in there you don’t want me to see?”
Looking down at his own book, he flipped to a particular page at the start and ran a hand through is hair again, holding the book in one hand with the cover bent back. “Yes. And I’m trying to figure out if it falls under complete honesty or if you’re going to let me off the hook without embarrassing myself any more than I already have.”
“What if I leave it up to you?”
That brought out a sigh. He knew it was an answer of its own - I wasn’t really letting him off the hook, because he was too invested in the promise he’d made. He would hold himself to it. After a moment, he gently handed me the book, still open to the page he’d been staring at.
It was some sort of dedication or acknowledgement - my father was listed, some people at his University, but at the end in small italic letters was something no one else would have recognized for what it was. And to Oliver. I inhaled, a small involuntary breath through my nose that I was sure he could hear in the quiet of the cabin. Reading it was nearly as powerful as hearing him say it, because I could still hear it, if only in my mind. I brushed my finger over the words, and I could feel him watching me.
“Your editor must have thought you were crazy. Dedicating a book to yourself.”
“...I gave him some sort of backwards explanation. I didn’t really care if he believed me. He put it in, that was what mattered.”
I was overcome with the sudden urge to hug him again, but I’d already done it once, and I wasn’t sure I could pass this one off as completely friendly. I had the same urge I’d had the first time we’d slept together, to pull him close and then closer, impossibly close, like somehow we could inhabit the same space, even standing and fully clothed.
I gripped the book tightly in my hand until the moment passed. “Thank you,” I said simply.
He shrugged - and it was that same blasé confidence in him that I had first found rude, even as my father had seen it for what it was - a cover for his more vulnerable side. “I wasn’t even sure you’d see it. But you did help, that summer.”
“That isn’t what I’m thanking you for. You know that.”
He closed his eyes, and rubbed at them. “Yeah. Yes, Elio, I know that.”
There was a pause. I could push - I was sure that if I did, we could fall into each other again in that moment, as swiftly as if we’d never been apart. He knew that I knew, and all I had to do was say it. There were still things I wanted resolved, though - I wanted more time. So I said nothing. Instead, I found a way to change the subject. “So what are you doing? You said you’re working on a book again? What is it about?”
“I’m actually writing on Praxiteles. Your father got me interested in his work - after all, we brought that statue out of the water, that Roman copy, and it turns out his life was fascinating.”
“And how does that relate to ancient philosophy?”
He smiled. “Well it doesn’t. Benefits of being in the Classics department - I’m not really limited to philosophy. That is a lot of what I teach, but anything Classic enough and they’ll let me get away with publishing on it. Besides, I’m not really taking the art history approach - more just the history approach, combined with a discussion of the overall themes of his work. In part it’s just a biography, with a bit of the standard academic waffling about how much we can’t possibly know about him.” He paused, and his expression grew more thoughtful. Walking over to the desk, he ran a hand over his own manuscript. We were standing fairly close again. “I just thought someone maybe ought to consider the possibility that he wasn’t only involved with his female models - as a Greek, and a sculptor with so many sensual sculptures of men... Who’s to say his only significant relationship was with a woman?”
“And they’re letting you publish this?”
When he turned to me, his smile had turned sort of twisted. “You’d be amazed the things you’re allowed to say about the Ancient Greeks but not about yourself.”
“Mm.” I moved around his desk a bit, putting some space between us. It was more for the sake of my own control than anything else. He watched me, but his expression didn’t give anything away. “And aside from that - you’re reading? Staring out at the scenery you thought would be good for you?”
He could tell what I was really asking - our coming back around to understanding each other gave me another quiet thrill. “I thought the scenery at Crema might be not so good for me. Not... by myself. I love your parents, I do, your mother and father have been nothing but kind to me, but... I didn’t exactly want to go haunting the streets on my bike, looking at all the places we used to go.”
“It isn’t easy.”
The look he gave me was long, and a little sad. “You still go every summer?”
“Up until now. The last four summers.” I was looking down at his desk, tracing the patterns in the wood. If things had been different, maybe I would have spared him, but I didn’t think it was fair to hold back either. “I don’t go out to that spot anymore. To the spring. I read in my room. Or that storage room that used to belong to my grandfather. I go a lot of places, still, but not there.”
It seemed like he’d said it almost involuntarily - and his expression seemed to say I didn’t actually have to answer - but I wanted to. He deserved to know some of my pain, too, and some of my thoughts, after he’d shared all of his. “I shared it with you. I’d never taken anyone else there - and I never did after. It went from being mine to being ours. I thought maybe I’d go again when you came back, but then you didn’t. And I couldn’t bring myself to go.”
He nodded, and went over to sit on the bed. The desk chair was hard and wooden, and there wasn’t enough room for both of us - I understood.
Still, I went over and grabbed his arm to pull him up, like he’d always done for me. “Come on - let’s go out. We could hike around the cabin until you want to make dinner. You obviously haven’t been out of here enough.”
He smiled at me, as if to say I wouldn’t do this for anyone else, but he stood and nodded all the same. “Alright. Let me change.”
He went into the bathroom, so I rummaged through my own pack. In a fit of sentimentality, I’d brought Billowy with me - now it was a little embarrassing. In the past few years, I’d stopped thinking of it purely as his, and instead considered it a gift, a shirt that I owned that was a gift from someone I’d loved and would make me think of him still in passing when I wore it. But what would he think if he came out to find me wearing his shirt? Would he recognize it? I fought the urge to blush as I thought of all the reactions he could have but probably wouldn’t - how he might push me down on the bed, tell me to leave the shirt on, kiss down my chest, take off my pants and take me into his mouth. He wouldn’t. He probably wouldn’t. I left his shirt - now my shirt - in the bag for the moment, and pulled out a sweater and a pair of jeans.
By the time I had changed, he was stepping out of the bathroom. He had on a baseball shirt and another pair of cuffed pants. He walked closer to the bed and stepped into a pair of shoes, and then looked at me with eyebrows raised.
Ready? his expression said.
“Ready,” I responded out loud.
He smiled, and we walked out of the cabin, close enough that our elbows were brushing.
We made the most of the afternoon, then, hiking up to where we could see the falls. At one point I could hear him quietly singing the words to Love My Way, and I laughed loudly. He looked at me and smiled, and I started shouting the words at the top of my lungs. He joined in, and we both kept going until we laughed so hard we fell into the grass. I reached over and tugged at his hair, overwhelmed with the urge to touch him, and he nudged me with his elbow and I nudged back, until we were wrestling in the grass.
Somehow, after a few long moments, we managed to disengage without making it awkward. We both knew what that had the potential to turn into, but instead we stood and brushed ourselves off, still giggling. I could feel the warmth of arousal in my stomach, but it was a pleasant hum - not enough to be distracting. I wondered if he felt the same.
“Come on,” I said, and we continued our way up to the view of the falls.
I was still faster than he was, and so when we reached the right point, I stopped, and then yanked him up when he drew close. His sleeves were short enough that I wrapped my hand around his bare forearm, with my pinky brushing his wrist, so once he was up, I let go.
The warmth of his skin still tingled in my palm. I clenched my hand into a fist.
We both stood there, looking into the water, until the light started to change. It wasn’t anywhere near proper evening, but it had clearly become the late afternoon as we’d both gotten lost in our own thoughts.
I looked at him and raised my eyebrows, mirroring his earlier expression, and he just nodded at me, following me back down.
“You know I did say we only had to be totally honest in the cabin. If you wanted to lie to me, now would be the time.”
I glanced back, only to watch him smile. “Ask me again later.”
Later. There was a warmth and fondness in his tone that told me he meant something by what he said, but it seemed like a comfortable kind of secret - something I was content to let hang in the air between us. “Later,” I repeated.
We finished the hike in silence, and then we stepped back into the cabin. We both took off our shoes and settled in - me sitting in the chair at his desk, him heading into the kitchen.
“Do you need any help?” I asked.
“I told you I’d cook dinner - you can work on something if you want. I’ll let you know when it’s done.”
It was all so perfectly and surprisingly domestic. Despite having some relationships serious enough that I’d stayed over at their place so often some of my things had migrated there, I’d still never really lived with anyone in a place of our own. Was this what it would feel like? I retrieved my own bag, pulled out my sheets of music and my walkman, and started transcribing the piece I’d been working on.
I had no idea how long I’d been working by the time I felt Oliver’s hand on my shoulder. I lifted my head and blinked up at him, taking off my headphones.
“Elio. Dinner’s ready.” He squeezed my shoulder and I followed him into the kitchen. He’d laid out a blanket on the floor, and set out the plates, like some kind of indoor picnic.
I laughed, but sat down. The food he’d made was some kind of pasta - but I hadn’t seen any boxed. “Did you make fresh pasta?”
“It’s mostly eggs and flour, Elio. It’s not that hard.”
“Still. I’m a little impressed.” No one outside of my family had ever made fresh pasta for me. I’d made it for others, like I’d told him before, because people seemed to like it. As always, Oliver caught me off-guard with the simple kindness he showed me.
The food was surprisingly delicious, when I finally tried it.
“Is this cacio e pepe?”
“Mmhmm. I told you I learned a few things. And that I wouldn’t poison you.” He was smiling as he poured us both glasses of wine. He sat down across from me, and we both ate, and drank, mostly in silence.
“Did someone teach you?” I finally asked, when I was finishing up.
He shook his head. “I bought a cookbook of Italian recipes a couple of years ago. I taught myself. I missed the food. It mostly ended in me getting flour all over myself and tearing my hair out at first, but eventually I managed to get a few things right. There’s only one or two recipes I can actually make properly and from memory - this is one of them.”
I nodded, and took another sip of my wine. When he had finished his food, too, he refilled both of our glasses.
Sitting across from him, our knees almost close enough to brush, I realized this was the closest thing to a date that I’d had since the last time David had taken me out - which had been a while before he’d broken things off with me. I wasn’t sure exactly how we’d gotten here - except it was clear that Oliver was aware of what he’d done. He was too self-aware, and constantly self-aware, to set up a picnic on his kitchen floor, to make me fresh pasta and to pull out a bottle of wine, and to not realize how it would look.
I shifted forward, just enough that our knees were touching deliberately. He only watched me.
“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” I asked him.
He tilted his head. “Why did you sleep with Marzia that summer? Even after we were supposed to meet that night?”
It wasn’t what I’d expected him to ask, and it caught me off guard. I blinked at him, but didn’t move away. “I was nervous.” Still, I felt that wasn’t explanation enough. “I was nervous about not knowing what I was doing, but I was also nervous that midnight wouldn’t be what I hoped it would. I kept having thoughts that maybe you’d just decide we should talk. That you’d tell me off and that would be the end of it. I think really I knew what you meant - especially once I saw you that night, smoking on the balcony. But all day, I kept thinking - it wasn’t very kind to her, but Marzia was a way to keep my mind off of things. And the first time I slept with her was just to get back at you. I thought you were still...”
“You thought I’d been sleeping with Chiara all summer.”
“We never slept together. I danced with her, flirted, mostly to keep my mind off of you. It didn’t work. When I was out I was playing poker or sitting in that spot where I showed you, or somewhere else in town.”
I looked down and toyed with the hem of my pants. “The day you touched me, at volleyball, I moved away from you just so I didn’t lean in. I was afraid that you’d see, and I never even thought that you... I’d thought about men before. But I didn’t know anyone else did. Let alone... you.”
He hummed, and I looked back up at him. We just sat there, looking at each other. I thought of all the other things I could tell him about that summer - things I’d never quite gotten around to sharing. About the day I’d pressed my face into his bathing suit and nearly touched myself in his bed, about the way I used to watch him swim and pretend that I wasn’t, about the way I’d left my door unlocked and fantasized that he’d come into my room at night. If I opened my mouth, any of it might come flooding out. It would push things to the breaking point.
I thought, too, about where I would sleep. If we shared the bed, one of us would reach out in the night - I still wasn’t sure which of us it would be.
I pushed myself up, and brushed off, then I reached out to help him up. He took my arm and used it as he stood.
“I think I’ll sleep in the loft tonight,” I said. “I’ve got a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag - I should be fine up there.”
He looked at me for a long moment, searching my face. Then he nodded.
“Alright then. Goodnight, Elio.”
Leaning in, he pressed a gentle kiss to my cheek, then excused himself and stepped into the bathroom. I had to fight myself not to grab on and hold him close. Instead I stood there, frozen, until he was gone - then I took my things and climbed up into the loft. I could still feel the gentle scratch of his beard against my skin.
I couldn’t see him from my position - and I knew that once he was in bed, he wouldn’t be able to see me. On the other hand, we could hear each other far more clearly than we’d ever been able to in my parents’ house. I heard him climb into bed and sigh. I heard the gentle rustle of the sheets as he turned over in bed. I changed into my sleep clothes, and I knew he could probably hear the gentle rustle of fabric as well.
The floor was harder than the ground outside, and I missed the option of sleeping under the stars. I also wanted to just climb down the ladder and crawl into Oliver’s bed, to curl up against him until he put his arms around me, to press my mouth to his skin to see if he still tasted the same way. I wanted to breathe in his smell, I wanted to roll in it myself so it would cling to my clothes when I left.
Some part of me was afraid, I think, that I would wake up and he would be gone. If I could sleep, and wake up, and he was still there, he wasn’t a dream. It was a silly thought, and one I couldn’t admit to, but it was holding me back. That, and the sense that if we slept together, that might be the end. That somehow we both might get closure from that or wake up disillusioned and that we might go our separate ways again. After hearing him talk about finishing his Ph.D. and seeing the dedication he’d put in his book on Heraclitus, I didn’t want to let him go again. I wasn’t sure exactly how to stop him from going, but I also somehow knew that if we slept together tonight, it might seal us off from other possibilities.
I pulled out my headphones, just to block out the sounds he made, curled up in my sleeping bag, and tried my best to go to sleep.
Something about my set up must have worked, because I woke in the morning to the sounds of the shower running, and the faint sounds of my headphones, somewhere to my left. They’d slipped off in my sleep. I turned off my walkman, then sat up and stretched. I climbed back down the ladder and looked around. The cabin looked much the same as it had yesterday. His books were still on his desk. Some of my things, the things I’d left down here, were still in my bag, by his desk. The blanket was still on the floor in the small kitchen, and the bed was rumpled from where he’d slept in it. I walked over and fell onto it face down - it did smell like him. Obviously I wasn’t dreaming.
I had vague recollections of my dreams the previous night even - me and Oliver on our bikes. At my spot. His hands, and his mouth - I cut myself off before I could dwell. I sat back up, ruffled a hand through my hair. I heard the water cut off in the shower, and I went to sit down at the desk. First, I opened his book and checked the dedication - it was still there. To Oliver. I ran my fingers over it again. Then I bent down and rifled through my bag. Before I could talk myself out of it, I pulled out Oliver’s shirt. It was a little threadbare in certain places, and still too big on me, but I’d already worn it a couple of times on my trip. I wrapped my pants around it so he wouldn’t see it before I’d gotten changed.
The door opened, and Oliver stepped out, and I stood up, all at once.
Then I saw his face, and blinked.
He smiled at me, and chuckled. “Good morning to you, too.”
He was wearing a shirt, but totally unbuttoned, and some of his shorts - shorts I recognized from that summer. His gold Star of David still hung around his neck, in just the same place. I blinked at him some more. “Right. Good morning.”
“I was only growing the beard out while I was out here - some kind of misplaced attempt at being Thoreau. I’m not sure it suited me.”
“I liked it,” I said without meaning to. It was true - it was also true that I was only curious how it would feel against my body - against my ribs, or my stomach, or my hips, or if it brushed against my cock. I shivered a little.
“Well. The good news is it grows back,” he joked.
The remark realigned everything I’d been thinking about. He wasn’t planning to leave anytime soon. I thought of his remark on the hike the day before. Ask me later. He’d been waiting for me - patiently. More than patiently. Twenty-four hours may have been a short time for anyone else, but surely he’d known since yesterday that I was still interested. The magnetic sort of pull that had always seemed to exist between us had still been there as soon as I’d opened the door to the cabin. He must have sensed it, too - and even after everything he’d said, he’d waited, so we could go at my pace. Just as he had that entire summer.
I realized, too, that on some level I’d been making him wait on purpose. Not for the reasons I’d made up last night to cover, but for the months he hadn’t called - for the fact that he’d never told me he wasn’t married.
Now it all seemed ridiculous.
“I’m going to get a shower and get changed,” I said, still looking at him.
“I’ll make breakfast. Or - well. I’ll make toast and set out some fruit. You can make the eggs once you’re out."
I hummed, noncommittally. We should probably eat, that much was true - but I didn’t know that I wanted to wait on eggs.
I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.
My hair was a little longer than it had been that summer, but I’d never let it get properly long. I preferred it short. I still didn’t have much facial hair to speak of, I was still thin and lean where Oliver was broad and muscular - but I was nearly the same age he’d been when he’d come for the summer - only two years off, and two years seemed like nothing now. My body wasn’t a matter of my immaturity - we were just built differently. Built differently, and yet ultimately similar. I took off my shirt, and fingered the Star of David around my neck. I still wore mine, too - I’d never stopped, after that summer. It had started as a reminder of Oliver, but then it had remained out of the courage he’d given me. Being with him had made me more comfortable with myself in ways it had taken me years to realize - but I’d been grateful for him more than once over the past five years.
Now here he was, back in my life. Somehow we’d been brought back together. He’d wanted to reach out, but felt that he couldn’t, and I had assumed he’d moved on, with me only a blip in his past radar. Now I knew better. He’d waited for me, almost hopelessly, and I’d made him wait an extra day just to be sure, just to watch him do it. We were both done waiting now.
I stepped in the shower, and resisted the urge to touch myself. Instead, I just washed everything off as carefully as I could, and tried not to linger the way I wanted to. I wanted to save it. I got out of the shower and dried off with one of his towels - it still smelled like him, too. I changed into his shirt, and my own shorts, and I rubbed the towel over my hair enough that my curls were visible and not sticking to my forehead. I left Billowy unbuttoned enough that he might see my necklace, and checked myself in the mirror again. I shaved my upper lip, in a cursory sort of way, then rubbed at my hair again, and stepped out of the bathroom.
He was standing in the kitchen, eating at the counter.
“Couldn’t wait for me?” I asked.
He turned around, and stopped. I could tell that he recognized it immediately - I smirked uncontrollably, my mouth pushing to one side.
“Is that my shirt?”
I rocked on my feet, then nodded.
How I’d longed to hear him say my name like that. I closed my eyes, and I heard him step closer. When I could practically feel his warmth, I opened my eyes again and looked up at him. “You should finish your breakfast. We need to eat,” I said.
He looked down at me, blinked a few times, then grinned and shook his head. “You’re just the same, aren’t you?”
I grinned at him, and then dodged around him to get to the counter. “Some things are different.” I picked up a couple of pieces of toast, and an apricot, putting them on a plate.
Oliver stepped up behind me and placed a hand on my waist as he grabbed his own plate. For a moment, I felt his nose press against my hair as he inhaled, and I shivered. “Not everything,” he said.
“No. Not everything.”
I stayed standing to eat, spreading Nutella on my toast and eating it fairly quickly, then just biting into the fruit, finishing it off too before I licked my fingers clean. Oliver had another piece of toast before he just started watching me eat.
When I licked at my fingers, he groaned. “That’s just unfair.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I went to the sink, and washed my hands. I didn’t actually want them to be sticky just yet - I didn’t want the distraction. He took both our plates and set them in the sink.
“Are you going to make the eggs now too?” he asked, looking down at me with a half-smile and a raised eyebrow.
I’d liked the beard - I really had - but it was nice to see his face and the clear line of his jaw again. I thought for a long moment about all the ways I could start, now that we were here. Instead, I just looked at him.
He watched me. He was waiting for a sign.
I leaned up, on my toes, and put my lips near his ear. “Elio,” I breathed out, and he sighed out something close to a moan.
His hands wrapped around my waist, and he pulled me against him so that we were pressed together from head to toe. He’d already started to get hard, and I could feel it pressed against me. “Oliver,” he murmured, pressing the words against my jaw.
I shivered, and the dam broke.
I ran my hand up his arms until I hit his sleeves, and I stepped back so I could push his shirt off his shoulders. “Off,” I murmured, and he helped shrug it off. I ran my hands up his chest, pushing my fingers through the hair there before I leaned in and licked over the Star of David where it had settled at the hollow of his throat.
He ran his fingers through my curls and pressed me close, then his fingers tugged gently, tilting my head up. “Can I kiss you?”
We were both aware what we were doing - that in a way it was our first time over again, and yet we knew that we weren’t lost in the past - we were five years older, both of us, and fully present after all we’d been through.
He pressed close, and I left my mouth open, teasing him. He started to smile, and I licked over his lips, just as I had in our first kiss at my spot. This time, unlike that time, he bit gently at my lip, a reprimand for my teasing and a sign that he wasn’t going to control himself the way he had then. We were both starving, and ready to devour each other.
One of us pressed closer, and then we were kissing properly. I pushed my hands into his hair and leaned up, trying to get closer than I could. His tongue pressed into my mouth, and I licked at it, feeling along the underside of his tongue. I pressed my tongue against his bottom lip and all the way across it, tasting his lips. He still tasted like toast and apricots. I licked at his teeth like I could count them with my tongue, and then pressed closer to search out all the tastes inside his mouth.
Still wanting to get closer, I wrapped one of my legs around his hips like I could climb him, and this time he wrapped his arms around my hips, supporting me, so I could fully climb into his arms and wrap both of my legs around him. He was holding my weight like it was nothing, and I sighed into his mouth, somehow more attracted to him than I’d even known was possible. I pushed my hips against his stomach, grinding against him, then pulled back from the kiss and ruffled my hands up through his hair, tugging at it. “Bed,” I said simply, and he nodded vigorously.
I kissed him again, pressing my tongue back into his mouth, and this time when I pulled back, my lips were damp with his saliva. I licked over it and pressed my mouth to his jaw, then his temple, then back down to his neck.
We made it to the bed, and he tossed me onto it, gently. I bounced for a moment, then went to unbutton my shirt - his shirt.
“Leave it on,” he said. His voice was rough.
I nodded, but then went to take off my shorts, unbuttoning them and shimmying out of them without getting up. He watched me, even as he pushed down his own shorts. He had nothing on underneath them. He was totally naked, and I only had on his unbuttoned shirt. He was already mostly hard, and I got onto my knees on the bed, crawling towards him.
Oliver stepped closer and placed a hand on my chin, pulling me up and into another kiss. I kissed back for a moment, then pulled away and moved down his neck, kissing at his chest and his stomach. His hands kept moving through my hair, restlessly.
Unable to wait any longer, I hummed and took him into my mouth. I had more practice now. I took him in as deeply as I could, and moaned at the salty-sharp taste of him. His smell here, too, was stronger, even though he’d showered.
“Oliver,” he said, and this time his own name, my name, was a moan from his lips. I bobbed my head a few times, swallowing around him, before I pulled off.
“I want to tell you something.” My voice was already rough - in part with arousal, and in part even with the little time he’d spent in my throat.
He looked at me, then pulled me up to my knees again so he could face me. “What?”
“One day, when you were out, I went into your room - I found your swimsuit on your bedpost. You’d worn it that morning, but you hadn’t gone swimming. I pressed my face against it so I could smell you, and then I pulled it completely over my head, just so I could press my nose and my lips where your cock had been. I pushed my hips against your bed, and then I got on all fours, and I thought about fucking you, and you fucking me, and I nearly touched myself there in your bed, except I heard you downstairs and I wanted to see you.”
“Jesus, Elio.” It was more a hiss from his mouth than a sentence.
He climbed onto the bed, then, pushing me back, putting his knees on either side of mine. We were both kneeling on the bed, and he placed his hands against my jaw and my neck and kissed me and kissed me, pushing me back until there was room for both of us to lie down. He pulled back and laid down on his side, then pulled me over on top of him, and into another kiss.
I could feel his cock nudging at the inner part of my thigh, and mine was pressed against his hip. I pushed until we rolled over again, and he was on top of me - I liked the weight of him over me, even though he tried to hold himself up, palms on either side of my head. I bucked my hips up against him and moaned against his lips, and he pulled back to look down at me.
He was breathing heavily. His lips were pink and damp, a little swollen already from all our kissing. He was flushed, down to his chest, and his Star of David hung down from his neck, nearly brushing mine.
I looked down to his hips and saw his cock standing out from his body. I reached for it, and slowly moved my hand up and down a few times, then rubbed my thumb at the slit. He shook, and his arms, where he was holding himself up, started to give out. I let go of him, put both of my arms around his waist, and tugged until he had laid down fully on top of me. I pushed my hips up against his stomach again, and shivered at the feel.
“Let me taste you,” he breathed out against my ear.
“Why don’t we both?”
He shook his head. “I want to do something first.”
He pushed up onto his arms again, and kissed my lips, then my neck, then down to my chest, where he actually pulled my Star of David into his mouth, just for a moment, before it landed back on my chest, damp from his mouth.
“I watched you pull that necklace into your mouth the last weeks of summer - like you were doing it absentmindedly. I kept wanting to lean over and pull it into mine.”
I pulled him up to kiss him. Then I murmured against his lips, “I was always thinking of you - thinking of pulling your necklace into my mouth, or you.”
He groaned again, and pushed his hips against me. I ran my hands up his back and held onto his shoulders. He shifted, ready to do something, then paused.
“Wait. I didn’t bring - are you clean?”
I nodded. “David and I both got tested. We always used something. I got tested again after we broke up, just in case. You?”
“...There’s only been Caroline and one other man since you. And I got tested after.”
I looked up at him. What he said didn’t ruin the mood - far from that - but it was hard for me to grasp. I rolled us over again, so I was on top of him, and I kissed him and kissed him. Once we were both desperate again, bucking up against each other, I moved down his body and pulled him back into my mouth.
I traced my tongue around the head of his cock, pushed it against the slit, then took in as much of him as I could. He bucked into my mouth, pushed into my throat, and I let him. He put his hands in my hair, and I pressed my own hands against his hips, helping to set the rhythm for us both. He started to pull at my hair, but after our conversation, I stayed put, and swallowed all of him.
Once he was finished, I sat up, wiping the back of my mouth with my hand.
“God, come here.”
I smirked, but he pushed me down onto the bed and kissed his way down my body to take me into his mouth.
I made a high, desperate sound, and pushed into his mouth.
He pulled back, just for a moment, and pressed his forehead against my hip. “I missed this, Elio. God, the way you taste.” He wrapped his shirt, my shirt, around his hand and pulled it up and down my cock, just a few times, just until I was pushing desperately into his touch, partly just from the thought of what he was doing. Then he moved and took me back into his mouth. I settled both of my own hands in his hair and pulled and held, and I repeated my own name like a mantra, murmuring it over and over as he pulled pleasure from me in ways I had forgotten he could.
I finished, and he gently licked me clean before he crawled up the bed. He helped push his shirt from my shoulders, gently, and then he settled down next to me, half on top of me, an arm around my waist, his face against my neck, his legs intertwined with mine. He’d always loved to lay with me like this when we were done - no matter what we’d done.
We lay there quietly as both of our hearts slowed their beating, and until we were both no longer panting. I felt like I might drift off when he started to speak. His face was still against my neck, with his lips brushing my skin. “I’ve never had anything else like that summer. I had slept with men before, which I think you knew, but they were all like that first morning after with you. You shrugged me off after you woke up, and I thought that was how it would be. Just sex, and nothing else. A summer experiment - and I couldn’t blame you for it. I thought it would be just like every other time. But you were obviously still attracted to me - and then you showed up in town that day, and I knew. It was different. Actually different. A lot of them never even spent the night, the men I’d known before you, but if they did, it was always like that first morning. One night, and nothing else. They’d shrug me off, tell me it was a mistake, just show me how much they regretted it. You were different. The longer we were together, the more I relaxed - I’ve never felt that with anyone else. I still haven’t."
I ran my hands over his back, and pressed a kiss to his temple, then his cheek.
“I love you. Still. I never really stopped. I’ve known other people, I’ve loved other people, but you were always still there. Nothing ever changed that. I don’t think anything can.”
Oliver lifted his head up and looked at me. “I love you, too. Still. When I used the past tense - I was covering for myself. I was still scared. The way you showed up - I wasn’t sure what would happen.”
“Neither was I, at first. But it’s not that often people get second chances like this. And I could tell - once I woke up this morning, it all just fell into place. How you’d waited. That you waited all yesterday, and didn’t push. That and your book dedication - and what you said on the hike, about later. That was all I needed to know. I just didn’t want this to end things. I wanted it to start again.”
We were both silent, and after a while, Oliver’s breathing evened out, and I could tell he had fallen asleep. I smiled, and watched him. He looked younger, sleeping - even younger than when he’d first arrived at our house. All the tension had gone out of him. I pressed a kiss into his hair and let my own eyes fall shut, and decided I could take a nap as well.
When we both woke again, I asked him to fuck me. He did, slowly, unhurried, and when I finally came, I shouted my own name. He whispered his between my shoulder blades.
We fell asleep again, then woke up and had dinner. I wore his shirt and his shorts, too, and he stole a pair of my shorts from my bag. There was still pasta left over from the night before, so we heated it back up and ate on the floor again. This time, we sat next to each other, our shoulders pressed together, my right leg over his left. We drank more of the wine, and once we were both pleasantly buzzing with it and finished with dinner, he pushed our plates aside and laid down, pulling me over on top of him.
“Fuck me, Oliver,” he muttered into my mouth, and I nearly came in my shorts for the first time since I was 17. It was only lucky we’d already had sex twice that day, or it might have been more of a danger.
I prepared him slowly, with my mouth and then my fingers, and then we fucked desperately on the floor, his legs around my waist, my face against his neck, his head tilted back as he panted and sighed and groaned. He held onto my shoulders so tightly I thought he might leave bruises, and I loved the thought of the lingering evidence of having been inside of him.
He came without my hands on him, and I followed soon after, completely overwhelmed by the sight of him.
We cleaned off with his shirt, then we went back to bed and fell back asleep.
When we both woke up, it was still early - the sun was still rising, and the cabin was mostly dark.
“I guess this is what we get for sleeping so much yesterday.”
“Mm, I think we worked hard for that rest.”
I pressed my laugh against his shoulder. “I guess so.”
He kissed me a few times, then ran a hand through my hair. “So what do we do now?”
I looked at him, at his relaxed smile, and I knew right away. “Why don’t we go back to Crema? We can go back to my parent’s house - they’d be happy to see you. They’d be happy for both of us. We can spend the rest of the summer there, and then figure it out.”
“I’ll have to go back to New York in the fall. To teach.”
I thought about it, but it only took a moment. I shrugged. “Then I’ll come with you. It’s not like I’ve got anywhere else to be. I can play music in New York. I came out here to figure out what I should do once the summer was over - I think I found what I was looking for.”
He looked at me, and for once it was obvious that he was on the verge of tears. I kissed at the corners of his eyes, the same way he’d once done to me, and he pressed his face against my shoulder again, and we held each other close.
“So back to Heaven for the rest of the summer, then back to New York,” he said quietly.
“That’s the plan.”
“We should leave today, then.”
It took us a long time to get out of bed - we showered, then ate breakfast. I made eggs while he made toast, and while he sliced the fruit purely so neither of us would be tempted - and yet, we still ended up having sex one final time before we finished our packing to leave the cabin.
Both of us still a little tired, we cleaned up enough to leave things the way we’d found them, and we stepped out of the cabin and into the midday sun.
“Is now the later you were talking about? Have any lies you want to tell?”
Wrapping an arm around my waist, Oliver leaned in and kissed at my temple, and then my hair, breathing in deeply. “I hate you,” he said so warmly that it seemed to slide right into my chest.
Still, I laughed, and elbowed him. “Idiot.”
“Now I know you’re lying. I’m a doctor. Finishing up his second book.”
“Why don’t you shut up and start hiking, huh?”
He pulled me back against him, arm around my waist, and as much as it was difficult to start our hiking that way, we did. I thought about how we would get down the mountain and find a phone - how we’d call my parents. How happy they’d be, to hear from both of us. How my father would smile when we walked into the house - how they would both know, and be happy. How we’d spend the summer there, helping Maman pick fruits, going swimming, and going to my spot to be alone. How we’d read to each other and lay in the grass and read separately. How sometimes I would sit at the table and transcribe music and he’d lay in the grass and work on his book. How my family would actually properly be his family, for all intents and purposes, and this time, at the end of the summer, I would leave with him. My family and Mafalda and Anchise would see us both off, and we’d come back for Hanukkah and for holidays and always, always for the summer.
I nudged him with my elbow, reached down and intertwined our fingers just to squeeze at his hand, and then took off practically running. “Elio!” I shouted.
I heard him laugh, and then follow after me. “Oliver!”