He moved to the states eight months ago. Eight months, three days, and some change in hours to be exact. There isn’t much I think about these days that isn’t consumed by the knowledge that he’s near somewhere, just barely out of reach. He could be anywhere honestly, and as long as it was on this side of the world, I’d feel him as if miles were millimeters. Prof. kept me updated on him, but I hadn’t heard from him in months. It was a sign, surely. Perhaps he’d heard my marriage hadn’t exactly worked. Perhaps he forgot. About me, that is. And our summer. I wouldn’t blame him, I suppose; it was fleeting and he was young, still is. Of course, none of those fears seem to matter anymore.
The message came through a few days ago, scribbled on paper from a student who answered my phone while I was away in class. Guy named Elio wants to meet for coffee. The numbers drawn out along the bottom of the note taunted me until I caved and called him, though someone else picked that call up as well. I left a time and place with him, hoping I could avoid the sound of Elio over wavelengths in favor of hearing him next in person. He sounded different on the phone. Distant. Gravely, and not because of me. I tried not to think about the man who answered being the reason he stopped calling.
He’s late, or maybe I’m terribly early and time is simply merciless. I feel the shift in the air more than see him, his body hidden by others as the crowd near the counter grows. I stand, eager, convinced it’s him who just entered. I glance around, searching and– oh. There, those eyes. That hair, that shift in the shoulders when he sways, the subtle twitch of his lips. My god– Elio.
He sees me and blinks a few times, his smile slow, mine worse. He approaches like gravity and I know, I know, by the set of his eyes that this isn’t a visit to rekindle anything, but god, I wish it was. He looks good, happy even. I search for the seams of the front he must surely be putting up, just as I do everyday without him. “Oliver,” he says, reaching for my hand to grasp. He’s warm– his voice, his touch, his eyes. He, is warm. Like sunlight. It’s not enough and I regret instantly anything I’d ever done to pull me away from him back in Italy. I didn’t know what I was walking away from and towards; I didn’t know I’d miss him this much.
“Elio,” his name is anything but foreign on my lips, but it feels strange to finally say it to him in person again, like pages of a manuscript once lost pieced back together. He tells me I look good and I pretend to believe him. When I tell him the same, that old hidden smile flashes across his face as if my words have double meaning or secrets embedded in their syllables. He bites his lip and it’s gone, his hands folding in his lap comfortably. I feel like I’m drowning.
“I wanted to see you again.” There’s no question in it, my breath leaving my lungs. “For old time’s sake. It seemed right.” He shrugs the words away as soon as they leave his lips, as if they mean nothing. As if I mean nothing.
“It always seemed right.” I can’t help myself. If I had prepared for the way he filled out, the sparkle still there in his eyes, the confidence oozing out of him…maybe then, I would be able to control myself.
He smiles that same smile, the one he once gave me on a train, and looks away. “Careful, a man might read between the lines.” He clears his throat and looks back at me, the smile turning careful and reserved. Polite.
It occurs to me he’s looking for closure soon after when he asks about my life and how well I’m doing. He avoids topics that might lead us back to the possibility of us and ignores any mention I make of our time together. He wants to move on, it seems. I wish I could. “I’m glad you’re well,” he’d say. “I was worried when I heard about some stuff you know. But I’m glad. Things worked out for the best, I think.” I can’t tell if he means for me to read into it but I do, I can’t help it. I have to know what he knows, what he thinks, if he wants this, too. Because I want it, I’ve waited for this moment it since the second I walked away from him.
“Did your parents tell you then? How she found our letters?” He stiffens and looks down. “It’s alright. We weren’t a good match, better we learned that before children were brought into it or something.”
“I didn’t mean to–I never intended–” He shakes his head and it’s full of earnest regret and it finally clicks. The silence.
“That’s why you stopped calling, isn’t it?” He won’t meet my eyes and I know I’m right.
“Among other reasons. I needed to… move on, Oliver. I had to,” he tells me, but he still can’t look at me when he says it. He’s lying, he has to be. Please don’t tell me he’s moved on, that all this time I spent wondering, he was out there forgetting, leaving me behind.
“But you didn’t, did you?” He swallows and my heart picks up, accelerating with every second he doesn’t breathe. “I haven’t,” I confess, hoping to prod him along.
“Don’t say that,” he says, shaking his head. “That’s not going to make anything easier.” He seems resolved, and I want to break whatever wall he’s got up even if it means ripping my own hands apart trying to tear it down.
“What if I’m tired of easy?”
“I miss you.” My boldness surprises even me, though he catches his attention even more. He meets my gaze finally, his eyes wide, caught off guard.
“I have to go,” he shakes his head, stands. I follow him to the door, my fingers wrapping around his wrist. “Oliver–”
“Please don’t leave.” He meets my eyes and swallows hard. I can see in an instant that he’s calculating the risk of being with me again, of his own potential heartache. I feel it too, the grand possibility of absolute destruction in his embrace. My parents still don’t know about him, about me. The path would be difficult if he stayed, but my heart would break all over again if he didn’t, and I’m not sure anymore which option is better. He looks around the coffee shop pointedly and I release him, knowing my reputation would be at stake here; people would talk–students, teachers, friends. “Can I see you again?” I ask because I’m desperate and he always made me a little more reckless and brave.
“Yes,” he says quietly, though his voice is intense and full of emotion. He doesn’t look sure of his answer, but he doesn’t retract the answer either. I nod and step back to let him go if he wants, understanding instantly that I might never have him the way I want ever again. I could be too late, I could have let too much time pass between the divorce and now. I shouldn’t have said I do in the first place when he held so much of my heart in his own chest. Seeing him again now might not mean anything, he could just want a friendship, maybe more closure. Maybe more, though. He could want more, it’s not absurd. I want more.
I get his address from his father three days later when all I’ve heard from him is passed messages timed almost too conveniently to match up with my class schedule. Almost as if he’s avoiding my questioning by way of telephone tag. He never says much, just that he’ll catch me later sometime. Later. Like I used to say that summer. I hope it’s not my TA’s addition, that it’s something he truly said in messages to me. A piece of the past to create the future. Maybe.
My heart races the entire ride over to his place, knowing full well that I might be too late. He could be with someone. He could want nothing to do with me; I could have greatly misjudged his subtext and starry eyes and he could have simply been attempting politeness. His continued phone messages make me think otherwise, though, and while I feel bad for wanting him to suffer, a part of me hopes he aches just as deeply as I do for the connection we had with one another. The connection so clearly still there, as seen at coffee when I could anticipate his smile or teasings; when he knew just when to push me and when to play things off lightly. A shared intimacy that transcends time and boundaries.
He doesn’t answer the door when I knock–his roommate does, and I recognize the sound of his voice from the day Elio didn’t pick up. He rounds the corner when he hears my voice asking for him, and the roommate takes one look between us before excusing himself, grabbing a coat and leaving us alone. “What are you doing here?” Elio asks.
“You know exactly why I’m here.” It’s true, it has to be. He has to know why I’d come here. He nods slowly and looks around, gesturing with a hand that finds his neck after motioning me in. I walk in and close the door, trying to stop my hands from shaking.
“I wasn’t sure…the other day. I wasn’t sure you were serious,” he says after an agonizing period of time.
“About missing you?” He nods, looks away. I realize his confidence was flawed, too eager. He’d been just as nervous as I’d been, something I could only truly see now that I’d caught him off guard for real in his apartment. “Elio, I’ve missed you every day since we parted.” I’d missed his everything–his smell, his presence, the way he could put me off balance and keep me grounded simultaneously with a single glance. I don’t really care if this goes up in flames anymore–the slight possibility that he might miss me too brings more comfort than anything has in months. He steps towards me and I try not to let it go to my heart that his gaze slips to my lips.
“You mean that?” he asks, slight disbelief in the tremble of his voice. I don’t want to push this but I need something, some sort of recognition that this isn’t just platonic, that it could never be. That his words now mean what I think they might mean, that the way he’s looking at me is with intent and emotion, the very same intent and emotion which drove me to call his father to find his address. I nod, unsure of my own voice. “Well, you know how I feel.”
“Do I?” I can’t risk misinterpreting his words, not for a second. “Elio,” I say, because he’s in front of me, staring, as if I hold his world together and not the other way around. “If you mean what I think you mean, then you need to tell me,” I breathe. “Now.”
“I thought maybe you’d call. When you divorced, I waited, and it never happened. I thought it wouldn’t happen.” My heart sinks. God, what a bastard I was. He waited? How dare I make him wait? “My dad told me to calm down but you stopped writing so, I don’t know, Oliver. What was I supposed to think?”
“I was in love with you,” I tell him, because it’s true. His eyes grow wide for a moment and I forget, I forget that I never told him. “I am in love with you.”
“You never called–”
“I was afraid,” I tell him, stepping forward. “I didn’t know if you felt the same still, and so soon after the split. I was afraid, Elio. But how I felt never changed.”
“You love me?” he asks, nodding slowly, his hands falling limp at his sides as I cautiously approach. Yes, I tell him, willing him to believe it. “You love me.” He swallows. I’m a step away now, close enough that I can smell his aftershave and see the freckles dotting his nose. “Oliver–”
“I know, I know I might be too late–”
“You’re not,” he says, shaking his head. “You’re not too late.” We lock eyes and I swear the world tilts with the set of his jaw, the curve of his spine I can still feel under my fingertips like a ghost. I can’t breathe but it’s alright, he seems to sustain me with just his eyes. How much time had passed since I’d last kissed him? Since I held him in his bed? How many nights had I spent wondering what he was doing, if he thought of me? To know I wasn’t too late, to know he’s here, telling me I’m not too late, his body still and steady, waiting. Always waiting.
I kiss him, unable to stop myself from surging forward any longer. His hands are on me and it’s intoxicating, the fingers finding my back and pressing invisible keys along my spine like a concerto. Our souls merge through tongue and cheek and hands until it’s hard to know where we each end and begin again. It’s more than I remember, the slide of his skin against mine, his sigh on my neck. His pants dropping to the ground, his moan, his nails, his laughter and teasing and intense desire to find me in himself through names and sheets and pressed eyes. And maybe I’m not too late, but maybe this isn’t as easy as we’d like to believe when his thumbs dig into my hips or the sun rises on his chest. Maybe we can make it together, maybe it’ll be fine. Because now that I know, now that I know, I don’t think I can go back. He’s the only one who’s ever pieced me back together by taking me apart, the only one who’s ever looked through me to see inside, beyond the lies and masks I held for everyone else.
He’s the only one.