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To Be Young And In Love

Chapter Text

A crowded arcade.

“Dragon’s Lair” game: the usual arcade favorite.

Two slender hands belonging to a tall blond boy working the game’s controls.

 

This is what I witnessed on that warm evening in June. In fact, this is what I had been witnessing every evening since school had ended for the summer. Every night, after finishing dinner at my household, I would hop on my bike and head off to “Fun Terminal Arcade” where my best friend, Thomas, and I would take turns playing “Dragon’s Lair”.

 

Thomas Cahn had been my best friend since the seventh grade, when I had moved to New York from my hometown, Crema. Thomas and I had always been so different. Thomas always wants to go out to parties, or to arcades; I would rather stay home and read a good book. Thomas likes rock and roll or pop music; I prefer classical. Thomas plays every sport imaginable; I transcribe music. We’re diverse in every way, but I think that’s what makes us so compatible.

 

Three loud honks sounded from the parking lot. Our ride was here. Thomas and I strode out to the blue Honda Accord that was parked in the parking lot of the arcade. I gazed over to the front seats and noticed that Thomas’ brother, who had just returned from graduate school, Oliver, was in the passenger’s seat of the car. I guess he was home again. My heart began to race, although I couldn’t explain why. I attempted to compose myself by taking a few deep breaths. Get a grip, I told myself, you’ve known Oliver for so long, why are you freaking out?

 

I realized that Thomas had already gotten into the back seat of the car and was staring at me, waiting for me to follow. I climbed in beside him and greeted his mother, who was driving, kindly, before hastily focusing my gaze on my sneakers.

 

On the ride home, however, I couldn’t stop my eyes from wandering to the seat diagonally in front of me, which happened to be where Oliver was sitting. I couldn’t stop my eyes from looking at that thick blond hair and slightly golden skin that was probably acquired from some time in the sun. I couldn’t stop them as I admired his blue billowy shirt while I traced the lines of his collarbone and muscular arms. I was forced to stop them, however, when his dazzling blue eyes turned to lock with mine. I stuck my head down and swiftly averted his gaze.

 

“Elio,” he greeted me, despite my obvious attempt at ignoring his presence. Something about the way he said my name made my heart beat even faster and harder than before, I was sure it was visible through my shirt. “What have you been up to these days?” I was now forced to meet his eyes in order to reply to this pointless attempt at chit-chat.

 

“Oh you know,” I began, feeling my cheeks heat up, “same old.” God, Elio. Could you sound any more brainless? This happened every time I talked to Oliver.

 

“That’s nice.” And with that, he turned around and did not say another word the rest of the car ride, until we arrived at the Cahn household where he shouted “Later!” and ran into the house before Thomas or I could even get out of the car.

 

Later on, when Thomas and I had retreated into his room after watching reruns of “Happy Days” on TV for hours, I inquired about Oliver. How long had he been back? About a week. How come I hadn’t seen him before now? He had been busy unpacking and meeting with friends. What were his summer plans? Thomas was unsure about this one, and questioned my curiosity regarding Oliver. No reason, was the reply I’d given him.

 

But of course there was a reason. Oliver had always intrigued me, for reasons that are still unclear to me. Do I look up to him like an older brother? Do I wish he was my friend? Or is it something more than that? I still can’t tell you. But I know it’s something.

 

It was getting late and I phoned my parents to let them know I would be staying over at Thomas’. They immediately agreed. “Va bene tesoro,” had been their exact reply.

 

I walked back into Thomas’ room to find him passed out in his bed. I quietly made my way to the blankets he had set up for me on the floor.

 

I awoke with a start. What time was it? Three-thirty-six AM. God, I was thirsty. I threw on the shirt I had been wearing the day before and tiptoed down the stairs. I rubbed my eyes and made my way to the kitchen. Half in a daze, I walked over to the cupboard, opened it, grabbed a glass, and began pouring water from the jug that sat on the counter.

 

“Elio?” I froze. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. It belonged to Oliver. I looked up and found him sitting at the counter eating sliced peach. I must have not noticed him. His blond hair looked disheveled and his eyes had dark circles around them.

 

‘Do you want to sit?”

Chapter Text

I made my way around the large counter and took the seat beside Oliver. My heart was racing. My leg was shaking. I fiddled with the white t-shirt I was wearing and allowed my other hand to tap against the quartz counter. Why had he asked me to sit with him? Whenever Oliver spoke to me, it was always the casual “hello” or “later!” But never anything like this.

 

I couldn’t help but notice the hush that had fallen over the whole house as everyone slept. It was completely dark except for the glow of the moonlight that peaked in through the window and illuminated Oliver’s chiseled face. I noticed how close Oliver and I were, that if I moved my hand even an inch to the left, I could rest it on his muscular leg. Before I could overthink the situation even more, Oliver spoke.

 

“You look different.”

 

“Do I?”

 

“Yes,” he stated, “you’re taller and your curls are longer.” This observation made heat creep up my neck and into my cheeks, I was definitely blushing. I silently thanked the higher powers for the lack of light in the kitchen, surely he couldn’t tell that my cheeks had turned red.

 

“Thanks,” was it a compliment though? So I hastily added: “I guess.”

 

After a few moments of silence, oliver asked: “Do you want one?” he motioned to the bowl of peaches he was eating. I shook my head.

 

We sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity.

 

“You play piano, right?”

 

“Yeah, yeah I do.” Weird that he’d bring it up so randomly.

 

“I know it’s weird to ask. And I normally wouldn’t, but you’re like a brother to me, so I was wondering if you’d play for me. It just-- it helps me fall asleep. I haven’t had a good sleep in months, but music always seems to calm me. So would you?” It seemed like he would ramble on forever if I didn’t interrupt with an answer.

 

“Sure I will.”

 

But what struck me more than this unexpected request, were the words that came before it.

 

Like a brother to me. Like a brother to me . Why did that bother me so much? We were like brothers, weren’t we? I mean, ever since I’d moved to New York, majority of my weekends would be spent at the Cahn household. Every spare moment I got, whether it be summer or winter, would always be spent with Thomas, and consequentially, with Oliver too.  Until he went away for University. Then I scarcely saw him.

 

I strode over to the living room where the grand piano (that was mostly used for decoration as none of the Cahn family knew how to play piano) sat and began playing. I played Bach’s Capriccio and then switched to play Synthesia. I turned my head to see if Oliver was listening. He had his eyes closed and was swaying to the melody. Seeing him, the Oliver that is usually so intimidating and put together, be at a state of such vulnerability and dependency on someone else (in this case to help him finally sleep) made my heart swell.

 

I played for what seemed like hours until I stopped to see what Oliver was doing. I assumed he had fallen asleep since it was eerily quiet in the kitchen. But, when I looked over, Oliver was gone. Only the empty bowl of peaches that lay on the counter gave any evidence that Oliver had ever been there in the first place.

****

Early that morning, after abandoning the piano and retreating back to Thomas’ room, I fell back into a deep sleep. Thomas woke before me and went out for a jog. When he returned, I was already awake and sitting at the breakfast table with his mother.

 

“Elio I thought you were still sleeping, otherwise I would have waited for you to run.” Thomas said apologetically, as he walked into the dining room where we sat.

 

I chuckled, “I would have been too tired to go anyway.”

 

“Didn’t sleep well?” Thomas’ mother, Mrs. Cahn, interrupted. Her question was obviously directed at me.

 

“How’d you know?”

 

“I heard the piano being played in the depths of the night. No one plays the piano -- especially that beautifully-- in our house except for, well, you.”

 

“Yeah that was me. Guilty.”

 

Thomas and Mrs. Cahn both chuckled. Mrs Cahn got up from the table and walked into the kitchen to prepare a plate of eggs and fruit for Thomas as he took a seat beside me. The three of us then ate in silence, sparing the one time Mrs. Cahn asked us if we would like a second helping of breakfast. We both refused, saying we were already stuffed.

 

A few moments later, a sleepy Oliver padded down the stairs and joined us in the dining room.

 

“Sleep well, honey?” Mrs. Cahn was the first to acknowledge his presence.

 

“Actually yes,” he seemed to be looking directly at me as he spoke, “my first good sleep in months.”

 

“Glad to hear. Take a seat, I’ll get you some breakfast.”

 

“No need. I’m actually going to meet with Elio’s parents,” he was staring at me again, “they want to speak to me about something.” My parents wanted to speak to Oliver? How come they had never told me? There had never been much interest in Thomas’ older brother within my family, except for me, but they couldn’t possibly know that.

 

“Okay, well, you can drive Elio back home when you go.”

 

It was my turn to speak, “oh he doesn’t have to do that. I can walk.”

 

“It’s really no problem, Elio.” This time it was Oliver who spoke. Eventually, despite my protests, I was convinced to let Oliver drive me, so I went upstairs to gather my belongings. I waved good-bye to Thomas and thanked Mrs. Cahn for breakfast, before rushing out the door. Oliver was already waiting for me in the driver’s seat of the car. I climbed into the backseat, unsure if riding shotgun would be too close.

 

“What are you doing?” Oliver turned around to question me.

 

“Oh--uh, I thought it was okay for you to drive me home,” I was starting to blush again.

 

“It is, but why are you in the back? I’m not your personal chauffeur.” Ouch.

 

“Sorry.” I swiftly swung my leg over the front seat and plopped down in the seat beside Oliver’s. My heart was beating quickly, and I was sure my legs had almost hit Oliver’s head in the process of climbing over. In order to seem unbothered by his comment and my clumsy attempt at switching seats I added: “Better now?”

 

He muttered something that sounded like “Hmmm,” I took that as a yes.

 

When we arrived home, my parents were standing on the porch, waiting to greet us.

 

“Hello, hello Oliver,” said my Father as we approached the house, “come in. We have some exciting news!”

Chapter Text

Oliver and I stepped into my house, lead by my mother and father.

 

“I just wanted to say,” Oliver began, “that I am so grateful for this opportunity.”

 

Before my Father could reply, I interrupted: “What opportunity? And why is Oliver here?”

 

“Patience, Elio. All will be revealed soon enough”

 

I glanced at Oliver and we both began chuckling at my Father’s habit of making situations way more serious than they needed to be. My parents-- who were unaware that Oliver and I were in a fit of giggles just one step behind them-- continued leading the way into the living room and (for some reason) this made Oliver and I laugh even harder.

 

As we approached the living room, Oliver and I stood outside for a moment to collect ourselves. I didn’t even know why I was laughing anymore, all I knew was that seeing Oliver’s face light up like that made me want it to continue forever. When my laughter started to subside, he rested his hand on my shoulder and began breathing heavily, trying to calm himself down. My laughter came to a sudden halt when I felt that my shoulder was bearing the weight of his large hand. I was dizzy.

 

When Oliver had calmed himself down (which didn’t take long after I suddenly lost interest in what had humored us), I lead him into the living room and we sat down on opposite ends: I on the single loveseat in the corner, and he beside my father on the sofa.

 

“So,” my father began, “Elio: as you know our annual Crema trip is coming up--”

 

“Yes,” I interrupted, “but August is so far away..?”

 

“Ah, well,” he exchanged a glance with my mother, “we have decided that the trip will take up the entire summer this year, our departure is set for the first of July.”

 

I was taken aback. “But I have plans with Thomas! We do the same thing every summer. How’s he going to feel?”

 

“Oliver,” said my mother, “do you want to take over from here?”

 

Oliver nodded and turned to face me.

 

“Your parents have invited me to be a summer resident at your house in Crema. I’m going to help your dad with work and hopefully get him to help with mine. Thomas and my mother and father have already agreed to spend the summer there with me, but they’ll be renting the house next door.”

 

“So you’ll be?” I asked.

 

“Staying in your house. It just makes sense considering how much time I’ll be spending with your father.”

 

“And Thomas?”

 

This time my father intervened. “Elio, Thomas is welcome to stay in our house if he would like. The more the merrier, I say” he smiled at my mother.

 

Wow. This was a lot to process. July first was a week away. How was I supposed to prepare myself in just one week to see Oliver every morning when I wake up, every night before I sleep, at every meal, and everywhere I look? It’s going to take a lot of adjustment, not to mention how much more confusing my feelings for him will be.

 

After realizing that my parents and Oliver had now begun having their own conversation that I could barely overhear, rather than trying to insert myself where I was unwanted, I pushed myself out of the plush loveseat and walked out of the room, pounding up the stairs as I went.

 

It was about a half an hour later when I was sitting on my bed reading “Heart of Darkness” and there was a knock on the door. I told them to come in. The door creaked open to reveal my mother, her brown hair in a loose knot at the top of her head (which I always thought made her look younger), who strolled in and plopped herself down by the foot of the bed.

 

“Elio, sweetheart,” she began, and I knew where this was going. Both of my parents treated me like I was a fragile piece of china, one step away from breaking.  “I know this is big news. I know it must seem like the Cahn family is suddenly barging in and ruining our tradition, but it really isn’t anything like that. We invited them ” She looked at me with pity. If she wanted to treat me like a baby, then I would act like one.

 

“You could’ve consulted with me first! I just don’t understand why Oliver has to stay with us for that long. I mean, if he really needed Dad’s help, he could just come here. He doesn’t live far.”

 

My mother chuckled. “You make a fair point. But I guess since he is gone all year, he figured the summer was a good time to ask for help, and since we spend most of the summer in Italy, I figured we could just invite him and the rest of his family.” I noted the sympathy in her voice and decided it really wasn’t a big deal. Besides, it would be kind of fun to spend the summer with Thomas, and I guess Oliver, too.

 

“Mom, it’s fine. Now that I think about it, I’m actually excited to show Thomas all the things I love about Crema.”

 

She raised her right hand and allowed it to stroke my cheek, giving me an affectionate smile as she did so. A few moments later, she rose from the bed and told me that everything would be fine, I’d barely even notice Oliver’s presence (I think she somehow knew that my feelings for him were way more complicated then I let on).

 

When the door closed behind her, I buried my face into my pillow, unable to contain my excitement. This summer was going to be interesting, to say the least.

Chapter Text

 

My body ached for sleep, but being this close to Oliver made it impossible to.

 

The eight-hour plane ride had only been in flight for about an hour, but the eerily quiet and completely dark plane made it impossible to stay awake for long.

 

I was seated in between the two Cahn brothers in the row of three seats (Thomas needed the window seat to lean his head against, and Oliver needed the aisle seat due to a small bladder). So, here I was, unable to sleep on an eight hour flight, in the dead of night, while everyone else was sound asleep.

 

Who did I have to blame for this?

 

Oliver.

 

His head kept lolling onto my shoulder as he slept, and every time his head grazed my shoulder, it felt like an electric shock that seared through my body. I peered over to the left and saw that Thomas had curled into himself as he slept, which left much more room between him and I. I shifted my body to face him and moved myself as far away from Oliver as possible. It didn’t take long before I fell soundly asleep.

 

--------------------------

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Crema. The local time is nine-o’clock am, and the temperature is twenty-five degrees celsius.”

 

“Elio,” someone was shaking my arm, “we’ve landed. Wake up.” It was Thomas.

 

“Mmmmm,” I groaned and opened my eyes.

 

“Oh,” I noticed that I had rolled over as I slept and my head was now resting on Oliver’s bicep. “I didn’t realize that I was sleeping on you. Was I hurting you?” I knew I looked and sounded as flustered as I was.

 

“No, not at all,” Oliver shot me a gentle smile, before returning to reading his manuscript. Meanwhile, Thomas was snickering beside me.

 

I turned to face him, “what?” I said, trying to understand what was making him laugh so hard.

 

“Dude, you were so apologetic, it’s just Oliver. You could punch him in the stomach and he wouldn’t flinch.”

 

I let out a forced laugh, although I still did not quite understand what was so funny. Thomas shot me a look that seemed to say ‘I know more than I’m letting on’, or maybe it was just a normal look, and I was just being paranoid.

 

-------------

 

“Beautiful house you’ve got here, Mr. and Mrs. P,” said Thomas, looking up at our large house in awe.

 

My parents were unloading the luggage from the car and handing it to me, who handed it to Mrs. Cahn, who handed it Oliver, who then passed it to Thomas, who walked it into the house.

 

“Thank you, dear. But, it’s your home now, too” my mother addressed Thomas. He beamed in response.

 

Much later, after we had all settled into our respective rooms (Oliver and I took the joint rooms and Thomas claimed the slightly larger room across the hall from us), we gathered outside for dinner.

 

Our large table was set by Malfada, our housekeeper, for nine people even though there were only seven of us. We had just sat down and begun eating when Marzia and Chiara, two girls around my age, joined us at the table.

 

“Vous êtes ici!” (you’re here!) said my Father, “Thomas, Oliver, Angela, and Jack: this is Marzia,” he pointed to the pretty brunette sitting across from Thomas, “and this is Chiara,” he pointed to the girl with big hoop earrings and curly brown hair.

 

“Nice to meet --er-- ravi de vous rencontrer,” said Oliver in close-to-perfect french.

 

“Comment as-tu appris à parler français si bien?” Marzia replied. My parents began to laugh.

 

“Whoa-ho!” said Oliver, chuckling, “I’m not that good at french.” Soon the whole table was laughing. Yet again, I didn’t quite understand the humor in it, but I laughed anyway.

 

Moments later I explained to Oliver:

 

“She just wondered how you’d learnt to speak french so well.”

 

This came out in a much more disgusted tone than I had expected, and the laughter came to a sudden pause. Everyone turned to look at me.

 

My mother leaned over and whispered, “ vuoi andare di sopra e rinfrescarti?”

 

Did I want to go upstairs and cool off? No, I told her. I wasn’t upset. It just came out the wrong way. She shot me a very confused look in return.

 

It’s something about being back in Crema, and watching Oliver interact so well with the people I’d known my entire life, that threw me off. Maybe I did need to go upstairs and rest.

 

When everyone had finished eating, I quietly placed my napkin onto my plate and snuck upstairs into my room. The conversation was so lively, that I don’t think anyone seemed to notice my disappearance.

 

-------------

 

Much later, Thomas burst into my room and asked if I would like to accompany him, Oliver, Marzia, and Chiara to a trip into town: Marzia and Chiara were going to give them a tour.

 

Normally, I would refuse out of sheer stubbornness. But something (maybe it was my embarrassment over the events at dinner, or possibly my inability to talk whenever Oliver was around) that compelled me to prove I wasn’t stuck up and antisocial.

 

I told Thomas I’d meet them downstairs in five minutes.