“You’ve just met me.”
“Just met you? We’ve known each other our entire lives.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” I ask.
Instead of answering my question immediately, as so I expected due to the quick back and forth nature of our conversations throughout the night, he turns away from where he had me up against the marble wall, floating down the hall with the enchantment of a siren’s call. Me, the sailor.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” The question pulls me just as well, and like a dog on a leash, so short and tight, I jog to catch up by his side, ever the opposite of his stroll.
“Am I?” I find myself asking. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Do you find me repulsive, Oliver?”
Repulsive? “Repulsive?” I wouldn’t dream of it. “Of course not.”
“You see, I knew that beforehand. I knew that when you entered the room this evening I was the first face to catch your eye.” His voice bounces around inside of the hallway like light, pleasant, comforting.
I chuckle. “You know that because I told you.”
“Yeah, you were bold an hour ago.”
“And I’m not bold now?”
The alcohol is in control of his tongue. That’s what I say, anyway. He may have been speaking like this the entire night, but for all I know, it could be because he’s one of the sorts to be drunk on life. Drunk on youth. “If you were bold now you wouldn’t have said, '' You've just met me “ when I tried to kiss you just then. Now I look like an idiot.”
His cheeks are heavy with color, and his eyes are drawn to the toes of his shoes as he goes step by step deeper into the manor. The confidence, unsurprisingly, is still oozing from him with ease. Except now he’s trying to act cute and innocent and sheepish as if what that was back there was just a kiss. As if his hand wasn’t also on the front of my pants.
It’s maddeningly, stupidly, frustratingly adorable. So, on I go down the hall, and on he goes leading me, even as we stay in stride.
“You have just met me.”
“So you claim.” He tilts his head side to side, brown curls bouncing. “Agree to disagree.”
Agree to disagree? “I’d know if I’ve met you before. You’re gorgeous.”
“So you claim.”
“It’s the truth.”
“A kiss to seal the deal?” He pauses, pulling me to a halt without raising a finger.
“You’re very persistent, aren’t you, Elio?”
He works his jaw, a jaw that reminds me of the ones chiseled into stone, displayed in museums, auctioned for millions, and gives me the same look that he gave me when we first spoke over glasses of champagne. Then he takes that flawless bottom lip and sucks it into a gentle bite.
The silence that follows is heated, maybe even scalding. After making sure when I speak again I won’t stutter, I break it in fear of injury.
“What?” That’s all it is.
“I like it.”
He’s walking again, and as this game is going, so am I. I don’t know where we’re headed, exactly. Elio had done this with quite the finesse, finesse I would expect from a person who’s lived a life of many, romance after romance, love after love, sex after sex. But in the end, I could be getting him all wrong, and he could be exactly who I think not to be, casting me in his favorite play which he can draw and close the curtains to whenever he pleases.
Whatever his intentions, although I don’t think them ill, I’m enjoying myself.
“The way you say my name.”
The length of the hallway stops, only because he’s gliding through the door of an unmarked side room like this place is his own.
“Isn’t that how everyone says it?” I ask as he flicks on the light, revealing a comfortably large lounging room with a grand piano fitted in one of the corners.
Elio turns on his heels, arms behind him, nodding his head towards the door. I close it.
“No,” he says, answering my question. “You say it like I’m the love of your life.” He turns again, beelining for the piano, settling onto the stool, painting a picture. What a picture. He floats his made to be worshipped hands over the keys of the piano and flutters his slender fingers, preparing to play.
I ease myself down onto one of the lounging chairs closest to him, lifting my feet onto the footrest, not taking my eyes off of him.
“You think so? Elio,” he looks at me over his shoulder, “Elio, Elio, Elio…”
“I don’t hear it. It’s probably in your head.”
Amusingly, with bite, he looks away from me and harshly starts at the piano. He hits the keys with emotion, shoulders moving with the song. I know it, and I don’t like it, simply because it’s not what I want to hear right now, and he’s most definitely aware of this. But he’s playing it anyway, probably expecting me to interrupt him and ask that he play something else instead. Rather than doing what he expects of me, I wait it out, drowning out the distasteful atmosphere of this certain melody with the thought of later. . .
“Did you like that?” Elio asks.
I shrug. “You didn’t finish.”
“I didn’t like it.”
“So why did you play it?”
“You didn’t ask me to?” He jokes.
“I did not.”
“Huh.” He bounces his knee for a moment, getting lost in his head. And just like that, he’s out of it again, throwing me that charming smile and singing that siren’s song. “Ask me to play something, then.”
“Play whatever you like, Elio.”
“I’d rather see what your tastes are. See if you’re worthy.”
“Worthy? Of what?”
“Ask me to play something.”
“Fine,” I sigh. “Fine, fine. Play that one song.” It’s doesn’t have a name or the slightest sense of fame, this song. It’s mine, one that I wrote, and I play it from time to time when I get bored. I like to think that it’s me as a song. Me in the ink of the notes on the paper. My body in the volume, my soul in the tone. Something, something, whatever, whatever. I like it.
Understandably, Elio’s face scrunches up in confusion. “That one song?”
“Yup. That one song. You should know what I’m talking about.”
“Does it have a name?”
“Well, how the hell am I supposed to-”
“Play the song, Elio.”
Hook, line, sinker. He pouts my way but starts to face the piano again nonetheless. And then he sits there, silent, staring out the windows into the shivering leaves of the apricot trees. I wait, patiently, although I wish I grabbed one more glass before this journey.
I hear him whisper, but only whisper. The words are lost on me, and I have no time to ask what he’s saying, because he starts to play at the keys, deeming me quiet and listening.
Quiet and listening to my song.
Because that’s exactly what it is.
It’s my song, even though I’m positive he’s never heard it before. Reasons being, this is very well my first time ever coming to Italy. Not many people have heard my song to begin with, and I know this with certainty because my song is a book. A journal. My diary, as ludicrous as that sounds. It’s solely personal, something I’ve spent years working and perfecting and tweaking because I’m also forever changing. Always forever discovering more things about myself.
I would be out of my seat if something wasn’t keeping me in it. My feet, however, are planted to the ground. My elbows have found my knees and my hand has found my chin. I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what move to make. All I can do is sit here and listen.
As I do listen, I pick out the little parts that sound different, because I hear them. To anyone else, the difference might’ve been so small that it doesn’t even exist in the slightest. But when you hear something so many times, hell, when you’ve written it your goddamn self you just know. You just know what parts you didn’t write down.
I’m shaking my head as Elio finishes up all 4 minutes and 48 seconds of my song, which I know because I’ve timed it before, recently even.
“That’s...that was my song.”
He still isn't looking at me, distracting himself with his pointer finger lightly running along a key. “Was it?”
“Yeah. But you changed some parts. You made it…” I can’t find the goddamn words. “Overall. It was…”
“Lighter is what I think you’re trying to say. It’s lighter in some parts.”
“Well,” he starts, finally letting that finger fall, “I think if you gave everyone a chance to play your song, you’d find that they all play it a bit differently.”
“Did you not like it?”
“...Explain to me how you know my song, Elio.”
“You’ve played it for me before, don’t you remember?”
He’s testing me. Testing everything I think to be real. And I end up failing this test by allowing doubt to shroud into my mind. Allowing myself a moment to reach back and see what I can find, if I can find anything, and if it’s exactly what I’m looking for or what Elio says it is.
But there’s nothing there besides a wall of white space, stretching from one end of my memory to the other. By the look that Elio’s giving me, he’s well aware of the inner turmoil I’m facing and tries to comfort me with a carefree smile and juvenile laughter like it’s all a joke, which it should be, but then this would be funny. It’s not funny.
“Would you believe me if I told you that’s been in my head for nearly 7 years?” he asks, taking a breath and leaving the piano to trace the outskirts of the room. “But I’ve known it forever.”
“I’ve...That doesn’t make any sense, you know that right?”
He shrugs. “I know what I know. Our song is our song.”
“So it’s our song now?”
“Yes, Oliver, our song. Because we’ve played it for each other again, and again, and again, over and over, so many times in so many lives, always, forever, our song.” Elio stops at another window, sitting on the small nook. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
He laughs again before sarcastically saying, “No, the garden.”
I find myself finally being able to stand, but only to meet him by the window. When he looks up at me, it’s as if he wants to take me, clear as day. As if he wants to stuff me in a bag and never let me leave this country, which I’m not so sure I would mind in the end, what with how hauntingly mysterious he is and everything. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone quite like him, not at all.
“You gonna kiss me now?” he asks as I sit, bodies almost as close as they had been in that hallway. “Or have I just met you?”
“You said… You said, “ We’ve known each other our entire lives. “... What did you mean by that?”
“What did I mean by it?”
Elio takes my hands, holding them, squeezing them. “The truth. Come on, Elio,” he kisses the back of my hand the way a prince would do a princess in fairy tales, and I’m no princess, but as his fingers did over the keys, my heart flutters. “How would I know what I know if it weren’t true?”
And it hits me. What he’s called me just now. “...Elio?”
He nods. “Elio, Oliver, Elio,” he kisses my hand again. “It’s all the same.”
“Since forever.” Raw. Unfiltered. Suddenly he looks so small. He might cry at any moment and it’s gonna be my fault when he does. What he wants is closure, for me to say, I understand, but I don’t, and I can’t, won’t, lie to him. Not like this. Then he says it again and those tears do fall, “Elio.”
And, well, I still don’t understand, but I let him fall against my chest and hold him while he cries. Something tells me to run my fingers along his back, to press into his spine, to massage his nape and play with the silky brown of his curls. Something tells me. Why?
Who exactly are you, Elio?
“Please, just kiss me already,” he sighs, lifting away from my chest, where his head now rests in my hands, where his unfairly long lashes sparkle with his tears. Where his skin is a pretty pink of sorrow. Where his cheeks are wet and warm. Where his nose bumps mine. “Just kiss me.”
To say no to such an irresistible request would be the fall of an empire, and that empire would be me. I’d never be able to forgive myself if I walked away now, after everything, if I even so much as dared to use that no good garbage excuse that it was only 8 PM when we first laid eyes on each other, and 9:30 when he tried me in the hallways. Now, well, I have no idea what time it is.
“If we’ve truly known each other our entire lives, then…”
Elio nods, so I kiss him.
When I do, our song plays, and I think he can hear it, too. And it’s, oh, no. God, no, it was never my song. It was never me in the melody, not even me and him. Just, just us. Us as in one. There is no Elio. There is no Oliver.
“It’s ours,” he whispers. “Our song. Before. Always. Forever. Our song, Elio.”
Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.
“Oliver.” Yes. I know this. I know him. My love, my love, my love. My Elio. My Oliver. I remember everything. “I remember everything.”