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This Is Just The Afterglow

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Unbeknownst to many, there is a small, sleepy town tucked into a quiet corner of Vermont that has been settled under the fine dust of inertia for decades. It is a haven to the old and content, a prison to the young and headstrong, and God knows what to those in between. As small towns often are, it's a breeding ground for gossip, so when Oliver Goodman came to town chins started wagging. About town, he was known primarily as 'old Mrs. Wright's Grandson', and in the highschool he was known as 'that pretty new boy', but in the eyes of Elio Perlman he was nothing but a complete and utter nuisance.

The whole highschool was abuzz with gossip and rumination on his first day. Within his first hour, he had a devout cult of students drooling at his beauty, a football team trying to enlist him based solely on physicality (he towered above most people in the school and was reasonably well-built), and a handful of boys who had already scoped him out as competition in the field of romance. Despite all this, Oliver seemed to be unfazed. Elio had taken one look at his head of golden hair and his strong jaw and his vague similarity to at least, like, four celebrities and had deemed him trouble. He might have taken another look at him soon after, and then quite a stare as everyone settled into their seats in his History class, and then one final good ogle in gym class, but whose business was that? Anyway, he was much too easy on the eyes to be good news. He surely wasn't oblivious to his own beauty, which Elio assumed he used as a crutch to cover up of his lack of humour and intellect. Wasn't that how it was with pretty boys? He wondered how many girls Oliver would go through in his first week. 

Elio didn't like him. That was that. However to his surprise, there were no casualties of Oliver's wiles in the first week, or even the first month. He could hold his own in classes, showing at least some academic intellect, but Elio was yet to hear him make a joke. He always had lack of humour to fall back on when defending his new-found hatred. Chiara admired his beauty. Marzia did not admit it, still unsure of what grounds she was on with Elio, but she also didn't mind the fact that he was strikingly handsome. Everybody loved him. Somebody had to remind him that he wasn't God's personal gift to the world and that job fell to Elio. He didn't spare a scorching glare when they crossed paths in the hallways. If debate was an option in any class, they would verbally spar until the teacher got tired of them, and Oliver found himself to be the constant adversary of Elio in any sport being played in Gym class. The poor boy was probably confused at this unwarranted conflict, but after a week or so of permafrost from Elio, he slipped into the role of mortal enemy with no questions asked. 

It had been three months since Oliver had joined at the end of November, just after Thanksgiving Break, and the battle still waged on.

 

"Eliooo," Marzia sighed, and he whipped his head around to face her as if she had reached out and struck him.

"Huh?" He replied, still somewhat dazed from being so deep into his previous train of thought.
"Where did you go?"
He took a second to answer, tilting his head up to the sky and letting a big sigh escape him. "Just thinking," He murmured eventually.
She pouted, and then decided not to ask. Both Marzia and Chiara knew how easily he slipped into a trance. He did it often, not out of cold detachment, but rather because he got carried away by his thoughts, like a wisp of cloud on the breeze.

"Today was fun" Chiara beamed, recalling the events of the afternoon. "You know, Marzia, I think Stephen likes you."

Elio glanced over at Marzia, who scoffed and shook her head in dismissal. Chiara was right, of course. Stephen, your average highschool teen, had taken quite a liking to Marzia in the past few weeks. Chiara and Marzia had been forced to share a table with him and his friends in the cafeteria on a particularly rainy mid-February day a few weeks back, and since then, Stephen only had eyes for Marzia. The problem was, everybody had expected something to come of Elio and Marzia's decade long friendship, even Elio and Marzia themselves, so they had been tiptoeing around each other for the past seven months, each waiting for the other to say something. Therefore, the mention of interest from outside parties made things particularly awkward between the two, who had yet to decide what, or more specifically who they wanted. But that's just highschool. If there's a chance to make something about relationships, it'll be done.

"I don't want to talk about it," Marzia blushed, shrugging and pulling her coat tighter around herself.

"Oh 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘰𝘯, its about time one of us had news on the romance front," Chiara whined. Elio felt the discomfort settling in. He had never liked to talk about dating, or who he liked, or who liked him. It seemed, to him at least, like something so personal, not at all like something that he wanted to joke around with. Sure, he had dated a few girls in the past. Nothing really serious, and it had never lasted long but he didn't see the attraction of binding yourself to someone who you didn't want, who you didn't need with your whole being. Perhaps that's where the hesitation with Marzia came in. He was content with their friendship and he didn't find himself ever wanting more.

Elio had started to drift away from the conversation again, already making up excuses for anticipated questions about who he had his eyes on lately. Thankfully, rather than deflecting the subject to Elio, Marzia threw it back to Chiara.
"Well don't you have anything to say? You always have a boy on the go, or at least plan to." Marzia accused. Chiara blushed -an uncommon occurence for her- and ducked her head to look at the ground, which still passed them by as they walked at a lazy pace. Despite not really being in the mood for gossip, this piqued Elio's interest. Chiara was usually upfront about who she was into, and Elio had rarely seen her shy or embarrassed in the years that he had known her.

"What's this, Chiara embarrassed by her latest romantic pursuit?" Elio half-heartedly mocked, crossing his arms with a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"I'm not embarrassed!" Chiara insisted. "Just- just carry on walking and i'll tell you," He had just now realised that Marzia had stopped walking, clearly about to ask who this person was and what they had done with the real Chiara.

So they did, falling back into their steady stroll eager to hear about this confounding new development in Chiara's love life. The whole thing felt tacky and childish to Elio to be so invested in the romantic tendencies of someone else, but he couldn't help but feel intrigued, and it helped that he knew Chiara wanted to talk about it-that she didn't mind the attention like he did.

"Well go on then," Marzia urged.

"Okay, okay! Just dont laugh," Chiara paused for a second, biting her lip and stretching out the period of anticipation until finally she mumbled: "Oliver Goodman. I like Oliver Goodman."

Elio felt like someone has shoved a vacuum down his throat and manually deflated his lungs. He stumbled and tripped over the curb that he was balancing on, extending a hand towards the floor to push himself back upright. For some reason or another, Elio found himself laughing. Hysterically. To be truthful, laughing was the last thing he had wanted to do. He wanted to lie down on the worn tarmac and get his breath back. He wanted to crawl into his bed and stay there for atleast three working days. Most of all, he wanted to go back to five minutes ago and divert the conversation away from romance and relationships and who likes who, just so he didn't have to hear that godforsaken confession. He was still laughing, mostly because if he stopped he didnt know what he would do.

Elio heard Marzia laugh along at his side, and Chiara clearly took no offence, as she was smirking at them and looking close to laughter herself. Elio folded over and put his hand on his knees, regaining his breath.

"What the fuck?" he gasped out, humor and inquisition still lingering in his tone despite not feeling very humorous. His eyebrows were at his hairline by now. Marzia was still spluttering at his side, laughing at both Elio's fall and Chiara's confession. "Not him. Anyone but him! Everybody likes him Chiara. He's so - God, he's so annoying! And Everybody thinks that he's perfect. Come on, you can do better than that." Elio had barely anticipated his own outburst, but it didn't surprise any of them. He made his distaste for Oliver known to those close to him so that they didn't engage him in Oliver themed conversation.

"I know, you hate him. But he's just so 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦. And funny. And easy to talk to."

"And when did you gather this information?" inquired Marzia, who had recovered by now. Elio was nowhere near recovering. He couldnt see himself recovering for at least a few days. "Have you spoken to him?"

"Not exactly, no. I mean, i've borrowed the occasional pencil, given the occasional compliment. I messaged him the other day about one of some homework we were set and we spoke for a while," She offered, smiling sheepishly.

"How long?" Asked Marzia, looking more and more enthralled by the minute. To Elio, it was like watching a horror movie. For the life of him he wanted to look away, to stop listening, but for some reason he stayed and lingered on every word, waiting for the next one despite his surety of it being worse than the last.

"Never mind how long!" Elio interjected, "What do you mean 'likeable and funny'? He has as much personality and humour as- as..." He floundered for a second, looking around for something to compare the cretin to and settling upon a hunk of dog shit on the side of the path, "As much personality and humour as that!"  He exclaimed, gesturing towards it. Chiara turned up her nose and sidestepped it before turning to scoff at Elio.

"How would you know what he's like? You haven't had one civil conversation with him since he joined last year!" 

"He's just no good. I mean look at him- they would cast him in a Disney Live Action as Hercules. If you got into a relationship with him it would be dull and it would last, like, two weeks and it would take a whole other week for his five braincells to process that you're breaking up with him!" Elio knew this wasn't true - the part about him being stupid - because he had shown himself to be quite smart over the months, if not exceedingly so. But he would forget about that for now, just to bolster his argument.

"Why do you care? Jealous?" Chiara arched one thin, shapely eyebrow at him. For a second he assumed she was asking if he was jealous of her and her potential relationship with Oliver, and his stomach dropped. That was one thing he could do without thinking about. He quickly realised she was teasing him about being jealous of Oliver, and the fact that if he so wished he  could be with Chiara in a heartbeat. He didn't mind the joke; there had never been anything remotely close to a romantic relationship between himself and Chiara, nor would there ever be. They were more like cousins, or perhaps siblings who didn't acknowledge eachother at a reach.

"Very funny," he glared at her, hoping they didn't notice the moment of hesitation. He didn't say anything more on the topic, suddenly feeling so uncomfortable with the his first interpretation of Chiara's comment that he just wanted to talk about something senseless and boring, like the weather or the English homework due in next Monday. However, Chiara and Marzia continued with the conversation, not noticing his sudden change of heart.

"So, how long have you been talking?" Marzia repeated, swaying one way to bump Elio's shoulder and then the other to bump Chiara's. 

"Uh, about a month maybe?"

"A month? And you never thought to tell me?"

Elio let the conversation filter out after that. He stared up at the darkening sky, letting muscle memory guide him down the side walk. He didn't know how long they had been walking when Chiara said her farewells and turned down the driveway to her house. "Text me or we can talk more about it tomorrow," she shouted, clearly to Marzia, and then threw a wave over her shoulder and stepped into the glow emanating from her front door.

"Wow. I can't believe she didn't tell us sooner," Marzia mused.

"Hm? Oh yeah. Crazy." Elio replied half-heartedly, still lost in thought. 

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?" Apparently Marzia had picked up on his unrest. He replied a bit too flippantly, but she didn't seem to mind.

"You just seem, well, I don't know. Quiet. Reserved." She was too observant.

"Oh, I'm fine, just tired is all." They got to the corner of the road where they would part ways, each going to their own house. Elio pulled her into a side hug and kissed her cheek. Marzia was used to European mannerisms, so she didn't read into it too much. 

"See you tomorrow. Good night," She said returning a chaste kiss on his cheek before ducking out from underneath his arm and turning down her road. 

"Bye," He replied, and she turned to wave over her shoulder. She wasn't sure what she wanted from Elio. Their friendship was comfortable and familiar and she didn't often find herself wishing for more than that, but some days, when she did find herself wishing for someone to kiss and to hold and to love, she saw Elio. Whether it was out of just being close to him or actually wanting to date him, she didn't know. She expected she would have to put some serious thought into that before diving straight in.

The street that Elio walked along became more and more sparsely populated, while each house grew slightly bigger and each garden became slightly more extravagant. To put it plainly, he was rich. He lived in a decent house in the suburbs. It wasn't the kind of house that screamed 'too much money but nothing to do with it so we spent it on making the most outlandish house possible' although they probably could have afforded that. Instead, it was a Georgian style house, not particularly stately and grand but rather cosy and cottage-esque, with ivy shrouding some of the long, panelled windows and a stone pathway leading from a spindly gate and arch to the porch. A lot of the houses on the street looked like this, even more so as the road progressed further into the richer suburbia. However, there was still the occasional garish eyesore built on plots of land in the neighbourhood by those with too much disposable income and a Delia Deetz-like flair for architecture.

Elio's parents had chosen to keep him integrated in normal society: no private schools and no flashy house with seven cars and maids and butlers. Instead, he lived in a small town, went to a public school, didn't base his entire personality around his parent's wealth and success, didn't put himself above others who struggled to make ends meet. In fact, he considered them to be above him in some ways; they had extensive knowledge of how cruel life could be and how to make themselves great from the little they have been provided with. His father had been in that situation once, forced to make his way in the world without the help of daddy's money and a trust fund, and he had found himself as a succesful and prestigious professor in a nearby university, giving lectures across the globe, and signing books that he had written.

They didn't have absolutely nothing to show for the wealth that wasn't overly projected from their home (although it clearly didn't look cheap). They owned a villa in Northern Italy that they visited in the summer, and occasionally in the winter. It was a property that reflected their true wealth. There was a tennis court, a swimming pool, an orchard, acres and acres of sunkissed Italian land, not to mention the villa itself, which was paradise, a heaven on Earth to those who appreciated the beauty of age and use.

Elio ambled up the garden path, not even sure if he wanted to go in, to eat, to go to bed. He had so much on his mind that it felt like it might implode and he was sure that if he didn't do something to use up his energy he would be rendered restless for the remainder of the night. He tripped through the front door, kicked off his shoes, and tiptoed through the quiet house into the rustic kitchen. It seemed more Italian than the rest of the house, thanks to Annella. She had not settled into American Suburbia, but rather clung to her roots, visiting Italy at any given chance and adding Italian influences to every room, no matter how small. Today's newspaper was on the kitchen table. Elio plucked it up and then set it back down again after a few seconds, finding nothing interesting on the first page. There was a tell-tale hum of voices coming from the TV in the lounge, so he turned back through the kitchen door and made his way to the other end of the house. The entire room was aglow with firelight coming from the squat log burner nestled in the brick fireplace. There was a lamp turned on on one of the side tables but other than that, all the lights were off. Samuel and Annella Perlman sat on an old but looked-after patterned Weybourne sofa. If it had been in any other room it would have looked tacky and out of place but the room had been styled to match the Georgian background of the house while still welcoming modernity, making it cosy and homely.  Annella was wrapped in thick cable-knit cardigan and an old, comfortable-looking pair of jeans to combat the brisk late February weather, despite the heat of the fire burning in the hearth. Samuel was sat with his feet on a short foot-stool and a worn paperback in hand. Between them, their hands were linked in a quiet display of affection. This was the kind of scene that people imagined when they looked into their distant future; sitting in a cosy room, content with life and waiting for their child to come home from school. The pair looked up when Elio entered the room and Elio set down his bag by the doorframe before moving to sit down in one of the armchairs. Annella set down her glass of wine and gestured for Elio to join them on the sofa, so he sat between them and leaned into his mother's embrace. She kissed his dark, curly head before asking "How was your day?"

"Fine, fine. The usual," He replied, finding a strange sense of comfort from the smell of red wine on her breath to the familiar scent of her perfume. 

"Are you hungry, amore mio?"

He paused for a second, taking time to stretch out his legs. 

"Hm, not much. I could probably eat something later," he replied.

"Okay," was her only reply. They sat and watched the TV while Samuel continued reading. There was an old movie playing, and Elio allowed himself to get lost in the plot of it although he was sure he had seen it before. They sat for about an hour until the movie ended, and adverts began to play alongside the closing titles.  

"Soup" Annella stated out of nowhere. It was not a question. She patted his leg before standing and heading towards the kitchen.

He sank further into the couch cussions, looking away from the TV and staring out towards the garden which was darkening with every passing minute. It was only about 5pm but the days were short and dark as winter stretched on. He missed the garden in the summer. It wasn't exactly what you would call tame and kempt. There was a patio of old, yellowed stone slabs, dotted with the occasional plant pot, statuette or stone bust. A pebbled pathway- much like the one in the front garden- stretched away from the patio and wound through a wilderness of bushes and plants and grape vines clinging to rusting arches and trellises. Towards the back of the garden there were a few trees (apple, pear, cherry and God knows what else) sheltering a quiet clearing of reed grass, an old wooden swinging chair and a sun dial table. This was Elio's favourite place to escape to, where he could remain unhindered by his parents who mainly kept to the patio. Right now, the garden seemed sparse and grey, with no leaves on the trees. If there was snow it would have been more bearable, but ice was the only thing winter had to offer so far. The weather forecast warned of snow in the following days but Elio took it with a pinch of salt. 

"You're quiet tonight," Samuel said, and Elio realised that his father had been watching him stare out of the French patio doors for the past few minutes. He dragged his gaze away from the shadowy yard and met his eyes.

"Hm, sorry. Just... thinking," he murmured, lowering his gaze again to look at the old tapestry rug on the oak panelled floor. 

"Nothing to be sorry for. Will you tell me what you're thinking about?" 

"Snow. School. I don't know, it's nothing important"

His father chuckled softly at that and tussled Elio's hair, who tilted his head to rest on the back of the couch. 

"Well, if you want to talk about anything..." he tailed off, as Elio already knew the end of that sentence. Samuel, ever the good father, was always quick to remind and reassure his son that he was a reliable confidant. 

"Thanks," Elio replied, having nothing to speak of right now. They settled into a comfortable silence, as Samuel picked his book back up and Elio stared at the TV. It was a Talk show so Elio zoned out, uninterested in what they were speaking about. 

"Why were you back so late?" Samuel asked with no conviction in his voice. He was only asking out of curiosity.

"Oh, Chiara wanted to finish a project for her art class so Marzia and I stayed with her and finished our History essays while we waited,"

"Good, good," he mused. "Did the essay go smoothly?"

"Yeah, I don't mind history much so it was pretty easy,"

He received a smile from his father and they settled back into a companionable silence, with Elio watching TV and his father reading his book.

They were called in to eat fifteen minutes later, where the raw, unvarnished oak table was set with three steaming bowls of tomato and herb soup and a plate of sliced bread. There was no wine, as Annella didn't endorse pairing wine with soup. They settled down into their chairs and ate. A conversation was sparked up between Samuel and Annella, half English half Italian, with a few words of French thrown in for good measure. Elio zoned out once again, his mind set on Chiara's confession and the uneasiness it sparked within him. He'd have to delve into that another time. He didn't really feel like going on a mental journey of self-discovery at the dinner table. He ate the soup, picked at some bread, and joined in on the conversation when appropriate. Dinner felt different here. He didn't have to compete with a table full of guests to get a word or two into the conversation as he did in the villa in Italy. 

Elio helped to clear the table after they finished the meal, carrying the dishes to the sink and slathering them in washing-up liquid before filling the sink with hot water. He didn't know why they didn't own a dishwasher, it would save them a lot of time. His mother took over dish-washing duty, taking pity on him for once, so he returned to the lounge where he left his bag and then promptly made his way up the stairs. They were old and well-used, and the creaking felt like a lullaby to Elio, who had grown accustomed to the noise ever since he could climb the stairs. He reached the top and traversed the landing, going to the end of the hall and finally reaching his bedroom. There were five rooms on the second floor of the house: four bedrooms (three of which had a bathroom) and a main bathroom, which was used mostly by guests staying in the room without an ensuite. The bottom story of the house consisted of the kitchen and lounge, of course, a study, a library, and a formal dining room used for company. The library had to be Elio's favourite room in the house. The ceilings were high, as they were throughout the rest of the house. It was decorated with dark mahogany book cases, which covered two of the walls, dark green paint on the other two walls that were not completely covered by books and paintings, and gold furnishings. The photo frames, the side tables, a few of the antique ornaments, all gold. There were two tanned leather Chesterfield sofas facing each other, separated with a glass-topped and golden-framed coffee table to match the side tables. It all screamed antiquity and sophistication, and Elio loved it. 

 

He had chosen the smallest bedroom as his own, which was really not that small. All of the rooms in the house were reasonably sized: not ridiculously big but definitely bigger than the average house. He didn't like the way the larger bedrooms felt when there was not enough stuff to fill them up. He plastered his bedroom walls with tasteful posters and a few photos or paintings if they suited him.  This, along with the old orange cotton-covered armchair, the embroidered rug on the floor, the grand desk and wardrobe and the well-stocked bookcase made the room seem small enough to be intimate and cosy. Elio dropped his backpack underneath the hat stand that he had packed with dressing gowns and jackets and anything else he couldn't be bothered to put in his wardrobe. He turned on the floor lamp by the armchair and drew the curtains closed before turning on his CD Player and slumping down onto his bed. The lazy beat of the drum and the gentle warbling of an air guitar almost lulled him to sleep, so he rolled over onto his stomach to rub his fists against his eyes. The uneasy feeling from earlier still hadn't left him. If anything it was worse. It settled in his stomach and turned his arms to lead. He had a feeling that he would have to get to the bottom of it if he wanted it to go away. Where to start? He could barely remember the exact reason that he felt like this in the first place.

He remembered thinking about Oliver. About how he was probably the type to make his way through every Junior girl in their school within a few months and then come back for seconds before the year was done. Then he would probably start picking at the older sophomores. Elio hated pretty boys. They couldn't be trusted. However, he couldn't really see why he cared so much. As long as his friends remained unharmed by it, he shouldn't be bothered by the antics of Oliver Goodman. If he thought about it reasonably, he shouldn't be bothered by Oliver Goodman at all. There were no antics so far. In fact, there wasn't even anything remotely antic-y. He hadn't dated anyone yet, and Elio knew this because if he did it would be hot school gossip for weeks. He hadn't even done anything to suggest that he liked anyone. He made friends- lots, actually- did his work, kept his head down and his hand up in classes. That was another annoying thing about him. Elio, who was regarded by many as effortlessly smart had been matched in intellect. He had expected Oliver to be a clueless oaf, but if anything he was quite the opposite. Still, none of this answered his question: why was he so unsettled by Oliver?

He pictured his stupid, stupid face and his annoying hair and his obnoxiously big body and his heart felt like it had dropped through his ass, as if he was on a rollercoaster and they had just dropped down from a peak. With blinding speed, he rolled onto his back and sat up, trying to dispel the image of Oliver from his mind. He stood, holding his head in his hands and stormed over to the CD player, jabbing at the off button. Without really being fully aware of what he was doing, he changed into a pair of grey sweats, pulled on his running shoes and shoved his headphones into his ears, opening the music app on his phone and allowing it to drown out any coherent thoughts. He walked straight past the mirror, trying not to acknowledge the fact that in the matching grey sweats he look like a convict. Angrier than he had been all day, Elio stormed down the stairs, trying not to stomp too much and alert his parents to his bitter mood. He poked his head into the kitchen, where they stood with cups of coffee and announced that he was going for a run.

"It's dark out, Elio," cooed his mother.

"I know, I'm not going far. I'll be back soon," 

He turned and headed to the front door, shouting a "Bye!" in the general direction of the kitchen in case his departure seemed too brusque. Running was the only thing he felt he could do right now other than literally scream to dispel this sudden bout of frustration. So he ran. He ran back in the general direction of the school, taking a left where he would normally take a right to get to the school gates. By the time he reached the park, his chest and his legs were burning from the long period of exertion with no breaks. He stopped running at the park gates, and instead strolled down the path leading to the rickety children's playground. It was illuminated by the orange glow of a streetlamp in looming over the gated play area. There was a group of sophomores that Elio recognised sat on and around the roundabout smoking. He was friends with or at least known by most people around his age in school, so he tried his luck at bumming a cigarette from them.

"Elio!" One of them exclaimed, and by the looks of them they were either drunk or high, "Are you gonna come sit with us?"

"No, no. Got some stuff to think about." He held his hand out towards the guy holding the pack of cigarettes, who offered it up without hesitation. Being everyone's friend had its benefits. 

"This isn't, like, weed or anything?" He asked, taking a cigarette from the box and squinting into the open end of it but struggling to see in the gloom of the lamppost. He was not in the mood to get high tonight. 

"No, just the usual stuff. Tobacco, I mean," replied the one who had held the box out to him. Someone passed him the lighter and he held it up to his face, sheltering the flame from the breeze with his hand and lighting the cigarette in his mouth. 

"Right. Thanks," He stood for a minute, listening to the conversation about someone's 'bitch of a mom' before turning and heading towards the swings. He sat and pushed himself off lightly with his feet, letting the sway and the familiar creak of the chain calm him. The smoke he exhaled was barely discernible from the fog he produced as the heat of his breath mixed with the freezing night air. He didn't really know why he had come here. He had wanted to run, to forget about what he had felt earlier. This inaction would lead to nothing good. He didn't want to learn anything more about himself and why he detests Oliver so much. Ignorance is bliss, so they say. Upon taking a particularly long drag of his cigarette, Elio realised that there was still music playing through his headphones. He paused it, somehow finding it too much effort to think and listen at the same time. 

Without his permission, his mind slipped back to Oliver, and his stomach jumped again. He choked on the smoke in his lungs, gasping a "Jesus Christ," before settling down. The group of sophomores glanced over at him for a second and upon finding he was fine, continued with their conversation. Elio was even more angry now. He was pretty sure your stomach didn't flip at the thought of how much you can't stand someone. Sighing, he let his hand holding the cigarette fall to his lap while the other gripped the chain of the swing. He rested his head against the hand gripping the cold metal and let his mind drift back to Oliver, finally giving in and not suddenly changing his train of thought when his heart leapt from his chest. This time, he pictured him without employing the hatred or cold indifference for scientific purposes. For research. He was very handsome. He had never lied to himself on that matter. But that wasn't odd in itself. No matter how much some of the more toxically masculine insist, boys did acknowledge how attractive other boys are. Perhaps he was jealous. Perhaps he wanted to have half the school after him too, but that just didn't make sense. He was quite content with the way he looked, thank you very much. People complimented him enough, and he had declined multiple romantic and sometimes just plainly sexual advances. Elio wasn't sure that he was the type of person that would suit being big and brawny and Movie star handsome. At that moment, a previously unconsidered thought slipped into his head. Maybe he was the type of person that would suit being with someone big and brawny and Movie star handsome. He furrowed his brows at that thought, and brought the cigarette up for another drag. 

This was uncharted territory. He pictured Oliver yet again. He imagined his lips, and how he stood a head taller and almost twice as wide chest-wise than him. He imagined how good it would feel to just once be wrapped up in those stupid fucking arms. Oh God, what he would do for a hug, literally just a hug. And then he caught himself. He had never thought like this before. Was it because he had never allowed himself to think like this before? Since the day Oliver joined, Elio had vowed to hate him forever. He caught one look at him and straight away let himself feel nothing but disdain and dislike. It wasn't even because he didn't think he liked boys like that. A few times before he had found himself imagining, daydreaming about some guy from a TV show his mother liked, or as stereotypical as it was, the man that had replaced their usual postman who was sick with the flu. He had come to terms with this, and had decided that he was most likely bisexual but he had never felt the need to come out or anything, as first of all the people that he actually cared about probably wouldn't mind, so if one day he chose to introduce a boyfriend they wouldn't really make too much of a fuss, and second of all he had never actually liked anyone from school before, let alone a boy. He had grown up with all of them, in true small town fashion. He saw all of their awkward phases, all of their embarrassing moments, and he had come to the realisation that most of the attractive people were too spoiled with attention and praise to build an interesting personality. And no, he didn't go exclusively for attractive people: he would rather have someone that he can actually enjoy spending time with, but that still didn't open up any opportunities for him. He took company in small doses. It made him sound terrible, but there weren't many people he could put up with for too long without growing tired of them or learning that they weren't worth the time anyway. Marzia, sometimes Chiara, and very occasionally a select amount of school friends were the exception to this. He had know Marzia since childhood and he had not grown tired of her yet, but he still wasn't sure that he actually wanted to date her. He had known Chiara since they started highschool in 9th Grade, and he hadn't spent more than a day with her, therefore having time to recharge his social battery every night before seeing her again. Perhaps he would find that like Marzia, he could stand her company for long periods of time. He hoped that was the case. 

Hit train of thought had diverged, and he was scrambling to get back to Oliver, feeling that familiar short-lived high again when he did. It was weaker this time,  and he thought that maybe it was like the smell of bleach. When you have been using it, or you've been around it for long enough you don't notice the smell, but if it catches you off guard it smells as strong as ever. Did he want that? Did he want to become comfortable enough with thinking about Oliver that it no longer made his heart fall through his ass? One thing was clear. He didn't actually hate Oliver as much as he pretended to, or as much as he wanted to. He was using it as a defence mechanism. He was tempted to go on using it, because what use would admitting to himself that he liked Oliver (or at least the thought of Oliver) be? Oliver, who was unattainable and seemingly very straight. He knew he shouldn't assume, seeing as he could be wrong because people assumed that Elio was straight, and they were definitely wrong. And none of this mattered if Oliver turned out to be an unbearable asshole with the personality of, as he said earlier, literal dog shit.

"For fuck's sake," He muttered to himself while standing up, throwing the butt of the cigarette on the floor and grinding it out with his foot. Walking back towards the park gate, he passed the sophomores again.

"Isn't it past your bedtime?" He quipped. How original. It earned him a few laughs, a few middle fingers and one "sorry mom," that he snorted at. 

He reached the park gate and checked the time on his watch. It was half past eight, and he had been out for about an hour.  He started running again as soon as he passed the gate, and he pressed the play button on his headphones, welcoming the noise of the music. The song that he had paused halfway through earlier at the playground finished, and the next song began with the riffs of a blaring guitar. He didn't pay much attention to it after the initial shock of such a bold start, but when the chorus began, the irony wasn't lost on him. He was bombarded with the question "Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't've fallen in love with?" again and again until he pulled his phone from his pocket and skipped the song. He didn't really feel like laughing along with the Universe's big joke right now. He definitely wasn't dealing with love, but he did know this:

Elio Perlman had a big, fat, undeniable crush on Oliver Goodman.