It’s 4,282 miles from her apartment to his.
He’s typed it into his phone - letting google maps calculate the distance - more times in the last five years than he’d ever admit.
He has no idea if she’s still there. No idea if she’s moved - moved on to a new place; moved on with her life.
He tells himself that’s why he uses that address, in this little game he plays. He tells himself it has nothing to do with sentiment; or feelings, or memories. That tracking down a new place - if one existed - would be a monumental task; something he could never do.
That it has nothing to do with that apartment being the last place he’d seen her.
The place where’d he fallen to his knees for her.
The last time he’d seen her; his knees bruising; digging into the hardwood of the floor. Her - half on, half off the skinny console table - her pants on the floor. His mouth on her, insistent and driving; a final goodbye as she’d shattered against his tongue.
No - he’d tell himself, calculating the distance between them didn’t mean anything.
It was a habit.
It was passive. The information meant nothing.
Still, though. He persists. Types in his address, then hers.
It means nothing.
He can still taste her.
Five years later and he can still taste her.
It hits him when it shouldn’t; the memory slamming through him like a shockwave. How she’d tasted exactly like he’d thought she would; how he’d always known she would.
It hits him when it’s him and Kathy. Dinner on the balcony after Eli’s gone to bed. She sets out the plate of cheese, handing him a glass - and it’s his first sip - that tang of red wine when it hits the back of his throat. He fights the flush that creeps up his neck, and pushes his glass away.
It hits him when they take Eli to the sea, a perfect family vacation. It’s a picturesque Grecian holiday. Eli runs ahead towards the waves, through a small thatch of trees, Kathy behind him; but he’s suddenly stuck. Frozen in place, held hostage by a memory. The salt in the air and the smell of citrus trees; and it’s like he’s there again. On his knees, mouth full of her.
It’s not even just the taste of her. The memory of her; that night, it’s entwined itself into him; into every synapse of his brain. Woven itself in somewhere so deep that he can’t predict what will snap him back to that time; that place.
When his knees hit the back of the pew; the ancient kneeler made of worn wood and no padding, in the tiny basilica outside of Rome. He’s there to pray with his family; for peace and health and protection; but all he can think about is the way the floor of her apartment had dug into his knees; red marks lingering for hours; even after he’d tried to shower them away.
When the priest intones, the Latin “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,” echoing off the stone sanctuary, all he can hear is the way she’d chanted his name; like a prayer.
He begs God for peace from the shame.
It’s Kathy’s arm behind his shoulders, a gentle squeeze to the back of his neck as they watch their oldest daughter say her vows. It’s like lightning, blazing through his mind; a flash to the way Olivia had grasped him there. Her fingers curled hard into the skin of his neck as she’d held him to her cunt, greedy and keening as she rode out a wave of pleasure.
Five years, and 4,282 miles, and he can still taste her.
When he’d gone there that night, he’d known.
Most of that night was still a blur.
He‘d wandered for hours, when IAB was done with him. Badge and gun taken, his partner locked away, telling her own story to them, he’d been at a loss.
He’d tried to drink, at first. Settled in at a hole in the wall; cell phone turned to silent. Tried to toast the end of everything on a lonely barstool at the edge of a dark neighborhood.
One shot of cheap whiskey, and he was only nauseous. Two, and he could feel the bile rising in the back of his throat, acid burning.
He’d held his hand up when the bartender had eyed him, a question in his eyes. He wasn’t going to drag this out; when it clearly wasn’t working.
He’d tried walking, then. He’d walked and walked and walked, until he felt the blisters start. When he’d found a bench, he’d sat, raised a foot to his lap to examine the damage.
He’d dropped it with a heavy breath when he’d seen the reminder; dried blood on the stiff heel.
When he found himself outside her apartment, he told himself he owed it to her.
The buzz of her intercom was loud; stark in the quiet of the hour. She’d come down fast, concern and confusion on her face.
He’d swallowed hard; opened his mouth to say goodbye. To tell her this was it. He was done; he was out, he couldn’t come back, not after this.
The words didn’t come.
He’s wasn’t as shocked as he should be at what did.
“Can I come up?”
He tried to tell himself - after - that it wasn’t cheating.
That he hadn’t fucked her. He hadn’t done what he wanted to do; hadn’t taken it that far.
He hadn’t buried himself in her; hadn't groaned her name into the soft skin of her neck, one of her arms wrapped around his shoulder, the other digging into the flesh of his ass. He hadn’t let himself have that; have her. He hadn’t let her help him forget.
He’d only meant to say goodbye.
They’d stepped through the threshold of her apartment, and he’d opened his mouth to tell her.
Elliot had looked at her, at the expectant way she’d stared back at him. He’d taken a shaky breath and tried again.
He couldn’t do it.
She’d said his name, and stepped into him. One hand on his bicep, and her eyes still so goddamn concerned.
His mouth had been on hers before he could stop himself.
He’d slammed into her; urgently pressed his lips to hers. He’d felt her stiffen; and he’d pulled back, stopped himself for a second.
He’d said it; pleading.
Please, just let me.
She’d looked at him, eyes wide; and he’d seen it. The shift; the milisecond, the infinitesmal beat of time when she’d let the walls finally crumble.
She’d nodded; an almost imperceptible move of her chin, tucked down once, and before she could lift it back up, he’d moved.
His mouth had moved to hers again and there hadn’t been time for a build up. It had been mouths crushed together; his tongue seeking out hers. There’d been nothing soft, just bruising; harsh kisses. His lip pulled between her teeth and he’d growled. She’d soothed it, traced her tongue against the spot; then done it over and over again.
He’d only broken away so he could tell her.
He’d pulled back again, rocked back on his feet and tried again, to tell her. Olivia had looked back at him for a second time; her hand fisted into the collar of his shirt, and he couldn’t.
Please, just let me say it.
He’d swayed back into her; lips to her neck and then it was softer, for a moment. Warm, tender kisses peppered down the column of her throat. Her body rocked into his; hips flush against his own; and his name, breathless and heady as it crossed her lips.
He’d slid his hand down the front of her, mouth fixed to a spot on her neck and she’d rocked into the palm of his hand. Even through the soft cotton of her sweatpants, he’d been able to feel her; feel the warmth of her, and he’d given her one last chance to stop themselves; stop this.
He’d left one hand anchored around her back, but lifted his head up, looked into her eyes one last time.
He couldn’t stop unless she made him.
When she didn’t; when the only movement she made wasn’t away from him, but instead towards him; her hips jutted forward and against the flat of his palm, he’d stopped asking. He backed her into the small table where she tossed her keys; both flinching when a basket of mail hit the ground.
Please, just let me say goodbye.
And just like that, he’d neen on his knees.
He wanted more; wanted all of her, but he couldn’t allow himself that. He just needed to tell her; let her know.
Hands on her back, he’d guided her gray sweatpants down, her thin cotton panties jumbled in.
Then; for a moment; he’d stilled. Slowed down, rocked back on his knees, and waited. Lowered his mouth to her slowly; and breathed in.
He - they - had already crossed the line, and if this was it; if this was the last time; the only time - he’d wanted to commit it; commit her to memory.
Elliot had needed to remember.
Needed to remember the way he could hear her; the soft hitch of her breath as his mouth neared her; ghosted over her center. Needed to remember how she’d jumped, canted her hips forward when he’d ran a hand up her thigh; hitched it over his shoulder. Needed to remember how she smelled; like summer and heat and heavy salt air, notes of her citrus body wash mixed in; and god. He needed to remember how she’d tasted, when he finally; finally put his mouth on her.
He’d flattened his tongue against her; a long, slow pass; and she’d moaned. Moaned his name, loud; with no abandon; and he’d done it again. Again and again and again; long and slow turning faster, more pressure added as she’d quivered; a trembling thigh draped around his shoulder.
She’d felt for him, a hand on the back of his neck; and she’d pressed into him. Held him there; the beds of her fingers dug into his skin as she’d rocked herself into his mouth.
He’d slid one, then two fingers into her; in to the slick wet center of her; and leaned back to look at her. Just once; one last moment. Her head tossed back, eyes shut; a plea in her voice as she’d begged him not to stop.
He’d needed to remember.
Needed to remember what came next. How she fell apart, when he’d lowered his mouth to her again; and sucked her clit in between his lips. How she’d left marks then, tiny half moons he’d had to hide with his collar; when he’d crooked the two fingers inside of her; pushed up hard against the soft heat inside of her; and had continued to suck the small bundle of nerves between his teeth.
He’d felt her shudder; and felt how she’d ground herself down against him; her walls tightening around his fingers before she’d groaned out his name one final time.
There’d been silence after.
He’d stayed on his knees; eyes closed, as she’d let the leg thrown over his shoulder drop.
He hadn’t been able to meet her eyes. He’d stood, fingers and mouth still covered in her; and refused to look at her.
He hadn’t been able to say it.
“I have to go.”
Please let me leave.
He thinks, maybe, they’re happy.
Kathy is, at least.
Eli was settled. Their kids visit. She’d stopped having to share him with Olivia and the NYPD.
She tries, once in a while, to goad him into an admission.
“You two were best friends, and you didn’t even call her to say goodbye?”
He hasn’t given in to it, her obvious attempts. She hasn’t broken him in five years.
She won’t break him in the next five.
They’re happy, though.
They smile in pictures, a happy family; and there is one piece of him that feels settled here. The piece that believed, still, that this was the only way. That the right thing to do for her; for his family; was to leave.
Eli grows, and grows and grows and they fly back to New York to see family and every time the plane touches down, he feels his breath catch and his heart pound.
“Even while we’re here - you don’t want to stop in? Say hello?”
He shrugs his shoulders, and shakes his head. Reminds her that he left in a bad place and no one wants him back.
“Not even Olivia?”
And he’ll remind her then, that he doesn’t know; couldn’t know, because he hasn’t spoken to her. For five years.
He’d left her standing there, alone, and walked out, and he hasn’t dared to look back; knows he’d hate himself even more than he already does if he tries.
When their plane touches back down in Rome; he feels the tightness in his chest ease.
Five more years pass.
He thinks, sometimes, it’s fading.
He doesn’t think of her any less; but he’s told himself enough times now that too much life has passed. That she’s moved on, moved past whatever they were, before and after that night.
It mutes the feelings; dulls the sharp edges of the knife in his gut at the thought of her; and those brown eyes watching him leave.
But still, sometimes.
It’s the honk of a horn too close on an ancient Roman street, and he’ll be taken back to that night; stumbling out of her building and down the stairs. The way the taxi driver had hit his brakes and slammed on his horn, as he’d stumbled across her street.
It’s the day Kathy had brought him a pack of Big Red; an American treat from another ex-pat. One smell of the heavy cinnamon and his stomach drops, mouth running dry; as he remembers. Dashing into a gas station on his way home, the first pack of gum he could find. Chewing his way through it, trying to get the taste of her gone before he’d pulled up in his own driveway and gave it all away.
It’s a shot of cheap whiskey with a friend on vacation; tossed back without thinking. It settles on his tongue heavy; and he remembers. Remembers how, that night, it had lingered, the thick aftertaste still in his mouth when he’d dropped to his knees.
He’ll never really be free from her.
They’re at the gate now; ten minutes to boarding.
She looks up from her book, and over at him. Her smile is tight. Kathy reaches over; reaches for his hand, and threads her fingers through his.
Elliot looks back at her, his pretty blonde wife. The mother of his children, the one he’s shared his life and home and bed with for forty years.
He shakes his head fast.
She opens her mouth, closes it; then opens it once more with a sigh.
“It’s been ten years, Elliot. It’s time she forgives you for -“
The tinny voice comes over the loudspeakers, interrupting the moment.
“Flight 4328 to New York, boarding seats in business class, rows 1-8.”
He shoots a tight smile at his wife.
Kathy’s eyebrows raise, and he squeezes her shoulder, a reassurance.
“Just want to double check one more time that Dickie has our arrival time down.”
Kathy rolls her eyes, and nods as she walks toward the gate.
He waits until she’s out of sight, then takes out his phone. His home address isn’t saved as their house in Queens anymore; it’s a 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of Rome.
Technology has also changed in ten years; made the iPhone in his hand sleeker, and faster.
It hasn’t changed this though.
He pulls up the map one more time, and punches in her address.