Andrew wakes up in the afternoon again. Bleary and mostly disoriented, he shuffles into the kitchen and finds a pot of coffee waiting for water and a note on the fridge. Therapist and groceries. New cigarettes in the drawer so the cats don't get them. Sure enough, two packs of Benson and Hedges in the drawer and a coffee maker with a new filter and rich pile of grounds. It's a touch so easy it feels familiar, finding the half-breakfast and a few days worth of cigarettes like they've always been there.
Andrew stands in his boxers on the balcony and smokes two cigarettes before the coffee is done. He smokes a third with the cup in his hand, black and clean and untouched like a naked morning he watches.
He reads the script again, dodging into Jesse's bedroom and lying back on his bed. It's not covert, no longer a curiosity, now he holds Jesse's words in his hands because he can. Because he's allowed, this strange privilege he's not sure he deserves.
Halfway through, Andrew's phone rings.
Yes. Hello. No – Not for a while. – A month? – I don't know, actually. I don't know what's happening. No. – No, absolutely not. – I haven't talked to him about it yet. Maybe longer. Maybe not. – I don't know.
He sets the script down and nips outside, leaning against the balcony door as he blows smoke outside. Maybe longer. He remembers his couch and the cats and this whole place and it grinds in his gut, refuses to be ignored. Maybe longer, maybe two months. Imagined locked in this apartment, buying take-away food in the lobby, leaving his cigarettes on the top of Jesse's wardrobe. Maybe longer. It's so easy to believe that he could live here, knows he wants to stay like a tropical vacation. He decides to stay as long as he can without breaking anything.
Andrew is stuck in his own head and smokes half a pack of cigarettes before Jesse returns. It's hard not to act like a puppy, to get to the front door and welcome him home into his own apartment like Jesse has been gone for days.
It's an ordinary sunset, and it breathes out cigarette smoke and fast night. Sleep is inching long and quiet with yawns as Andrew helps Jesse pile groceries into the fridge, flirting around Jesse's rough edges, touching his shoulders and the small of his back, laughing when Jesse asks what's up. Everything just needs to be in its right place, Andrew dancing around Jesse as he tries to live alone.
"What did you do today?"
"You," Andrew says. "Pretty much only you."
"Oh," Jesse moves about quickly, his face pale like he's abandoned blood. "Okay."
"Very okay," Andrew says, letting his hands skirt over Jesse's shoulders, the touch of his hair and the shiver of his shrug very real when Jesse pretends nothing is wrong. "A little bit perfect, actually. I love this so much. This idea. It's so good. I've got so many ideas for the –"
"Isn't today – your last day?"
Andrew shrugs. "Yes?"
Jesse takes a deep breath. "Did you maybe think about –" Jesse leans against is kitchen counter, leafing through pages of his day calendar. "Staying longer?"
"Not – I mean, not really much," Andrew says. He knows he's been too much for Jesse, corrupted the thread of real life for him. That these days have been more than Jesse has ever had to smile and pretend before and Andrew knows he should stop it, leave Jesse to his regular life, or as regular as he's made it. "Just three days, right?"
Jesse looks down at his tangled fingers, up at Andrew, down to his manuscript now pulled from its staples and resting on the counter. "You can stay longer."
"I was just going to pack –"
Jesse shakes his head tightly. "Maybe you could stay," he says quietly.
For someone so fragile, Jesse's world is built from stone. It's a quiet apartment filled with smells of cooking food and cat litter, of Australian wines and the library stench of old books. A little corner of the world carved out of marble, dug into the earth like a burrowing fox. "I – I could stay."
"No," Jesse says, shaking his head resolutely. "Not just stay. Live."
"I don't think your cats like me," Andrew says finally.
"I'll show you where their food is, the litter," Jesse says. It's that kind of night, hazy and half-tired where the whole world seems lit up by Chinese lanterns. Like passing headlights, shifting and uncertain. "They'll like you soon enough."
Andrew takes a deep breath. "Please." And yes, yes, Andrew keeps saying, shifting a little like he can't contain a burst of laughter. Yes, he says yes in the dark of his third night and leaving the poetry for academics.
Yes, yes, of course he will, resting his head in this decision like sleep. He grins up at Jesse and they're in the bathroom together, brushing their teeth and Andrew is still grinning yes, yes into the mirror, watching as Jesse washes his face, watching as this slowly changes colours into sepia, becomes his own postcard world.
Andrew flops onto Jesse's bed before sleep, after his shower, his lips still numb with smiling. Jesse is all wrapped up in blankets and sheets like a mummy, gathered around himself with a book on his knees. It's all Andrew can do to crawl on his bed and yes, yes, his heart going like mad, yes, he says yes. He rests his head on Jesse's thigh and feels all the muscles underneath tighten and relax, tighten and relax.
Andrew is half-gone when Jesse pushes his shoulder and says, "I'm going to sleep now."
Andrew unfurls himself, yawns all splayed arms and legs on the bed. He rolls to his side and grins at Jesse. "You make my life weird, you know?" Andrew is still all caught up in Jesse's bedclothes, but the idea that he doesn't need to leave the apartment, that maybe tomorrow and they day after can be black coffee and a cigarette on the balcony. "Night," Andrew says, still trapped and flushed against Jesse's forgotten, biblical bed. "Good night."
Jesse smiles when he turns off the lights. There's a little bit of manoeuvring as the cats come in to sleep all nestled in as Andrew flops down on his couch. A convenient compromise takes place and Andrew's face is pressed against the hard cushions with the sheets all tangled around his legs, his feet sticking out from the blanket, a cat curled against his chest like a forgotten child. He sleeps like a foster parent and he sleeps like a corpse.
Jesse wakes Andrew up as he stumbles around the kitchen boiling drip coffee and scrambling eggs in the pan. Just the scrape of the spatula and bare feet sticking to linoleum floor wakes Andrew up to a new day; begged, borrowed and stolen from the calendar. Andrew rolls off the bed and plants his feet on the tired hardwood floor as the cats gather around him like a druid's stone.
"No food," Andrew says, raising his hands. The cats don't understand, mewling at his legs and winding around him restlessly. "Jesse, I'm being mauled by tigers."
A chuckle, a shucked breath from the kitchen. Andrew wanders in, just black boxer shorts and a t-shirt dragged down his collar so it stretches to his sternum. The cats follow him.
"Don't they know I'm a dog person?" Andrew asks, stepping between the squares of sunlight and resting against the fridge. "I thought that would be pretty obvious."
"Pretend," Jesse says. He moves around the kitchen like calculus. Spoons and forks in their right place, condiments lined in neat rows, cooking done like an equation. The world outside decides to be mean and cold, a rain that patters lightly until a wind gusts up, hammering against the windows and letting go again.
Everything is in crowded half-light, the clouds coloured in that kind of polluted grey-yellow as Andrew starts parting the curtains.
"I cancelled today's appointment and we've got enough food and –" Jesse stumbles on a speech he's obviously been thinking about, that half-rehearsed way people get when they haven't slept. "We could spend it on the – I know it's not what you wanted, but I thought maybe we could write and if you wanted to stay, we could start working on –"
"Yes," Andrew says. He slides his stool against the kitchen counter, his bare knees bunching up against the wood, bouncing with a rhythm. "Please. Coffee?"
Black drink, chipped mug because all the mugs are chipped, Jesse handing it off like it's been waiting. "Feed the cats. Underneath the sink."
Jesse is pushing the eggs around the pan as Andrew nods, flips open the cupboard and loads up the tin dishes with cat food, clattering pebbles that he sets out on the kitchen floor. He pets the cats that get close enough, feeling the cool spray of rain as it's blown through the open window only lifted two inches.
A plate of scrambled eggs is waiting for him. Andrew squeezes out a coin of ketchup before he digs in, half-finishing his breakfast before Jesse slides in next to him with his own.
The day is grey and long and disinterested. Andrew finishes his eggs and bounces his feet against the legs of the table while Jesse finishes his own. Mug of tea because Jesse doesn't like coffee, hair all raucous and fettered because it's only their morning and Andrew is the only one to smirk, the only one to see Jesse all morning-slow and filled with that awkward boy.
"Can I have a –"
Jesse peels off his own hoodie because he already knows, all at once. An NYU sweater in faded colors and smelling exactly like him. Cats and old dust and coconut shampoo. Andrew pulls it on, hood catching and toggles spat out from between his lips. Andrew nods and bows away from the table, pulling out a new cigarette and slipping out onto the balcony, warm in Jesse's sweatshirt and cradling a flame between his fingers as he lights a new cigarette. His bare feet are cold and face spat on by cool spring rain and old everything.
Before he finishes his cigarette, Jesse is out there. Shuffling up against his side, turning habit into ritual. Andrew sucks in a gasp and breathes out smoke and Jesse nods like this is thing he's okay with, a thing that he belongs to. Andrew smokes and Jesse waits and it becomes their own little sin. Andrew burns the cigarette down to ash and Jesse stands his fingers running around the glass ashtray he gave to Andrew, his body so close he must smell the smoke, resting his temple against Andrew's shoulder and breathing in this habit until it becomes a duet.
The rain doesn't stop. Andrew is still in his pyjama pants and t-shirt when they sit cross-legged on the living room floor and start spreading out the script like collected sea shells. It's half words and half that bastardized sheet music, hieroglyphics and code that Jesse tries to explain like a Rosetta stone. It's half a joke but Andrew can hear it sometimes, all the same.
"This isn't even my – I just started this a couple months ago," Jesse says. "It's just an idea, really. Not even an idea. A joke, pretty much. Uh, just, you know. About people like me.
"It's funny," Andrew says. He sits there and looks over the pages spread before him, runs his hands over the paper, curling the edges with a finger. He can see days and months stretch under his hands. "In that way where you don't know whether to laugh or cry."
"Yeah," Jesse says, fingers plying carefully against his words like they were never meant to be read. "That's pretty much – that's my whole life. That's -"
"You," Andrew says. "Let's start with the laughter, work to the crying."
"They tend to come together," Jesse says, fingering the edges of the paper. "All at once."
Andrew nods, hard to help a goofy smile. "Okay."
"Don't think – that wasn't supposed to sound as tragic as it does," Jesse says. "It's not tragic. It's not a dirge."
"It's you," Andrew says, already sucking on the end of his ballpoint pen.
"Yeah," Jesse says. "This might be impossible. This is impossible. This is probably impossible. I'm no5 – I'm not – I'm just not someone –"
Andrew takes a long moment. He sucks on the end of his pen, taps it against his cheek, looks down at the papers surrounding him like sudden snowfall. Words and ideas bleeding off like stuck pigs, melodies that go nowhere, flaring into the sky like Fourth of July fireworks. "You are quiet," Andrew starts, slowly, the words careful between his lips.
"I guess," Jesse says.
"You're quiet but there's so much there. You're funny but – it's almost like you don't want to be, like you're funny accidentally. You have an intelligence that self-destructs, somehow makes things worse. You're a boy who could explode." He looks up at the ceiling, to the dim windows and the clutch of iron clouds outside, back down to the threat of the script. "You think you're a fake. You think you've cheated your way through life. That you don't deserve anything you've earned. You think that you don't deserve money, or fame, or love."
"Yes," Jesse says quietly, flattening his hands over the front page of the script. "Yeah."
"You're terrified of crowds," Andrew continues. "You hate ham, and marshmallows, and you love Caravaggio." Jesse nods, but his stare is even. "You think Wagner is okay even though he hated Jews. You pretend to conduct operas when you're alone. You were a virgin until you were twenty-three."
Jesse looks away, back to Andrew, and away again. His fingers are already tangled and he picks at the skin around his nails. "Andrew?"
"You love animals. You failed first year psych and didn't know why. You fell off the front of your bike when you were seven and doctors had to pick gravel out of your forearms with tweezers. You've still got a scar." Andrew closes his eyes, smiles almost to himself. "You love cats but worry they actually hate you. They don't, by the way. You think the radio is the best source for news. You think you were born in the wrong decade. You don't understand organic chemistry even though you tried but you couldn't get the cyclical arrangements memorized."
Jesse looks down at the ground, his crossed ankles and picking at the torn stitches in his pyjama pants. "Andrew –"
"You voted for Obama but you're not political. You miss being backstage during a play. You miss living at home. You fast on Yom Kippur, just because. You think maybe the reason you don't own a TV is just to say you don't. You miss writing letters but even more than that, you miss receiving them."
Jesse keeps looking at the ground, shrugging his shoulders like a nervous twitch. "Andrew."
"You love acting. You really love acting. You love being with people who are as missing as you. You love wrap parties even though you don't drink. You idolize Oscar Wilde and wish you were as brave as him. You think James Dean is a saint. You love breakfast. You hate coffee." Andrew opens his eyes, breathes out long and slow. "You missed me."
"I did," Jesse says quietly.
"I guess you're not impossible after all, right?" Andrew says, his fingers playing over the pages of the script like a silent piano.
"I guess not," Jesse says, rifling the edges of his script.
"Where do we start, then?" Andrew asks.
"I don't know," Jesse says, his voice as quiet as a monastery. "I honestly do not know."
They write into the evening and the rain never stops. They don't write anything they can keep; maybe a few cannibalized lines from conversation but nothing that makes a full scene. Jesse scribbles down lines frantically and then reads them out. Andrew laughs a lot, but they agree that these are scraps on the floor, unusable but funny as shit. It becomes their own little script, the deleted scenes of their own dysfunctional one-act play.
If something changed, it wasn't big or noticeable. No big climax, no moonlit night making the world revolve differently. Andrew just looks up from their scribbled notes sometimes and sees Jesse, laughs at nothing, catches his glance and it's enough.
It's really just the dayenu in Passover. If He had made Jesse smile but not laugh, it would be enough for us. If He had made Jesse laugh but not indulge in this absurd idea, it would be enough for us. If He had brought Jesse close but not made it this intense, it would have been enough for us.
Jesse touches Andrew, just his knee, the trailing edge of his fingers. Andrew has a full body shiver, from his shoulders to his ankles, and Jesse's touch doesn't linger but it stays with Andrew like he had kept his hand there. It makes Andrew feel like oblique angles and strange mathematics. It leaps in his throat and doesn't let go, making him cough twice before looking back at Jesse. Andrew was never good at maths.
"You hungry?" Andrew asks, flipping another page in his notebook. But even as he stretches, yawns on this old couch from the 1970s and his mouth tasting like the ink he sucked from the end of his pen, he gets that weird feeling curling in his stomach like this isn't how it was when he arrived. Andrew knows something is a little bit different. Nothing has moved, still that same tableau of old books and maps that still acknowledge the USSR, but somehow torn a little at the seams. Somehow strangely new and suddenly different, even if everything is the same.
"Sure," Jesse says, yawning then. His t-shirt rides up a little as he does, a bare inch of skin between his jeans and his shirt, the gap of his shallow hips and loose elastic boxers wide enough to hide whole religions. "Order a pizza?"
"Yeah," Andrew says. "Okay."
"I'm going to have a shower," Jesse says, standing and sending a pile of half-written notes fluttering to the ground. He bends down and picks them up, handing them to Andrew. "Sorry."
Andrew shakes his head. "It's beautiful, you know?"
Jesse shrugs. "You over-value what I've got to say."
Andrew takes the papers, shuffles them on his knee into a neat pile, their discarded ideas settling into a clean pack of words. "How else am I supposed to deal with you?"
Jesse takes a moment, looking down at Andrew, their hands still locked over the few pages of words before he pulls away and shakes his head. "Just –"
"Plain cheese for you," Andrew fills in.
Jesse nods. "Thank you." He pauses, shudders a bit like he can't move, but then his hands free themselves from their tangle, and he looks down at Andrew fleetingly. "Thanks."
Andrew smiles. "I'm going to have a cigarette."
"The ashtray is –"
"By the sink," Andrew fills in. He looks at Jesse again, and it's like taking an aspirin. That hesitant moment before feeling okay again.
Andrew smokes his cigarette down to the nub, burning his fingertips on a last draw before throwing it over the side of the balcony. His fingers are already growing numb from cold but he doesn't wear a jacket. He just leans against the cold concrete railing, digging into his forearms, and watches the cars stream in white and red beneath him, divided in coloured lights as they run east or west.
Andrew waits in the lobby in his ratty old t-shirt and sweat pants for the pizza. Paying in bills, he holds it warm in his arms until he drops it on Jesse's coffee table.
The shower isn't running when he gets back but Jesse is still in the bathroom. Andrew knocks against the doorframe and after a few beats of silence, elbows his way in. He's not sure why, but he does, he wants the turbulence.
"Sorry," Jesse says, standing at the mirror with a towel drawn around his waist. His shoulder blades tighten and move slightly under Andrew's eyes, reacting to being seen vulnerable. The muscles in Jesse's shoulders weave together like basket reeds as he stands there, his face half-lathered in shaving foam, razor in his hands and looking back at Andrew in the foggy mirror he's wiped mostly clean. "I'm almost done. Start without me."
Andrew hesitates. They seem locked in each other until Andrew places a hand on Jesse's back. Neatly between his bare shoulder blades, a palm on his skin and feeling the chemical changes under it. The way Jesse's body flexes and tightens, the suppressed twitch that threatens to run down Jesse's spine. Looking at Jesse in that mirror and seeing him like a boy he needs. Andrew bets that Jesse doesn't see shit in that mirror. Bets he doesn't know anything at all.
"Right," Andrew says quickly. He probably smells of cigarettes and the noxious potpourri of the building's lobby, probably smells like the outside and that's enough to shock him back into friendship. He drops his hands to his side and shuffles out of the bathroom, closing the door behind him. He shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be forcing something that obviously doesn't want to happen. "Sorry. I'll be – outside."
Jesse doesn't know shit. Jesse looks in that mirror and feels like a badly made excuse. Jesse writes words he immediately wants to delete. Jesse just doesn't know what he means to anyone. Andrew opens the box of pizza and grabs a slice. Jesse doesn't know shit, nothing at all.
Andrew doesn't want to smell like outside. He wants to smell like old furniture and cats and candle wax, like everything that lives and hides and sighs in this apartment. Andrew wants to live on the inside, holding their written pages and keeping them close. Andrew wants Jesse to know everything he feels. Andrew knows then and swears to himself that he'll make sure Jesse doesn't delete a word, not a damn word.
They write until too late becomes too early. Scribbled notes in a pool of light, the one lamp turned on and turning everything half into shadow. At around six, as the light threatens the horizon and the world is beginning to wake, Jesse and Andrew are still jotting down notes and funny lines, crossing out more than they make.
The ideas shuffle around like this a 5000 piece puzzle, all of it sky. Nothing connects, and it's hard enough for the two of them just to collect corner sections and the flat edges, circling their world in found pieces. They yawn a lot and Jesse doesn't like coffee so Andrew is stuck with cold cups of tea and a reminder written in pen on his wrist to buy a coffee machine.
The clock dares morning when Jesse yawns wide and stretches and Andrew looks up over his notepad, flash of bare skin under Jesse's shirt and then nothing again. "I think we've failed."
Andrew looks back down at their work, pages covering the floor, the tables, the couch. "I don't see how."
Jesse rolls his shoulders. "I think I'm more lost than when we started. This was never supposed to make sense, but you really made sure of that." Jesse is worrying his lip between his teeth, finds a new pen, starts underlining key words and crossing out more.
"Something about Rome, days, building," Andrew grunts out behind a yawn. It's hard not to look at their work and see something that has fallen apart. Sentences that linger into nothing, jokes that have no concrete place, ideas that seem too grand, belong to another scene, another song entirely. It's a mess of intelligence, a mire of good work that leads to nowhere. "It's something."
"It's – not much," Jesse says, wringing his hands together.
"Shut up," Andrew says, his voice soft. "Shut up. It's not nothing. It's something. We've made – uh, something. There it is, on the floor, something we have made. It was not there this afternoon. We made it. I love this – something that we've made." As much as Jesse will ignore it, Andrew will love it twice as hard. "This is our mess."
Jesse looks down at his hands, the continued sign language of it. "I didn't mean it like –"
"I know you didn't," Andrew says. It's still raining, and that's the whole world right now. Pouring with wet and drenching the streets, misting off the eaves when Andrew ducks outside for a cigarette, ideas and concepts bouncing between his fingertips like static sparks. He excuses himself for another, unlocking the patio door and slipping out, lighting a quick Benson and Hedges as he watches a morning born.
It's ten minutes before Jesse joins him. Step-toeing outside, his hair already curling with the humidity, Jesse stands beside Andrew. "You're supposed to leave tomorrow."
"Yes," Andrew says, sucking his cigarette carefully. "Three days and I'd be out of your hair. I promised."
Andrew leans heavily against the concrete barrier, his forearms cold against the concrete. "Sure."
Jesse takes a long time, his forehead wet, his curls damp with the mist of the rain. "Don't"
Andrew takes another puff, careful in his place as he bumps his shoulder against Jesse's. "I don't want to –"
"Don't," Jesse says again. "Haven't I said this before – I thought I did, didn't I? Just – just, uh, stay. Leave it at that, all right?"
Andrew looks at Jesse. It's hard to accept it. The cats and the world of his apartment have always been so private. This isn't like crashing on a friend's couch, this has been living in a new world altogether. Andrew wasn't sure what it would be like when he got here, but it's like finding a life buried in dirt. Dug it up, polished it clean, and now he wants to live it. Three days felt like such a long time to live with Jesse, but it's all Andrew has ever wanted, apparently. He felt once like he was living on borrowed time, but now Andrew sees this place like a planet, a whole constellation. "Jesse –"
Jesse takes the step forward, and that on its own is stranger enough. Jesse gets close and his breath is warm on Andrew's cheek, smelling like minty toothpaste and old wine. He gets close enough that his mouth is against Andrew's jaw, the hinge of his smile. His words are jumbled, but they're warm and soft and easy against his skin. "Please – just, please?"
Andrew can't help it. He kisses the spot right there, Jesse's jaw line. One-two, a quick touch that meanders to the corner of his mouth. Like it's nothing, as easy as breathing. It's there and Andrew loves it so he lets go, kisses the pale skin and the world underneath. He kisses that forgotten corner of Jesse's lips and pulls away, "No, no, I'm not going."
Jesse licks his lips to wet them. "Good. Good – great." A pause, licking his lips again, touching the corner of his mouth that has been blessed. "Don't leave."
"Not now," Andrew says, still feeling the five o'clock scrub of stubble Jesse calls a shadow. "I like it. I like it here. I love it here." He leans in again; a space only a few centimetres away, kisses Jesse full on the mouth. A pert, white kiss that seems to go nowhere until Jesse leans into it. Andrew shucks in a breath, inhale the smell of Jesse, draws in the next breath. They kiss full and wet, mouths opening and Jesse's tongue flitting against the edge of Andrew's teeth.
Andrew breathes him in, a sharp noise against Jesse's mouth. God, again, please, and he kisses Jesse, his hands sliding against Jesse's shoulder blades. Jesse smells like safety feels, like dust and candlesmoke and old books.
Andrew closes his eyes and leans into it, finds himself against Jesse, liking the way their lips smack wetly, the way Jesse tilts his head to slip deeper. The inexpert touch of his tongue, like Jesse doesn't know what to do with it; the cigarette smoke in Andrew's mouth they both taste. The shock of Jesse's tongue, the flit of it between the shear of his teeth. Jesse's hands loose against his hips like he's lost grip on something important. The kiss again. Warm, full of shocked breath, sharing the same air. Kissing Jesse. Whatever it is, the language of want, it's just about kissing Jesse.
Jesse pulls away first. His shirt, the collar, smells like smoke and an apology. "Okay. Okay." His eyes dart around. "I'm exhausted. I –"
"Yes," Andrew says passively, his mouth still numb, remembering. His lips are still wet with Jesse. "Sleep?"
"Sleep," Jesse says, almost embarrassed when he finds his hands on Andrew's back, pulling away and looking at his palms. "Goodnight."
Andrew lets go. He doesn't want to, but he should. Drops his hands by his side and still tastes Jesse.
Wandering back indoors, Andrew locks the sliding balcony door behind them. The living room is a disaster in pale tones. Scripts and pages and written notes ripped out of binders line the edges of the room, the coffee table, Andrew's makeshift bed. The strange idea is spread out over everything like an unexpected disease. Words from nothing that have bloomed into full-fledged ideas, ideas that have grown from the dirt.
"I guess we could –" Jesse says, automatically, dropping his pen and pad of paper on the mess of half-finished ideas.
Andrew stands there, looks down at the couch and on their ideas, shared and dismissed and circled in red ink. Their ideas like fisherman's knots. Their ideas like binary code, hieroglyphics in sloppy handwriting only the two of them could read. Jesse's mouth. "We could. It's all in order and I don't want to mess it up –"
"My bed is big enough," Jesse says, the words all tight in his chest.
Andrew doesn't reach out to touch him, even though he really wants to. The world is paper sculptures now, delicately made and ready to be broken. The world is violins and minor chords. Andrew bows his head and shrugs, "It looks big enough."
It is big enough. Jesse slips into his side of the bed, and Andrew occupies the other half, trying to take up as little room as possible. It's a comfort and a mistake. Andrew reminds himself of the bruise of the night and too readily the taste of it. The slight stubble of Jesse's accidental beard, how much he loves Jesse like a joke he keeps to himself, how much he wants to reach out and make this something more. He doesn't, tries not to. Andrew settles in to the new bed and it's hard not to remember how Jesse's mouth felt, the slight pout and shock of the kiss in the corner of his lips.
Digging deeper into his sheets, it becomes nothing, just a close sleep. Andrew pretends he can forget how Jesse tasted, pretends he can sleep without touching his new boy. Something to forget, maybe. Something they could forget and wake up tomorrow completely ignorant, awkwardly talk about orange juice and be fine again, just two friends if they wanted to. If they wanted.
Andrew knows immediately that he doesn't want to forget. He could wake up tomorrow and live the life that was tailored like thread to his height and weight. He could pack his bags and go home. No. No. Nope. Not at all. He could, but no. No. He's here now.
It tastes sweet and bitter; the pleasant feeling of accepting a mistake. Especially the accidents; the softness of Jesse's lips, even when he's only felt the corners; the promises like fading gunfire; the sensation as Jesse rolls over and the bed moves with him. Andrew finds a new position, curls into the absent spaces of Jesse's night, the cold spots behind his knees and around his back, and rests. Sleeps in the same bed as a glorious mistake. If only all his mistakes could be so sweet.
"Sorry, I must smell like smoke," Andrew says.
"Yes," Jesse says quietly. "You do. You kind of do."
"I'm gonna buy a TV, just so you know," Andrew says, resting his hand over the blankets and on Jesse's hip.
"Yes," Andrew says, feeling Jesse's weight shift under him.
"If you must," Jesse says, quiet and close at hand.
Andrew yawns and stretches and half of him expects to wake up alone and wondering, hands flattening over cold sheets and empty spaces. He stretches and touches warm body and grins, still achy with morning and Jesse is still there, still there. No hangover, just resting there in the sun and flinching slightly as he's touched, reacting to Andrew like uncertain chemistry.
"Stop it," Jesse murmurs. Andrew rolls, the blankets tightening around him, his legs, his bare chest. "Stop poking," quiet and buried in cloth. "I'm right here."
"Hey," Andrew says.
It's a queen-size bed and seems to stretch out forever, like a sandy beach towards a horizon. The waves of the disturbed comforter roll between them, tangled in their legs, creased and folded under their arms and between their thighs. They've obviously drifted in sleep, but they stay stuck together with warm blankets and feet touching by the end of the bed. Andrew smiles and throws a loose arm against Jesse's body, his fingers absently touching skin, the feathered line of Jesse's ribs before pulling back. "Hi."
"Hi," Jesse says, lost in that same ocean of down-blanket and kitten-warm sun piling up through the window. "You're awake." Jesse says it like he's been waiting, his smile making it obvious.
He didn't leave. That's kind of a big deal. Andrew knows it's more than a little bit weird, stretching out in the same bed, finding the sleeping habits of someone else a new thing to deal with. He's not sure why, but Andrew banked on waking up alone, finding an empty bed and his sudden boy in the kitchen pouring coffee and acting like the world is still so simple. Instead, Jesse is there with the blankets drawn up to his chin, his bare feet poking out the end, his world trembling unsteadily. Instead. Jesse is here, willing to feel the earth shake under his feet. Instead, they both share the same morning in the same bed and Andrew's lips keep tingling.
"I don't want to move," Andrew says, digging under the comforter and finding new pockets of warmth like veins of silver in an old mine. "Never want to move."
Jesse stirs but only a little. Andrew can feel him move, the shifting and the twitching like ripples against the mattress. "I need to go for a bit. Therapist. Only for an hour."
"Okay," Andrew says, only his chest moving, rising and falling with his even breaths. He stares up at the ceiling and feels Jesse move in the bed beside him. Move but never change.
"I mean it," Jesse says quietly. "I need to go."
"Right," Andrew says. He rolls to his side, runs his hands over the troughs and mounds of piled blanket between them. The loose flop his hand arches over Jesse's forearm. He keeps it there; Andrew runs his lazy fingers against Jesse's bare shoulder, the gap where the stiff blanket meets skin. He remembers last night and almost imagines the bruises where his fingers grabbed shoulder, where he kissed in deep breaths, every spot he has and has not touched.
"I've got to have a shower," Jesse says again, rolling over on his side, his arm still pinned under Andrew's hand like he's been crucified to the spot.
"Have a shower," Andrew says. He doesn't move, lazing in bed while the sun guarantees noon. The light rolls over the pillows and blankets and Andrew curls tighter in his spot, unwilling to give it up even as the cats begin to find their places around him. They paw at Jesse, then Andrew, curl up in the warm bits between where Andrew stretches an arm out to touch Jesse, cradling in the corner of their legs.
"I'm serious," Jesse says quietly, moving enough to stroke the forehead and down between the eyes of the nearest cat, a plucky mackerel tabby called Maximilian, from the showtunes apparently. "I have to go."
Andrew coughs that blight of an early morning smoker's cough into the down of a pillow and seeking momentary forgiveness. He wants breakfast. He wants a coffee. But most of all he doesn't want to move, so he doesn't. He sticks to warmth, and his bare ankles and the beaded sweat he feels as he touches Jesse's bare feet. "Then you should go."
"Yes," Jesse says, and doesn't move. Andrew runs his thumb absently over Jesse's shoulder, the little fold of skin near his armpit where he cinches his arms tight to his sides. They both smell kind of musky from not showering and from the dried sweat of sleeping too warm. It's all boyish and kind of dirty, none of the shampoos and colognes of the outside. It's the kind of summer stink of pickup games of football and lying by a lake. Dirty in the right way.
"So go," Andrew says softly.
"Yes," Jesse says again.
Andrew falls asleep again, lulled by warmth and the idling diesel engine purr of cats against his stomach and the backs of his knees. He slips into it easily, his bare chest rising pink with late summer heat and his toes wriggling against sheets and tossed blankets. His fingers grow loose and rhythmic as they stroke the boney brackets of Jesse's collars Tracing imaginary fingerpaints over bare skin, memorizing the hard swell of bone and the shadowed divots of his throat.
Jesse is there the whole time, not moving, not complaining, just breathing quietly and mumbling every now and then about how he has to go, he really needs to leave now. He really needs to go. Seriously, Andrew, he needs to leave. He does. He's leaving now.
Now. He promises, right now. Right now, okay? He's leaving now. No, seriously.
Andrew walks down 3rd Avenue all alone. The world ignores him in that special way New York has, like he's nothing and no one and barely worth the bare glances people afford him. Another little smoggy puzzle piece, swallowing him whole in the friendliest way possible. He's just a guy in a sports jacket and an engagement to keep; one of a dozen, one of thousands.
The rain lets up for the afternoon, but the city is still trapped in dark cloud and the threat of a downpour. It's hot in an off-hand way, the fizzling end of an Indian summer that doesn't quite let go. It makes the city stink with sewage and diesel fumes and the belch of the river somewhere over the skyline. People pass Andrew with umbrellas tucked under their arms, only the slightest of nods.
Andrew finds the building and smokes one, two cigarettes under its forest green awnings. He sits down on the step and smokes carefully, checking his watch every now and then to make sure that no one thinks he's here by accident. He's here, and he's waiting for someone. It's a mark of the city to pretend like you know it, and the last thing Andrew wants is to be thought a tourist. He hasn't looked at a map since he touched down in La Guardia.
And since then he's been permanently lost.
He's right downtown in another cluttered island, buried in the shadowed swell of buildings and the thumping heart of the city that breathes out in taxi cabs and Cuban music blasted on boomboxes and out open windows. This is it, isn't it, the city that Andrew wanted to see. He sits there and smokes thoughtfully and can't help but think about flopping back into Jesse's apartment, digging bare-chested into a pile of blankets and reading a novel while the cats conspire. He should feel bad about skipping the city for a life wrapped up, but he doesn't, not really.
It's an hour before Jesse comes outside, beat up sneakers, jeans, and a neat pinstripe dress shirt.
"Finally," Andrew says, stubbing out his latest cigarette and standing up, his jacket shucked and held over one arm.
Jesse wheels quickly. "Hi," he says blankly, recovering quickly. "You're here."
Andrew scuffs his shoe, shoves his hands in his pockets. "Thought I'd get some air." He smiles in the corners of his mouth. "Bad idea. It's a sauna. Can't this city do the decent thing and decide on a season?" He stands and steps deliberately on the remains of his cigarette. "Was waiting for you, I guess."
Jesse adjusts his hands in his pockets, shifting his weight from one foot to the next like nothing is certain. "You waited long?"
"I fed the cats," Andrew says. His pockets are full of lint and fragile receipts rolled up into knots and bullets of paper from living in London. He's never been so gloriously ignored since then, New York somehow so much more willing to forget about him than downtown London. "I don't like the way they look at me when you're not around. Like I'm a new toy."
Jesse laughs, bites down on his lip to stop it. "Sorry."
"They're plotting," Andrew says. "I swear they are. Don't laugh. Jesse, stop laughing. I mean it."
"They're used to getting the bed," Jesse says, rubbing a thumb over his mouth like he's actually brushing away the smile. "They'll get used to you."
"Or kill me."
Jesse laughs, and fidgets it into a shrug. He twitches in place like he wants to call a cab but he holds his arms by his sides instead. "Want to go home?"
Yes, Andrew thinks. No, he has to see at least one part of the city, and at least Jesse will tag along. "Weren't you listening? We can't go home. Let the cats cool down. You've never seen them like that – it's frightening." He pauses, starts walking and Jesse joins him in step. Andrew places a hand on the small of Jesse's back and they continue on. "Can we – I had an idea, actually."
The Oyster Bar in Grand Central is a little nook of a place. Famous for its sins, but still buried in the walls like a Saint's grotto. The roof is too shallow and the arches decorated with seashells and mementos, a marquee of lights tracing the pencil-sketched lines like a wireframe. It smells like sea salt and spilled wine, a stench that will be hard to forget. Everything feels so old here, from the battered menus the waiter brings around to the cigar-smoke stain that will never leave. It fits so neatly into the romance of New York City that it almost begs a musical number all on its own.
Smoke gathers in the crannies of the ceiling like rainclouds. Andrew and Jesse are seated deep in the bowels of its orange haze and forgotten in some faraway corner. The smoke cloud precipitates in nostalgia and old York, smelling like a postcard from the 60s and a location shoot for a mafia movie. Andrew knows he won't forget this place, a tourist tattoo that he presses into his skin next to Jesse.
"I've always wanted to come here," Andrew says, swilling his mid-afternoon glass of wine around carefully.
"I've never been here," Jesse says, drinking deeply from his glass of water. "I've heard people talk about it before, but."
"I've always wanted to come here," Andrew says again. "For that exact reason."
"You know," Jesse says. "The food isn't that good. I've been told. It's nothing special."
"The food isn't the point," Andrew says. The table cloth is red-chequered and the music in the background is Rat Pack and sturdy and that's all he needs right now. The smell of it, the shadowed arches and incandescent lights glowing like candles in this famous cave. "God, I don't even need to eat anything at all. Look at it." He takes a deep breath, tasting on the tip of his tongue a faraway beach. "It's perfect. I want to be here."
Jesse shrugs. "I don't even eat shellfish."
Andrew smiles, feels everything bunch up inside. He reaches across the table and touches Jesse's hand and keeps it there. "Hey."
"Hi." Jesse smiles, not moving his hand but maybe looking a little like he wants to. It takes a moment, but he relaxes though still fidgeting the buttons on the cuffs of his oxford-cotton shirt. "Sorry I just ran out. I didn't want to." Jesse swallows deeply. "I said goodbye but you were asleep again."
"It's nothing," Andrew says, waving it away with his free hand.
"But I wanted to say it," Jesse says, speaking down to the table cloth. He leaves it at that, a nod of his head, like maybe he's convincing himself of something unspoken. He nods again and Andrew squeezes his hand, runs his thumbs over the shallows troughs and valleys of his knuckles. "Just. So you know."
Andrew nods slowly, feeling a grin press against his mouth. "I know I – I do know. I really do."
Jesse breathes out a slow breath between tight lips. "Oh - okay."
"Jesse," Andrew says. That's all that needs to be said, drifting into silence and the warm press of their hands together. "You're getting a new cat today. That lady called. You have a rotary phone, did you know that? You have a rotary phone, what year is this? They're coming at six or something with a new beast that wants to make lunch out of my face."
"You've taken their place," Jesse says. He looks up, catches Andrew's raised eyebrow. "Cats are – you now, territorial. Normally they get the empty space, but now. I mean – you know. Now that you – you know."
Andrew nods, smiling enough that the dimples in his cheeks hurt. "I know. I should apologize."
Jesse shrugs, one-shouldered. "It's okay."
"To the cats," Andrew says, burning it off in a laugh and raising his glass.
Jesse grins, a bright shape that falls apart. "Of course."
"Speaking of apologies," Andrew says, raising his chin and breathing in the off-kilter edge of the sea and the almost-stink of fish. It makes him dizzy in the good way. "I got you a TV."
"Oh, praise be," Jesse says, with an edge that takes Andrew on the cheek and it makes him laugh.
"You know they put a man on the moon, right?" Andrew says, squeezing Jesse's hand. "Who do you think remembers it better; the people who listened to it, or the people who saw it?"
"Is it big?"
Andrew shrugs. "Forty-five inches." He feels like there's a dick joke here, but he doesn't press it.
"And where can I put it?"
"We can move some of those books, clear off that little table in the living room."
Jesse laughs. "Symbolic."
"Jesse, it's a TV. The Soviets aren't coming to kill the intellectuals, I promise. Plus, I got us some movies. You know, research."
"Research," Jesse holds his finger on the word like a chess piece he's not sure he should move. "For?"
"Your script," Andrew says. "Our script. I got us Cabaret and Fiddler on the Roof and something else with Nazis. For inspiration. Inspiring Nazis."
"And?" Jesse says, sniffing quickly. It means something, this little sharp edge Jesse's flipped out like a switch-blade. Andrew likes it a lot, surprised by it, delights in it. He always knew it was there, maybe, but good God he loves hearing it. Jesse is still fidgeting the paper napkins and tearing them into little shreds, but his smile is a little acerbic, glancing up every so often to catch Andrew in a grin.
"Okay, so I got a couple season of The Sopranos –"
"Okay, it was all six seasons and a box set of The Godfather," Andrew admits.
Jesse laughs. "Welcome, Stalin."
"It won like, four thousand Emmys. I saw your copy of Order of the Phoenix so don't even with me right now."
The waiter comes by and takes their order, smoked trout and oysters Rockefeller and broiled sea scallops. Enough seafood with neither scales nor fins to make Moses shudder. But Andrew is assured that it's the freshest in Manhattan and he's sure that God will forgive them this trespass, especially when the cocktail sauce is made with fresh horseradish, ground on the premises. Jesse claims vegetarianism but Andrew assures him that scallops are a vegetable. Little victories.
There it is, that laugh again, a laugh that Andrew can feel vibrate down to Jesse's fingers that he's still touching. If there's anything he wants, in this city or in this world, it's to feel that again, vibrating into his bones.
Andrew's bloody mary arrives, reeking of tomato and celery salt and hot sauce. He takes a sip and it makes his lips red.
It's a lacuna, a gap in the language where a word doesn't satisfy the ideas spread scattershot in Andrew's mind. He wants to say something here, something good and right and perfect that will sum up the surge in his chest that bounces and sparks like stray fireflies. Instead he rubs his thumb against the knots of bone in Jesse's wrist, sooths the pad of his finger against the underside of Jesse's palm, where the tendons and veins run like train tracks under his skin.
When they finish their lunch, the waiter leaves them a single check.