Pairing: Jesse Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield
Fandom: The Social Network RPF
Word Count: 25,639 words
Warnings: so many cats, domesticity, musical theatre.
Summary: The air is thick with that familiar city stench; sharp diesel fumes, street vendor meat, smoke, and something metallic like the sea. Andrew breathes it in as he props a cigarette between his lips before cupping his hands around a match. It's not hard to immediately love it here, feel like he's been sucked into a cocoon of light and noise and the strange privacy of this boy. Even Jesse's angular awkwardness is somehow just like Andrew pictured it, wanted it, Jesse tip-toeing around his own apartment like he's afraid of waking someone up.
Author's Notes: sometimes you just need to write a story about best friends living together in an apartment with cats and never ever wanting to leave or deal with the real world and also sometimes kissing, you know? Cannot exaggerate how much I owe th_esaurus, for her betaing skills and her awesome face. Also thanks to littledivinity and liketheroad for their betas.
Landing in New York, no matter how many times Andrew has done it, always gives him a little thrill like he's five years old again. The world is a brilliant orange and red when Andrew touches down at LaGuardia and the buildings seem to shoot up around him like Saturn 5 rockets, the sense that everything is different here, the city closing in on him like science fiction.
Andrew checks his watch and he knows he's early but Jesse doesn't have a cell or a landline and smoke signals are out of the question.
He grabs a cab with his bags in tow, gives Jesse's address, the one Jesse scribbled down on the back of a pack of Andrew's cigarettes just before getting a flight back to New York, a number Andrew has kept in his wallet for six months.
All at once he's swept up fully in the city, swallowed like Jonah into the belly of his new world. The streets flash by quickly, a buzz of neon light and lit marquees as Andrew burrows into Jesse's adopted home.
Everything seems to speak Jesse's name, from the graffitied bridges to the pizza parlours, everything to do with this foreign city belonging to an awkward boy in a seventh floor loft. And it's not like Jesse is a quote unquote real New Yorker; he doesn't have any of that adopted toughness or that perpetual sneer and Andrew is pretty sure Jesse is only vaguely aware of the Yankees, but for some reason it's like his name is scrawled over every building, every car.
The cab pulls up just after dark, the world a reflected pool of oil, all colours and noise when Andrew buzzes Jesse's room, his bags huddled close to his sides as the world leans over him.
"Hi." Jesse's voice is as fuzzy and unfocused as Darth Vader. "You're early."
"Got an earlier flight," Andrew says.
"I was just – okay, come up," Jesse says, the buzz of the door closing the conversation.
Andrew man-handles his suitcase into the elevator and shoots seventy feet into the air, the doors opening to Jesse, to a boy who looks around quickly like they're being watched before he picks up a bag and leads Andrew inside. It's like Jesse crawled out of a rabbit hole or something. Like someone drew him on a scrap of paper and suddenly there he was, living in New York City like a lost cartoon. Here he is, stuck in his life and smiling in fits and starts like he can't quite keep it on his face.
"Sorry," Andrew says, toeing off his shoes and already tripping over a cat. "There was a half-empty flight three hours earlier and –"
"Yes," Jesse says, interrupting. He takes Andrew's bags and drops them by the mirrored closet. He's obviously just had a shower, his hair damp and ringletty, his ratty grey t-shirt damp along the collar. Maroon sweatpants and wool socks and a careful smile, stopping suddenly in his rush to look at Andrew properly, taking him in. "Hi."
There's a vibrato of worry in his voice, Jesse with his hands shoved in his pockets like he's not sure what quite to say, feigning all this good natured brotherhood until Andrew hugs him and makes it real. Jesse relaxes into the touch, melts against Andrew's fingers so completely, his mouth wet and warm against Andrew's collar bone as the five, ten, twenty second welcome stretches into something just a little too long. Andrew doesn't much care though, just likes the touch and ignores the careful way Jesse starts to let go, fidgets away from Andrew.
"Missed you too," Andrew says grinning, watching Jesse fidget his bottom lip between his teeth.
Jesse leads Andrew in. The whole place smells lived in, from the slight stench of cat litter to the memories of an Italian tomato sauce. Closed and tight as a can of tuna fish, only inhabited precariously, like Jesse was afraid to live too much. Andrew drags his bags inside and nods towards the couch. "Mine?"
"Yours," Jesse says, smacking a pillow uselessly. "Sorry, I wasn't really planning on – it's only a three room apartment –" Jesse shuts himself up quickly, looking around and grinning suddenly. "It's not really built for visitors." He pauses on that for a moment, pushing a mess of curls from his forehead. "You're my first guest, actually."
"Only for a few days, I know you're busy," Andrew says, dropping his bags at the foot of the couch. It's about two feet too short for him but Jesse has already put some pillows on it, stuffed a sheet over the cushions and made it a little nest, a little home.
"My – my babcia made that blanket," Jesse says, standing on the blades of his feet and watch Andrew manoeuvre around the room. "
"Grandma. It's my – uh, do people have favourite blankets? It's my preferred blanket. It is a great blanket. It – yeah." Jesse pushes his hair back again compulsively. "Sorry it's so - sad. I mean I know you thought, you're going to come over here and live it up in New York City like Trimalchio and now you're living in a shoebox and I'm getting a new cat sent over in a few days, I completely forgot to tell you." Wiping his hands down the front of his jeans like Lady Macbeth and her spot. "So there's that."
Andrew smiles and he can't get over how weird it feels being here, in Jesse's place. He's always heard it described in self-deprecating tones, how there's no television or computer and barely a toilet and how it's too small for his cats never mind their owner, and how it's terrible and cramped, and how it's Jesse's favourite place in the world.
"I love it," Andrew says.
Jesse's shoulder drop with relief, smiling huge. "Really?"
"It's so – you. You couldn't live anywhere else." Andrew runs his fingers over the edge of an old guitar, an ancient chess set styled like Oriental soldiers.
"Is that –"
"It's a compliment," Andrew says, laughing, picking up a chipped mug filled with muddied water and paintbrushes.
"Oh, good," Jesse says. "Would you, uh – like to meet my cats?"
"Yes," Andrew says. "I really would."
Andrew walks around the apartment quickly, Jesse giving him a three-penny tour. It's not much, and Andrew feels like maybe there was a plastic covering on these chairs just ten minutes ago. Andrew slides his finger along the shelves, the mahogany tables, past piles of scripts and old books, dog-eared classics and David Eggers and copies of The Village Voice from two years ago. He smiles, only touching them, leaving everything where it was.
Jesse shrugs his hands into his pockets. "I'm glad you're here."
"I am too," Andrew says, touching Jesse's shoulder. "I didn't think –"
"Not normally," Jesse says. "No one but you."
Andrew touches a book, lets it go. "Show me the beasts."
"They like my bedroom more, just move very quietly." Jesse says softly, "they don't like being disturbed."
"Oh, good. Great."
"Quiet," Jesse says.
They order food that Andrew collects in the apartment lobby, his socks a little floppy at the toe and his jeans dragging under his heels. Chinese food in neat white containers, things he's only seen in American movies. General Tso's chicken and chow mein and moo shu pork and egg foo young and some vegetarian nonsense for Jesse. Andrew tips too much in crisp new American bills and his arms hurt as he holds the bag, too hot against his skin, in the elevator.
Jesse is sitting on the floor by the couch when Andrew lets himself in. He's got glasses of water set out, plates too but no forks. The radio is tuned dim to NPR and the cats have obviously been wrangled into one room, only the dark smell of their fur left around them.
"I didn't want to – mess up your bed," Jesse says unevenly, shifting on the floor. "I guess I don't have a couch now, do I?" Fractured smile and Andrew can't help scrunching his toes in the carpet, just that thing Jesse does sometimes like he's too strange to be real. "Oh, and I have an extra toothbrush for you. I – bought it. A couple weeks ago. You know, if you forgot."
Andrew grins, drops the bag of food in front of Jesse. "I brought my own."
"Of course," Jesse says, bumping his knees against the edge of the coffee table as he tries to stand.
"It's okay. Forks?" Andrew asks, turning to the kitchen.
"Oh – oh, yeah, those would help. Middle drawer," Jesse says, all sweat pants and t-shirt and wide-open eyes. His toes curl against the carpet, like he's bracing himself for something, a wince that has no reason as his bare feet dig in. "I can pay you back for –"
"My treat," Andrew says. "For providing the hotel."
"It's a couch," Jesse says. "It's not that glamorous. I should be paying you, really."
"My treat," Andrew says, making it definite.
They eat out of the cartons, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Kind of authentic, Jesse says, gesturing to the chopsticks in paper wrappings and their flattened cushions. Andrew knows this is only for a few days, just a visit before something big and Hollywood and beyond, but it's hard not to relax into the apartment like a long sigh. It's as closed and tight as a sweater, warm and far away from outside, as isolated as a good dream. He doesn't blame Jesse for never wanting to leave this place; it's an apartment like a teddy bear.
"So, Spiderman," Jesse says, his fork speared with chicken and halfway to his mouth.
"Emma says hi," Andrew says, mouth full.
Jesse smiles down into his food. "I never thought the physics were quiet on for Spiderman."
Andrew laughs. This kid, honestly. "No, probably not. Whiplash doesn't exist in that universe, I don't think."
Jesse nods, chopsticks close to his pale lips. "So, it's all done?"
"I'm only in town for the wrap party," Andrew says. "We're supposed to see that disaster U2 Spiderman whatever musical to end everything. Just for a few days –"
Jesse swallows his bite of food quickly. "No, no, I don't mind you being here –"
Andrew looks over the top of his carton. "I know you don't." Jesse shrugs, looks everywhere but at Andrew, trying to make it look like he's rolling his shoulders. "They were going to pay for my hotel but I just wanted to see – you know, you told me so much about New York. Thought we could have a little rumpus in the city for a couple of days. Meet your cats. Join the mafia."
"I'm not much of a host," Jesse says, twirling his chopsticks uselessly in the chow mein. "I don't really. Know the city like a – a proper New Yorker." Jesse shrugs again, almost a nervous tick by this point. "I don't know any clubs built in former warehouses or art installations in run-down asylums. I just bike around. I don't go inside any of the stores. I only know two bars and all the museums and that's about it."
"I like museums," Andrew says, his knees brushing against the edges of the coffee table, his toes wriggling against the pale carpet. This is still all Jesse's world, tight and full of him, every street corner half-lit by the idea that Jesse has been here, lives here, saturates the city like oil paint. "Honestly, I'm not here for that city. I just want to see your city."
Jesse looks up from his food, back down into it, back up again. "I hope you like short stories."
"Show me Central Park, buy me a hotdog, and bring me to any Broadway show you want," Andrew says amiably, wanting to know New York as a private bonfire. "That's all I need, honestly. I'll get to see Magnolia Bakery another time."
"Their cupcakes aren't that great," Jesse says, grinning against his mouthful of Chinese food.
"Just, show me stuff," Andrew says. "Any stuff. Your stuff. Give me the Jesse tour."
Jesse nods, swallows roughly. "I don't know if I have enough for three days."
"Then we'll sit here eating Chinese food," Andrew says, picking up a dropped piece of chicken from the carpet and popping it in his mouth. "Good enough for me. New York doesn't just need to be out there."
Jesse pushes his hair back again, looks up at Andrew through the curls that flop back against his forehead. "I can try."
"Good enough for me," Andrew says, opening a new carton of food, spearing a piece of broccoli. "Thanks for –"
"Yeah," Jesse interrupts quickly. "Absolutely."
Andrew grins and rocks a little where he sits, never quite able to react to anything without moving a little. A short twitch, a quick dance, he sits here in love with the now and maybe dragging Jesse into it whether he likes it or not. They trade boxes of food and tangle forks and chopsticks, duel with pieces of baby corn, sit on the ground and eat their take away meal together, cross-legged, closed in a private world as tight as a fist.
Andrew showers after dinner in a bathroom as cramped and tight as a suitcase. The medicine cabinet is stuffed with pills in prescribed amber bottles, salves and creams, old contact lens cases and solution, a wire hairbrush, and some ticket stubs from an old Broadway show. Years and years jammed inside almost to bursting.
Andrew uses his own brush and Jesse's toothpaste, sitting on the toilet lid as he brushes and flosses, the room so small he can stretch out his legs and balance them easily on the towel rack. The tile is chipping and everything seems to have been made and in use since the 1930s, the roof smoke-stained with someone else's cigarettes and the radiator peeling three different colors of paint.
Jesse is in his room, slumped over a small writing desk and clacking at a typewriter that he uses probably just to make this exactly like a Salinger novel. He's got his Walkman on – an honest to God cassette player with round plastic headphones – and he budges abstractly to the music. Jesse types quickly and it creates a kind of melody, the rapid clicks and the scrape-ding as he finishes a line. The corners of his room are filled with boxes of ribbons of ink and blank paper and bits and pieces from old type-writers to maintain this old habit. The cats have obviously been let out and only one remains in the bedroom, an ancient tabby tomcat near the head of Jesse's bed, the king cat he calls Tevye.
Andrew's hair is shaggy and damp, a baggy t-shirt and black boxer briefs with a towel slung over his shoulder when he steps behind Jesse, hesitating for a second before putting his hands on the polished wood of the back of the chair.
Jesse's desk is full of neatly squared stacks of typed paper, what looks like script writing in some, and music notation on others. A kind of sloped, made-up notation like someone who learned how to read music fifteen years ago and only remembers parts of it. "Is this goodnight, then?"
Jesse keeps typing.
All right, then. Andrew pats Jesse's shoulders, where the muscles and tendons of his neck slope down.
Jesse jerks suddenly, twists in his chair, his headphones falling from his ears. Andrew can hear the faint buzz of "Golden Slumbers" playing. "Sorry – hi, sorry. I was just, while you were showering –"
"It's three o'clock for me," Andrew says, tapping his fingers along the line of Jesse's shoulders. "My eyes hurt."
Jesse's fingers rest for a moment over the big round lacquered keys before he drops them to his sides. "I'm going to stay up for a while writing, if you want to –"
"No, no," Andrew says, giving his shoulder one last pat before stepping away. "Keep writing. I'm just going to have a quick smoke on the balcony and then I'll go to bed."
"Of course, yeah," Jesse says, standing from his desk and stretching, long limbs and the hem of his shirt riding up just a little, little window of skin between shirt and sweat pants. And then he sits again. "Do you need anything? More blankets?"
"Bubba's is fine," Andrew says grinning, hoisting his towel back over his shoulders and the damp edge of hair at the back of his neck.
"Babcia," Jesse says, the hint of a smile propped up in the corner of his lips.
"Her too," Andrew says. "Is there a lock or anything?"
Jesse blinks rapidly. "I – locked the door, yes."
"For the balcony," Andrew says, struggling to keep the laughter in his chest. Sometimes it's just nice to realize he'll never actually really ever understand Jesse, there will always be something to new to like.
"Oh, no, no," Jesse says. "It's in the kitchen. Just don't let any of the cats out."
"But they should be free –"
Terror flashes for a moment behind Jesse's eyes.
"A joke," Andrew says, still trying not to laugh. "All felines shall remain confined."
Jesse joins in with a smile, careful though it is. "No one leaves the gulag."
"Night, then," Andrew says, shifting his weight from foot to foot but staying where he stands.
Jesse licks his lips quickly, a flash of pink tongue before he smiles properly and nods. "Sleep well."
October sharpens the air with a strop and Andrew's bare legs immediately goosepimple as he closes the balcony door behind him, making sure to avoid any escapees. It's a small, narrow balcony, carpeted with green Astroturf, completely empty except for a couple of folded plastic chairs. Andrew leans against the cold concrete barrier.
The air is thick with that familiar city stench; sharp diesel fumes, street vendor meat, smoke, and something metallic like the sea. Andrew breathes it in as he props a cigarette between his lips before cupping his hands around a match. It's not hard to immediately love it here, feel like he's been sucked into a cocoon of light and noise and the strange privacy of this boy. Even Jesse's angular awkwardness is somehow just like Andrew pictured it, wanted it; Jesse tip-toeing around his own apartment like he's afraid of waking someone up. Andrew has a couch. The cats tolerate him. His mobile is turned off. It's exactly how it should be.
Andrew only manages to smoke half of his cigarette before the balcony door creaks open and Jesse steps out. He's thrown on a too-big New York marathon hoodie and his feet are still bare.
"I completely forgot," Jesse says, putting a small glass ashtray in front of Andrew. "I bought this for you too."
Andrew looks down at the ashtray, suddenly glad it's dark because his grin presses these huge boyish dimples into his cheeks. "Thank you." Not good enough, imagining the weeks Jesse had been preparing for this, preparing for Andrew. "Seriously. Thank you."
"You can smoke inside if you want –"
"Nah," Andrew says. "I hate the smell. And your cats would probably go into rebellion."
Jesse smiles, stands next to Andrew, his body mirrored with his forearms pressed against the barrier, leaning forward to look out. "It's just –" Jesse starts in media res, like Andrew was turning the radio dial and found a station, "I've never had anyone over before and I don't know how this goes and no one has ever really been inside my house and –"
"What're you writing?" Andrew asks, blowing out a stream of smoke that gets caught on the wind.
Jesse stumbles into silence. He rolls his shoulders once or twice. "It's nothing really. Nothing important."
It's funny realizing that Jesse isn't being modest, that when he says things like this. Andrew knows it's his acute kind of honesty that does most of the talking, never stopping for false modesty. Jesse can be self-deprecating when he wants laughs, but this is just casual, honest deprecation. The strange and cruel honesty of his life. "Can I see it, maybe?" Andrew knows he's pushing a bit too much; he's already taking up a place in Jesse's house, digging his fingers in where they shouldn't be, but he can't resist asking. "I'd like to see it."
Jesse is quiet for a while. "Maybe. When it's more – when it's finished."
"When will that be?"
Jesse laughs at that, moving enough that his shoulder bumps with Andrew's. "Spiderman 4."
Andrew laughs, and then holds it back. "I like it here. Your place is beautiful. Like a movie set for an indie drama about learning to love."
Jesse could shift with that, change positions like he's uncomfortable. Instead he laughs and his shoulder keeps tight against Andrew's. "Stay. I want you to stay."
Andrew nods, takes another deep breath of smoke. "Okay."
"It's not much," Jesse says. Andrew knows just from the way he says it that it's something, something warm and unwieldy that neither of them could ever put into words. But it's permission, Jesse saying yes to something he's never said yes to before. Living in the same space as another breath, sharing something so deeply private as the one place he feels comfortable. Sharing safety.
"It's what I need," Andrew says. "Consider me your foster cat. I need a home."
Jesse sucks in a breath like he's been fasting. "Okay." Like sharing a cloud, like suddenly Jesse's private property becomes Andrew's own, a quiet little inheritance.
The conversation doesn't die, it just lulls into silence and unspoken things and blown smoke. The way Andrew lingers on his cigarette, rolling it between his forefinger and thumb; the way Jesse switches positions every now and then, giving these jerky little stretches, flexing his long fingers and tapping them over the railing like he's playing the piano. Andrew keeps getting these smiles out of nowhere, sudden and brilliant and having nothing to do with anything. He just turns his head away from Jesse and tries to stop himself. He must look mental.
Andrew stubs his cigarette out in the glass ashtray and Jesse carries it back inside with them, dumping out the ashes in the garbage can and placing the tray next to the sink.
Jesse draws the curtains behind Andrew's bed, dropping the room into darkness. Just the silhouette of him in the light of his bedroom doorway, Andrew patting his shoulder once and silent, the door closes.
Andrew crawls onto the couch and draws the blanket up to his chin. He doesn't go three minutes before he's got two cats sleeping against him, cradled in the space behind his bent knees, purring and warm and constant.
Andrew wakes up and stretches the full length of the couch. The cats have abandoned ship obviously, and he swings his legs over the side, his eyes dry and the room all yellow and orange from the dusty filter of the curtains. It's one in the afternoon and he still feels groggy, much less than a person. Andrew yawns and stretches neatly, tugging off his t-shirt and sitting there in his boxer shorts.
"Jesse?" Andrew mumbles, wiping his spit-dried lips. "Jesse?"
Nothing and no one; the house almost echoes. Andrew stumbles into the bathroom.
The room is warm and fragrant with shampoo, Jesse must have just left. Andrew wipes the mirror with his palms, splashes cold water on his face. He takes his time brushing his teeth with Jesse's toothpaste, lingering in the silence he has before setting his brush in the cup next to Jesse's. He sits on the edge of the toilet and considers lighting a cigarette but decides he doesn't need one now.
Andrew takes a long, hot shower. As long as the hot water will hold out, slamming the tap closed as it threatens to go cold. He feels mostly human when he comes out, all wrapped in towels like a mummy. He digs through his toiletries and laughs. The one thing he's forgotten is a razor, though he did somehow remember shaving cream. He rummages through the drawers for a safety, pushing past old combs and contact lens cases and empty packets of floss. In the middle drawer he finds a straight razor and tub of lather and Andrew laughs. Of course. Of course anything later than 1955 would make Jesse feel slightly uncomfortable, like doing something easily is for other people. It has to be difficult for Jesse, right down to his daily routine.
Shrugging, Andrew runs the tap and rolls the stiff-haired brush through the lather. He paints his skin in white froth and goes over it, very carefully, with the razor. It's just a blush of stubble so he doesn't have that hard a time, but he nicks the edge of his jaw all the same, a fat drop of blood beading and rolling down his throat.
"This is ridiculous," Andrew tells himself in the mirror as he's patting his neck dry with wadded up toilet paper. "This is insane."
And it is ridiculous, everything he's done in the last twenty-four hours is something that should go in a novel. He was offered a suite at the Four Seasons and a hired car for his three days in town. A limo from the airport to his hotel and a personal assistant willing to run down to the store to get him a safety razor in case he forgot. But he turned it down and here he is, sneezing in a dusty apartment full of cats with his throat bleeding because Jesse thinks something like a microwave oven is uncomfortably modern.
And he loves it. That's the stupid thing, really, the thing Andrew could never really get over. Andrew loves being here and loves cutting his throat on a damn razor and loves sleeping on a lumpy couch and getting his forearms scratched by territorial lions and loves this time capsule of a boy who lives like he's in a bomb shelter.
Andrew splashes his face with cold water, washing off the last of the lather and throws the damp towels over the shower curtain rail.
Andrew stumbles between arm chairs and stacks of piled books, naked and half-dancing across the room before he finds his suitcase. The house is echoing empty, and cats begin to congregate around him as he pulls on his jeans, a new t-shirt, tossing his damp and sleepworn clothes into Jesse's overflowing laundry hamper, mingling his clothes with others.
"Hi," Andrew says as a couple of cats brush against his legs. "I do not know where the food is. Do you love me anyway?"
It seems to be a yes. The old tabby ringleader jumps up beside him, circles in place a few times before dodging his head under Andrew's palm, initiating a pet.
The cats follow him into the kitchen. It's only when Andrew gets to the fridge that he sees the note. In neat handwriting Jesse explains that he's meeting his therapist and won't be home until three; cereal in the cupboard, eggs and bacon in the fridge if Andrew is more ambitious. The cats are Andrew's business for the morning. A little smiley face right at the bottom of the note and Andrew folds it and decides to slide it into his wallet.
After searching through the cabinets, Andrew finds a bag of cat food under the sink. He's not sure if he should, but he pours the four bowls full of food anyway. He watches the cats eat as he shovels down his own bowl of cereal at the rickety kitchen table.
He's got nowhere to be and nothing to do, the freedom of being totally bored and buried here in his little nest perched high in the branches of New York City. After washing his bowl and leaving it on a hand towel to dry, Andrew shoves his hands in his pockets and looks around. It's still an hour and a half until Jesse gets back, so Andrew decides to explore the apartment on his own.
He thumbs through a few of the old novels, glances at the black book Jesse has got beside his olive green Bakelite telephone. Receipts balanced next to an old Texas Instruments calculator and of course Jesse does his own taxes, of course, small numbers in grocery bills and big ones for the veterinarian. Andrew finds some fringe awards for different projects shoved in a dresser drawers and Andrew laughs, taking them out to read the labels. At least Jesse didn't throw them out like maybe Andrew expected.
Really, it's all game to get him closer to Jesse's bedroom. It's not snooping, it's just curiosity, Andrew tells himself as he rounds to the typewriter and writing desk stacked with neatly squares pages. Snooping would be rifling through these typed scripts and deformed sheet music and reading it all. Andrew just reads the top page, out of curiosity. Just the top page.
Some are scripts, characters and stage direction, some of them have camera notes – fade in, close up, fade out – like they're for a movie. Notes are written in blue pen in the margins, circling things that need rewriting, plenty of lines crossed out. None of the scripts are finished.
The smallest pile closest to the typewriter is a stage script, for a musical. About thirty pages all told as Andrew picks it up. He starts reading out of curiosity, definitely not snooping, and he's laughing by the first page. It's something weird and a little bit left of normal, just what Andrew didn't expect. It's Jesse in every word; a Jewish boy somewhere between Woody Allen and Mordecai Richler, self-deprecatingly witty and full of quiet passion. It's pickled with a kind of humour Andrew almost winces away from; an honesty too straight forward, like he's reading Jesse's diary. Which he supposes he kind of is.
Andrew is on page three and decides if he's going to invade, he's going to go all the way. He grabs the manuscript, a pack of cigarettes, and settles himself on a folding chair on the balcony with the glass ashtray balanced on his lap.
It's funny, really funny. Everything is so rich with laughter, a sad kind of laughter, and a language that Andrew can only hear in Jesse's voice. Exactly what he would say here, and there, in each of these circumstances. He even recognizes some short quips and self-deferential escapes from Jesse's real life, things Jesse said that he must have kept in a corner of his mind, writing them on cocktail napkins and waiting to fuse them together into a script like private therapy.
A sudden flare of pain and Andrew yelps. His cigarette has burned down to his fingertips, a red jewel of heat and an inch of unsmoked ash that Andrew drops to the ground, sucking on his fingers preciously.
It only takes a moment for Andrew to wave the pain out of his fingers before he lights a new Benson and turns the page.
Andrew doesn't know how long he's been reading, but it's almost three when he turns the last page and tucks it back behind the others. He stares at the first page again, finding it hard not to wriggle happily in his seat. It's brilliant in such a private way, like it's a secret he needs to keep to himself. It's like having something whispered in his ear, something no one else was meant to have heard.
Andrew is a little high with cigarettes and a good screenplay when he stumbles back inside, squares the pages and sets them back where they belong. He feels a little bit guilty, sort of, kind of, but mostly he feels this rush of warmth run through his chest, like a burst of laughter he has to keep down. Without really thinking about it, Andrew decides he needs to convince Jesse to finish the musical and that's all there is to it.
It's his boy in a couple thousand words, and Andrew wants more. It's his boy. It's decided.
Andrew flops down on his couch, tangled in the night's bedclothes and checking his e-mails on his phone and stolen internet when Jesse slides into the apartment, locking the door behind him.
"Hi," Jesse says awkwardly, as if apologizing again for his apartment.
"Jesse," Andrew says, not sure how to start this conversation. Hey boy, you're a genius, didn't you know? Hey boy, I need you, didn't you know? "Afternoon."
"Hey," Jesse says, burying his problems in his pockets like loose change. "Sorry I just disappeared this morning. I didn't want to wake you up, cause of, uh, jetlag and – stuff."
Andrew nods, still can't wipe that smile off his face. He should feel bad about – being curious, but he doesn't, not really, not at all. He knows if he leaves it to Jesse this script will turn into nothing, unread and packed in the bottom of a rotting cardboard box. "It's okay. I feel hungover. The flight was murder."
Jesse shrugs again, his lips taut and chewed slightly, fidgeting his hands restlessly. "Rest." He takes a moment, standing there in front of Andrew like he knows what happened. "You hungry at all?"
"I fed the cats," Andrew says. "I didn't know if I should. They looked so plaintive."
Jesse smiles at that. "They like to take advantage," Jesse says. "The key is to avoid eye contact at all times."
"Take me to a show," Andrew says.
"Any show," Andrew says. "Broadway show. We can get last minute tickets. In the balcony."
Jesse shuffles for a moment, like he needs a second to process this, cocking his head gently like he's solving an equation. "Don't you have plans? Isn't that why you're here? A wrap party or something?"
It's like being reminded Andrew has a test for a class he doesn't want. He's fine skiving and hanging out with Jesse, playing hooky from a normal life to live amongst cat dander and a table full of scripts. Besides, he didn't even bring a suit. "Bring me to a show," he says decisively.
Jesse temples his fingers, brings them to his closed mouth. "What kind of show?"
"Anything," Andrew says. "Whatever you want." God bless Jesse for not objecting, for listening to the very small part of him that can tolerate adventure. Andrew just needs to hear more, wants to understand the little puzzle pieces that make up this foreign boy. Mostly he just wants ideas and he wants a script the both of them can write together. The idea is something of a cupped flame Andrew keeps in his palms, coaxing to life bit by bit.
"They're doing The Importance of Being Earnest," Jesse says, shuffling from foot to foot like he's not sure if it's good enough. "It's fantastic. I've been twice."
"Not a musical?" Andrew asks.
"No," Jesse says. "Just Oscar Wilde."
"Dinner at a street cart and a play," Andrew decides, springing up from the couch. "Perfect."
Jesse nods, wringing his hands together. "You sure you don't have to –"
"No," Andrew says. "This. This this this."
Jesse nods, smiling at him bemused, like a rascal pup. "Sounds good."
They flood out of the theatre and into New York, pushed out by theatre lights and polite people in waistcoats. Andrew keeps tight with Jesse, funnelling out between the desperate smokers who have obviously waited anxiously for the curtains. They light up like Roman flares as Jesse and Andrew walk between them, ducking the smoke and finally stepping out into the cool air of an evening threatening winter.
"Did you like it?" Jesse asks immediately, his hands wrung tightly.
Andrew takes a moment of silence to light his own cigarette, dragging it long before puffing out. He rolls it neatly between his fingers, blowing on the ember before speaking. "Yes." He takes a deep breath. "God, the way he has with words. It made me feel so beautifully stupid, you know? Like he's just better than me, in a good way."
Jesse fumbles their used tickets between his thumb and forefinger as they walk into the city, always out of place with their shirt tails and their programs folded and stuffed into their pockets and the theatre dissolving like salt water.
Andrew has never really gotten the stage life, never lived in the world of dank velvet and clenched playbills, but Jesse so obviously seems to breathe it in like oxygen. It doesn't take long for Andrew to decide that if Jesse loves it, he will too.
"Oscar Wilde is kind of a god of mine," Jesse says, almost sounding relieved that Andrew liked it.
"Can you imagine living then?" Andrew says.
"What do you mean?"
"The whole – Bunbury thing. Hiding it all away, living in the shadows like that," Andrew says, trailing the smoke to his lips, and then away.
"I'm – not sure I understand."
"It's about being gay, right? How hard it was back then," Andrew continues, the streetlights reflecting on his polished leather shoes as he looks down at them.
Jesse sucks down on his lower lip. "I didn't really – interpret it like that. I never thought of it that way."
"That whole thing – having to be one thing in the city, being a different person in the country. It's about being gay, right? Like, okay, so the whole living in the country thing, it's kind of a complex, right? Bunburying." Andrew nods, biting down on his tongue a little. "It's about being someone else."
"I suppose," Jesse offers. "But isn't it more a middle class thing –"
"He had to make up a whole word for it, you know?" Andrew takes a deep swallow of street air. "It's crazy. Can you imagine having to do that? All that – subterfuge? Imagine how good Oscar Wilde would have done if he was alive now."
"Yeah," Jesse says quietly. "Yeah, I get it."
Andrew bites off another breath of smoke. "It's just so – fucking sad. You know? Having to wear all those masks just to be who you really are. I dunno, I'm probably way off here. It's just so sad."
Jesse rolls one shoulder. "No," he says quietly. "You're right, it is sad."
"Sorry, I'm being depressing, aren't I?" Andrew takes another puff, laughs a little. "Man, I never see theatre," Andrew goes on, changing gears quickly. "I was in a couple of plays but I never actually went to see anything. It always just seemed like a thing actors did, not enjoyed."
Jesse nods, still focused on the roots and lines of the sidewalk. "I'm probably doing it wrong."
"I just remember being naked like – all the time. Backstage in those freezing little dressing rooms, having people with those – headphone on, you know, headsets, ripping off my clothes for a fast costume change." Andrew laughs, cigarette bobbing between his lips as he rubs his hands together. "Not the stage fright. Not the bad reviews. I just remember being stark naked and having people throw clothes at me."
Jesse laughs, drawing his hands up into his sleeves and looking up to glance at Andrew. "I mostly remember the bad reviews."
"I am Jack's complete lack of surprise," Andrew says, punching Jesse's shoulder loosely. Jesse's expression falters for a second and Andrew is beginning to get a handle on what that means. "Fight Club reference. Watch it, mate. To be honest, I'm not sure which of us is better off. I had to explain to many, many girls that the dressing room was unnaturally cold."
"Gone are the days of Sarah Bernhardt, I guess," Jesse says, a little start of a laugh.
"The most famous stage actress of the nineteenth century. Maybe you should read a book – mate," Jesse says, a lemon wedge in his tone. Andrew walks a half-step behind him, smirking.
Jesse stands on the edge of the curb, trying to wave down a taxi and failing, the both of them still caught up in the knot of people leaving the theatre, trapped in towers and the kingdom of electric light. Everyone gets taxis except them, flagging down cabs that pass by without stopping. They're left scuffing the pavement and walking slowly with nowhere to go, left to wander slowly and close together.
"You ever – you ever think about doing this?" Andrew asks, sucking his cigarette and breathing the smoke away from Jesse. He's actually a bit jittery, nervous about what Jesse will say which is ridiculous. Andrew just wants it so much for no reason other than it's Jesse's words and Jesse's ideas and Jesse. That's a good enough reason, Andrew decides.
"Theatre," Andrew shrugs, his polished shoes already scuffed as they walk together. "I heard you make a good orphan."
If Jesse blushes, it's too dark to tell. His face buried in his scarf, the way he walks a little sped up and stuttered, like he's trying to dodge real life. "No. No, not at all. I wasn't built for the stage."
"Just the camera?"
"No. Uh, no, not really. I'm not sure I was built for anything really."
The streets are cluttered with life, piled up with garbage bags and fallen leaves and the rough debris of a living, dying city. It coughs and glows with people, stumbling drunk and laughing around them. Andrew ignores them, leaning into Jesse with his fingerless gloves and the cigarette caught like a firefly between fingertips.
"I think you could," Andrew says, taking another puff of smoke. They walk away from the light and the noise, the sidewalk shiny with an old rain, picking up the colors of the world in the gulleys and troughs. It reflects everything around them in slush and old wet, everything picked up second hand and reflected like it will never go away. "I think you're – really very good. Yeah." Andrew makes sure he catches Jesse's eye when he grins again. "Really."
Jesse looks around quickly before settling his stare on the street ahead. "Well." He pauses for a moment, his fingers flicking at his bowtie and the neatness of it all. "I don't know. No." A pause. "You read the script, didn't you?"
"Sorry," Andrew says, bumping against Jesse's shoulders. They're a couple of blocks from the theatre, buried under the smell of the city and an intersection blazing with corner shops and late night delis and nothing spectacular. Andrew chooses this spot to stop and touch Jesse's shoulders, neaten up the lapels of his suit, straighten his tie. "You said you write. I – was curious. And you're absolutely correct, you can write. God, can you write."
Jesse is breathing quickly. "It's really nothing," he mumbles.
"Your very own High School Jewsical," Andrew says, grinning.
"I will pretend not to understand that," Jesse says, giving in a little. "It's just for fun, anyway."
"Fun?" Andrew says. "When do you ever do something just for fun?" There's a long pause, and Andrew can't help putting an arm over Jesse's shoulders, get them walking again close and tight. "Fun is the enemy, isn't it?"
"It's just to pass the time," Jesse says, finding a direction he likes and walking towards it, his head bowed to the pavement. "It's honestly nothing."
"Okay." Andrew touches his shoulders, stops them again with a scuff and a breath. He studies Jesse carefully, the way his eyes dart back and forth like he's thinking about running. Jesse attempts a smile and almost succeeds and Andrew can only sigh and touch the back of Jesse's neck and keep him close. "Okay, maybe, sure."
"It's honestly nothing."
"Right." Andrew draws a deep breath in, leans close when he speaks, close enough that he can feel Jesse warm against him.
"Can we – talk about something else?"
Andrew nods quickly, keeps close. "When I was a kid, I went to shul." Andrew pauses, his fingers fidgeting against the hem of his shirt. "It was this kind of hip place to get kids to come. They called it the Gog – I know, right? Talked a lot about Sabbath and doing mitzvot cause they're super cool. That kind of Reform shit, accepting lapsed Jews for the cause. Get them on side, you know?"
"You ever get bar mitzvah?" Jesse asks, his shoulders shivering a little.
'Naw," Andrew says, leaning in closer. "We were those useless kind of cultural Jews. Too atheist to ever bother with it."
"Us too," Jesse says. "We never really connected to the cause. Just had that, you know, that holocaust kind of upbringing." He takes a deep breath, something small and close to private like he's surprised he's talking at all. Andrew loves the feel of him, his whispers striking against his cheek like flint. Andrew continues: "No one was ever on board with it, but we did Passover and that stuff – well, just because. Because before our family never could, I guess?"
"Yeah," Andrew says. "Kind of a fuck you to, uh, to Hitler." Andrew laughs, can't help it when it comes to Jesse and the little threads of their lives knitting more closely together. This is the quit kind of talk that Andrew is pretty sure Jesse's never said much of before, he can tell that these are newly minted words, fresh with doubt and anxiety.
Jesse seems to breathe like he's holding it in, letting it out shallow just so Andrew can hear. "You ever feel guilty?"
"All the time," Andrew says. "When I see those Orthodox guys, I just feel like – a fake. Like I'm not doing enough. The Gog didn't help," he says laughing, keeping it tight to his chest. "I just did it cause, you know, if my grandparents were gonna get killed for it, I'm gonna do it just cause. Just a fuck you, you know? Fuck it, I'm a Jew. But I don't really – bum God or anything."
"Me neither –" a pause, and Jesse flattens his shirt down his chest. "Yeah, you know, me neither," Jesse says quietly, like he's never said if before, quiet and almost smiling, almost. "When I was – when I was inpatient at Cedars-Sinai, I thought for a bit that maybe I believed in God –" a pause, and Jesse wets his lips. Andrew leans closer, lets the falling words form a sentence between them. "I thought if I believed hard enough I could get out of – the worry. That it would stop."
"And?" Andrew says quietly, brushing fingertips against the edge of Jesse's jaw.
"It didn't stop," Jesse says quietly.
"I know," Andrew says softly, his cheeks warming as his hips nudge against Jesse's, until their walk is as close as a duet. "I can tell."
"I'm just not a very good Jew," Jesse says. "I'm too afraid to believe in it. Or too rational. Too something. Not enough to be a real Jew."
"Fuck that," Andrew says, swallows carefully like he knows how fragile this skeleton of words really is. "That doesn't matter, you know? You know that, right?"
Jesse takes a deep breath, fidgets his smile between his lips quietly in silence. The pause is sweet and soft and long, Jesse with his head near Andrew's shoulder, their shifting walk halted in Talmudic talk and fragmented religion. Andrew leans in close and his lips are almost brushing against Jesse's temple, privately together in some ancient way, as old as the religion they fidget with like a Rubik's cube. Almost a kiss against Jesse's temple.
"I'm – hungry. Are you hungry?" Jesse asks after a while.
"Sure," Andrew says, cupping his hand around Jesse's neck. "Yeah, I am." A brush of lips against the side of Jesse's head, a little secular prayer and mutual history left in the tracks of his damp mouth.
They get a taxi, flagged down by Jesse, and stop a couple of blocks from his apartment. Andrew lights up another cigarette as they wait in line by a hotdog cart like they've always been doing this, for years at least. Standing around ordering food at midnight in a New York made suddenly familiar, a routine they've only just decided on. Jesse pays and hands Andrew a hotdog in a wax paper wrap.
Andrew touches Jesse's wrist and he folds a handful of change into Jesse's palms to pay him back, squeezing his hand shut around the coins.
"You know, I've never done this," Jesse says as they take a few steps away from the cart. "My mother warned me away from street vendors."
"I've always wanted to," Andrew says. "This is perfect." He breathes in the diesel of the city, gritty and rough and out-of-season. "This is what I wanted. God, look at it. It's New York. We're buying shit hotdogs in the middle of New York City like a movie. It's every British kid's dream to get stabbed by a mugger in New York City, I'll have you know."
Jesse actually laughs. "They sell souvenir switchblades at Sing Sing, if you'd like. To make it totally authentic." He gets up close to Andrew, breathing out steamy breaths and smiling out from his bundled up scarf and sharp lapels of his overcoat.
Andrew smiles. "I'm fucking starving."
"Eat," Jesse says, raising his parchment-wrapped hot dog like a toast. "Let's eat."
"You're so good, you know?" Andrew says, a rush of it out of nowhere, getting close enough to Jesse that he can smell the mint-gum of his breath. "No, of course you don't. You write and it hurts like a bruise and God, it's so funny and you, it's you. You write like you have a bloody nose and I love it. I want it so much."
Jesse takes a moment, a deep breath and a shivering half-smile. "I thought you were hungry."
Andrew lingers too close for a moment more, pausing because he's not sure, almost like he wants to do something more when his lips are an inch from Jesse's mouth. A beat, a breath, and Andrew nods and pulls away.
The steam comes off the food carts in waves, drunks and college students shuffling in lines as easy as tequila. They finish the hotdogs just a few steps away, still breathing in the salt-water smell of the cart, Andrew stamping out his cigarette before he takes another bite. Salty with ketchup and electric yellow mustard, getting his fill of steaming half-winter breath and huddling close to Jesse for warmth. It's an angry kind of autumn, always reminding them of winter, and Andrew's fingerless gloves do nothing as he eats and smiles and clings to Jesse just because he wants to.
Andrew tosses out their wrappers and Jesse is already fiddling with his apartment keys. A couple more blocks with their shoes getting damp from wet leaves before they're in the lobby, in the elevator, in his apartment, the both of them smelling like the city.
Jesse's apartment is something different at night. It's as closed as a clam shell, as tight and warm as a sweater. Andrew loves it even more, how tight everything seems, like he can't stretch without hitting something important. It's like sliding into sheets in a hotel where everything is tucked under the mattress, like you can't move your legs or your arms, you're just stuck in that wonderful way. He flops down on the couch and Jesse is still working his hands in knots and crosses, undoing his bowtie and the laces of his dress shoes.
Jesse wanders into his bedroom and leaves the door mostly closed. Andrew rubs his hands together to calm the chill, curled up against his sofa bed and letting the cats sniff his hand experimentally before ignoring him like another piece of furniture.
He still feels all light inside, practically incandescent as he unbuttons his waistcoat and drops it on the edge of the couch, unbuckling his belt until he's just in black boxer-briefs and flinging off his dress shirt, a coiled lump on the couch.
Barefoot across the carpet, Andrew nudges his way into Jesse's bedroom. Jesse is half-undressed, pale and skinny chest and his dress pants a little too long at the cuff, dragging under his heels. Jesse glances once over his shoulder but this seems to be okay, comfortable enough that he turns his back on Andrew and continues his routine, unbuckling his belt and finding a ratty t-shirt to pull on.
Andrew rounds to the desk and the typewriter, the stacks of papers still neatly organized. He touches the top of the newest stack, that script that somehow still clings to his heart like a parasite.
"Do you – need the bathroom first?" Jesse asks, baby blue boxer shorts and a t-shirt too big so it makes him seem twelve years old.
"Nah," Andrew says, fingering the edge of the script. Shirtless, he scratches the soft brush of hair in the middle of his chest as he flips the edge of the script against the pad of his thumb. "Jesse."
Jesse is still shifting awkwardly, moving to his bed half-dressed like he's not sure how to react. "Yeah?"
"Let's do it."
Jesse freezes. "Do – what?"
Andrew holds the script out. "This."
Jesse's eyes are large and bright, reflecting the single bulb glowing in the room. "Oh."
Andrew looks at him steadily, starts to rifle through the pages. "Please." He's not sure what else to say, how else to convince Jesse that this is it, this is the something special he can run his life on like gasoline. He just holds it out with goosebumps rolling up his arms, down his chest, half-dressed in the apartment at one in the morning. "I mean – it's so – it's." Andrew takes a deep breath, closing the space between them. He presses the script to Jesse's chest, holds it there until Jesse takes it carefully. "You can do it. Please, just – finish it. For me."
Jesse looks down at Andrew's hand, flat against his body, closes his eyes and counts to five. "Finish it?"
Andrew nods slowly, knowing that this motion, this little smile is enough to stitch their lives together for more than three days, for more than a friend sleeping on the couch. Andrew takes another step forward, sliding his hand against the back of Jesse's neck, resting his fingers against the knots of his spine, digging in a little into the curls of his hair. "Is that okay?"
Jesse swallows and Andrew can feel the shiver roll up his body through Jesse's skin. Jesse looks up and it's only inches. Andrew can feel the warmth of his breath when he says: "I guess. Yeah. If you – okay. Uh."
Andrew holds the moment for a beat too long, longer even than either of them can hold their breath. He squeezes the back of Jesse's neck and let's go. "Done." He smiles and it's like Jesse takes that as a cue to breathe out, holding the script properly, nodding down to the ground a little, just enough that Andrew can smell the shampoo in his hair and the diesel of the city and the salty steam of the hot dog stand.
It's like a hug that doesn't happen, all the trappings, hands in the right place, low breathing, but neither of them closes it. Jesse is too near and Andrew is too careful. They break apart instead, Jesse still holding his script and shifting his weight from foot to foot.
"I'll – uh, brush my teeth, I'm tuckered out," Andrew says, running his hands back through his hair. He huffs out a laugh. "Okay?"
Jesse nods quickly.
"Night," Andrew says.
Jesse looks like he's on the edge of something, his bottom lip sucked in and chewing on it compulsively. Instead he gives a kind of aborted wave and takes a step back towards his bed, resting the script on the table and sitting back on his sagging mattress. "Good night."
Andrew hovers in the doorway to the bathroom. He looks at Jesse, drawn back on his bed, blinking rapidly like the world is too fast. "I like being here."
Jesse nods, closing his eyes and then opening them like he's waking up. "Stay," he says, quietly.
Andrew smiles, bows his head once before closing the bathroom door behind him. He runs the tap and finds his toothbrush where he left it, next to Jesse's in the chipped glass cup.