Pairing: Jesse Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield
Fandom: The Social Network RPF
Word Count: 20,045
Warnings: mild angst, road trip shenanings, the Beat Generation, tennis.
Summary: Cruising at eighty miles down an empty highway, Jesse sees signs for cities he didn't even know existed. It even smells like it should, like somehow Andrew promised a road trip and the world decided to deliver; the slight burn of rubber, hot-baked road tar, the dust of wheat and sweet grass. It's like living someone else's cinematic life. It's like Dorothy landing in Oz and the whole world suddenly going color.
Author's Notes: I cannot participate in a fandom without writing at least one road trip fic. Thanks to the amazing th_esaurus, who saved this story a thousand times and helped with every word of every line. Also thanks to liketheroad and littledivinity for their superhero betas. Title from Black Lips' "Bad Kids".
He could build a city. Has a certain capacity.
There's a niche in his chest where a heart would fit perfectly
and he thinks if he could just manoeuvre one into place—
well then, game over.
- Richard Siken
The call comes at one in the morning. Jesse picks it up and rolls over in bed, telephone cord wrapping once around his shoulders as he mumbles a weak hello into his pillow.
Jesse squints. "Who is this?"
"Don't be so suspicious, it's me." Andrew's laughter as sudden as thunder. "Hi."
Jesse untangles himself and slides his legs over the edge of the bed to sit up properly, rubbing a hand over his face. "Andrew?" Jesse sits there in the dark of his bedroom, clearing his throat once or twice before he flicks on his bedside lamp. "Is something wrong – are you okay?"
"Sorry, yeah, I'm fine," Andrew says, quiet and tinny over the line. A little breath of laughter. He must be miles away, on the other side of the world smiling and remembering the phone number with champagne-numb fingers. Jesse can hear the clink and clatter of cutlery and wine glasses far away, a steady thump of music like a party forced into the background. "What time is it there? Oh Jesus, it's the middle of the night, isn't it?"
"Kind of," Jesse says, stretching with one arm, holding the phone with his other. His cats have already gathered silently around him, drawn by the bath of light in his bedroom and the prelude of being fed, their swishing tails sending up ribbons of dust. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, I promise," Andrew says, his voice quivering and close. "Oh God, it's like five in the morning for you, isn't it?"
"No. Only one," Jesse says.
"Oh, good," Andrew says, laughing a little again. He must be drunk, or at least the other side of tipsy. Andrew's voice shivers and fades out like a flickering lightbulb. He laughs more at himself than anything else, swaying to and from his receiver. "I just wanted to – I'm coming out to your corner of the world for a few days. I thought we could. I haven't seen you in – I'm coming to New York. I haven't seen you in months – in months - and I – and –"
"Oh, right, good," Jesse says, chewing his bottom lip. "When?"
"In a couple of days." Andrew laughs a little again, away from the receiver and muffled. "Can I – I want to see you a little bit."
"Yes – yes, sure, absolutely," Jesse says automatically, never able to say no to warm nights and Andrew things. The cats are sitting by his feet and looking up at him, their big eyes reflected in the light of the bedside lamp, patiently waiting with their heads tilted slightly. "Of course. Yes."
"Are you sure?" A muffle against the receiver and Andrew's voice softer, lighter than before. Andrew doesn't wait for an answer. "Good. Okay, I'll see you soon."
"Okay," Jesse says, feeling his chest tighten a little, looking around his little grotto of a house and the thousands of ways it won't be enough when Andrew sees it. The cats are getting a little impatient now, brushing against his legs as if to get him to move. "Should I get anything? Food or – or cigarettes or something?"
Andrew laughs a little, moves the phone closer to his mouth with the rasp of his lips against the receiver and a husky little chuckle. "No, no, don't worry about it. See you soon."
A loud smile, heard across miles. "Yep. Sorry about – sleep well."
"Drink some water," Jesse offers limply.
"Will do. Will do."
Jesse wants to hold on longer, quiet and hushed and morning, but he's got nothing else to say. "Bye."
Andrew pauses, and his voice is closer than before, like he's trying to whisper through the phone. "Sleep well. Sweet dreams."
Jesse puts the phone down carefully and rubs his face. Might as well, now that he's up. Folding himself out of the origami of his blankets and sheets, Jesse opens the plastic tub of cat food he keeps under the sink and rattles it out into empty bowls.
Jesse wakes up two days later to a repeated banging at his front door. Quiet for a second. Again, almost rhythmic. Quiet. And again. Not going to stop.
Rolling over, almost falling asleep again. Knocking again, and all right, of course, this brave new world. It's eight o'clock in the morning with the air all light and sandy with late spring as Jesse rolls out of bed unsteadily, his curtains veiling the day in orange light and old heat. Bird calls and a rush of traffic. Hammering at his door. Jesse drops his head in his hands, a morning headache smashed with fists into his temples. He wraps the white fluff of his bathrobe around his body, closing it self-consciously around his chest as the knocking goes limp and staggered.
The cats follow him in a train as he unbolts the door to his apartment, slides the chain lock free without bothering to peek through the lens, wishing for coffee and a cleaner house before –
"Hi." Andrew leans against the door frame like a habit. Oh, his old boy, of course.
"Hi," Jesse says, suddenly feeling his chest empty like he's either really hungry or really sick.
"I'm sorry," Andrew says immediately. His clothes are wrinkled, his hair a haloed mess around his head like he hasn't slept in days. His smile is exactly like Jesse remembers. "I'm sorry. Hi, hey, how're you?" Andrew pauses. "Did I wake you? I did – Jesus – I'm sorry."
Jesse hesitates in the doorway, adjusts the bathrobe back over his shoulder and smiles. "No. Not at all." A pause, taking Andrew in much too slowly, feeling the warmth roll over him delicate and sure. "Hi. Andrew." They step inside, Andrew toeing off his shoes while Jesse locks the door behind him.
"I missed you," Andrew says immediately.
"I – I did too – me too," Jesse says, high in his throat. Oh, so this is how it feels, right, he remembers how this used to be. Of course, warm all over and tingling like novocaine and worrying about saying all the wrong things, not that it matters to Andrew. "Can I – can we –"
Hugging Andrew is weird, warm, weird. It's been months and weeks and days but it feels like it always did. Suddenly holding him, with that Andrew smell in his shoulders, boyish and old deodorant and hotel soap and Jesse realizes all at once that he was missing this smell like another sense. Too long away from it, shivering against Andrew's arms and touching lips to the skin at his shoulder, oh. Breathing him in and keeping it there.
Andrew squeezes too tight, like a reminder that he's real and alive, like somehow Jesse might have forgotten. Nope, not at all, impossible to forget the exact way he hugs and the shape of him, muscle and bone. Andrew is there like concrete, spilling into the haphazard corners of Jesse's life and setting there like stone. Andrew pulls away with a quiet grin.
"Hi," Andrew says again, quietly this time. Pressed with warmth into Jesse's cheek. His smile tugs dimples in the corner of his cheeks as it deepens. "Oh, god, hi."
Jesse steps back, his hands patting Andrew's shoulder because what else is he supposed to do. "I've got –"
"Grapefruit, oatmeal, coffee," Andrew recites easily, knowing this too easy. "You always do. Please, one of each."
Jesse busies himself in the kitchen and Andrew follows him in. He sits by the small table, his yawn wide and stretch touching almost wall to wall. He sweeps his hair once, twice, more in the silence that follows.
"Can I be honest?" Andrew asks, an easy breath waved away. His knees bounce tremendously under the table. His smile is certain. "I want to tell you that I'm here on a mission."
"Oh?" Jesse asks, setting a grapefruit on the counter and pouring a bowl of oatmeal for Andrew, setting his kettle on the boil. He keeps his back turned.
"Yes, I'm here for a reason," Andrew says, taking a sip from Jesse's glass of orange juice. A pause, and then a deep breath. "To be totally honest, I'm here to kidnap you."
Jesse laughs, catches Andrew's glance over his shoulder and buries it suddenly. "What?"
"I'm here to kidnap you," Andrew says again, as serious as he's ever been. "Right after breakfast."
"Want a whole grapefruit or half?"
"Half," Andrew says, watching as Jesse slices the grapefruit in two. "I'm not kidding. Do you think I'm kidding?"
"Coffee's done," Jesse says, taking the kettle off the boil, pouring it over two heaping teaspoons of instant grounds. He hands one over to Andrew. "I don't have any cream, is milk okay?"
"It's fine," Andrew says, looking down into his mug as Jesse pours in a wisp of milk, enough to color it almost white. "I'm not kidding, you are kidnapped. Right now. This isn't a joke." Andrew says, taking a sip of his coffee. "I – I kidnap thee."
Jesse pauses with his spoon hovering over the grapefruit, meeting Andrew's gaze. A chill runs up his arms, and he fidgets suddenly. "Not really, though." Andrew doesn't change expressions. "Not really, right?"
"Yes, really," Andrew says. "Call your sister and get her to come take care of the cats. You said once that – that's a thing that happens, right? So, call your sister, your agent. Pack a bag. I bought an awesome old Dodge Dart station wagon for two hundred dollars and we are driving to San Francisco. You have –" he glances at his watch, "forty-five minutes, now, actually."
Jesse puts his hands flat on the kitchen table, looks steadily at Andrew. The buzz of him still rings in Jesse's fingertips, remembering how he used to be, how easy it was to be caught in Andrew's words like fishing nets. "You aren't – you aren't kidding, are you?" Andrew shakes his head. "Andrew," Jesse says in a whisper, his shoulders bristling. "What have you done?"
"Nothing," Andrew says, smiling a little.
"Are you – are you in trouble?"
"No. No, come on," Andrew says, a flutter of laughter. "Nothing's wrong."
"I can't – are you – are you on the run?"
"Jesus," Andrew says, breathing out a laugh. "Come on, I'm not in any trouble. I just want you to know that I'm not taking no for an answer because, uh, otherwise you'll –" Andrew pauses shyly, takes a moment to clear his throat and levels his eyes at Jesse. "Otherwise you'll never go on an adventure with me and I want you to, so, uh, go pack. For a trip across this great land or something. There. That's my offer. Er, demand."
"Andrew." Jesse isn't even thinking, his mind is blank, his body frozen where he stands. "What? I can't just. What even are you asking?"
"I'll pay for everything. Gas, food, motel. Just – say yes. That's all you're required to do, I'll sort everything else out."
Jesse looks down at the pink circle of his grapefruit, the cats circling around his ankles. Seeing Andrew was like easy geometry, all those old feelings coming back in their proper place. Undisturbed, veiled under plastic covers, a thing Jesse knows how to handle. Now it's all wrong, and alive, wriggling like a newborn. "Andrew –"
"Andrew, I can't," Andrew mimics sweetly. "Of course you can't. I know you can't. You have so many of those things that mean you can't. It's last minute and you need plans, you hate not having plans, I know, I know. Forget all that. It'll be fun, come on, please." A slurp of coffee, his smile wet and always teasing.
"I really can't," Jesse says, sitting at the table and dropping his head in his hands. "It's not a matter of things to do, or commitments, or even cats, I don't know. I just – can't. I honestly can't."
Andrew just smiles, cocks his head a little to the side. "I know you can't. Right now I'm asking you to find a reason why you can. Just one."
"Yup," Andrew says, putting a hand over Jesse's as they sit. Just a quick pat, a squeeze around his knuckles, warm.
Andrew insists on taking Jesse's bags, shouldering them heavily down the stairs on his own. His idea, his burden, oh God my back. It leaves Jesse a couple of minutes with the car parked and waiting illegally in front of his building.
It's a beaten, wounded animal. Dented on both sides, scraped like it lost a fight with an underground garage. Too long, with an ass of a hatchback drooping over the back axel. It's brown, an 80s kind of brown that might have been chic and suburban once upon a very sad time. Now it's a mechanised brick of a car, sad headlights and paint scraping off the roof. The windows are all rolled down because Andrew doesn't understand New York. Leaning in, Jesse sees a cassette player, and a duffle bag full of clothes in the back seat, and a pack of cigarettes tucked under the elastic band of the driver side sun visor. An old McDonalds take out bag in the back seat. The smell of smoke and cologne and french fries.
"I call her Sleipnir," Andrew says, wrestling Jesse's bags to the curb with a sigh. "I thought you'd like that."
"You've named a brown station wagon after Odin's fire-eyed, eight-footed steed," Jesse says, ducking his head out of the open window.
"That is something I have done, yes," Andrew says. The trunk opens without a key, he just presses the handle and it rises on limp hydraulics. "I looked it up after you sent that e-mail about Wagner and that opera you went to and you sounded so impressed and wonderful and I had to know what it was all about, you know? If you loved it that much. I read about it on Wikipedia for like three hours and so I named it that. She's beautiful, isn't she?" Andrew speaks so quickly, an eager grin like he'd be really let down if Jesse didn't.
"Yes," Jesse says, rubbing his palms down the thighs of his jeans. Ink stain already on his fingertips, gritty and oily and not rubbing off. "Beautiful. That is definitely not an exaggeration at all about this car."
Andrew blinks, his mouth still open and waiting for a grin. "Do you like her?"
Jesse pauses. He bites back the urge to ask if Andrew is in any kind of trouble, really, any kind, he can tell him, really. Andrew leans against the driver side door, the keys lanced around his index finger, swinging them like an old west gunslinger. "I think it is – the first of many mistakes I am about to make in my life," Jesse says quietly.
"Yes," Andrew agrees warmly, patting the side of the car gently. I love her too."
Andrew opens the door for Jesse, stands there with his spine straight and his smile poorly suppressed as he closes the door behind him. Andrew almost skips around the hood before sliding into his own seat, worn leather key twisted and the car coughing to life.
"This is actually happening," Jesse says right then, not sure why. Staring ahead at a stunted road with yellow lines, a New York sidestreet, he realizes how little he's actually thought about this, what is actually going on, the days of consequence laid out ahead. "We're actually going to let this happen?"
Andrew pulls down his seatbelt with a click. Waits patiently for Jesse to do his own before he'll even knock the car out of park. "We're actually going to have an awesome adventure, yes." He drums his fingers on the steering wheel. "Why? Do you – not want to anymore?"
Saying yes to Andrew's wild plans had always been just a matter of waiting him out, until he forgets the idea – Paris, France, you and me busking on the Champs-Élysées, you with your poetry me with my guitar; renting motorcycles in Saigon and biking to the north of Vietnam, sleeping in huts on the sand and listening to the monsoons outside; do you think you can keep a raccoon as a pet? – but this is suddenly weird and real and threatening to happen immediately if Jesse doesn't object and smother this flame out with his suddenly crystal clear rational reasons why not.
Jesse has perfectly good reasons too: work to do and they're definitely going to die and cats to take care of and this just isn't his idea of a good time, being out and lost and chewed up by an uncomfortable world. An hour ago he was just sitting in his apartment cutting out The Times crossword in his bathrobe and now he's in jeans and a t-shirt with three days of clothes shoved into a suitcase, how the hell did this happen, pulse rising quickly and his cheeks burning a hot and red like the first inhalation before panic. Really, Jesse could think of only one good reason why he agreed to do this at all.
Because Andrew asked him.
"Okay. Okay. Let's do it," Jesse says quietly.
"Yes," Andrew says, grinning as stupid and wide as a first date. "Let's."
And now Jesse is sitting in the passenger seat of mythological station wagon, listening to it gurgle and burp to life. He winds down his windows to city air and the sudden belt of Janis Joplin out of the cassette player. And now Andrew is slapping his hands against the wheel in time to the beat. And now Jesse is sliding back in his seat, sighing loosely as he watches the minutes of the city pass by, nodding gently to the beat of the music and feeling the sun burn too hot on his stretched arms and legs.
Okay. All right.
They're already well into fields and countryside when Jesse wakes with a start, shoved up against the angles and cranks of the door. The hand pressed sleepily to his mouth is sticky with spit and he wipes his lips quickly, straightening himself in the passenger seat like nothing has happened. Tucking down his t-shirt and pushing back a mess of hair that inevitably falls again to his forehead, a little curled with sweat.
"Hi," Andrew says, both hands on the wheel comfortably, a cigarette burning between the knuckles of his index and middle finger of his right hand. "Awake now?"
"Where – where are we?"
"Just outside Hamburg," Andrew says. "Pennsylvania. Not Germany. I – I haven't driven to Germany."
"Oh," Jesse says, because what else can he say. "Sorry for." Jesse wipes the sleep out of his eyes. All at once this decision, this life feels like it was a huge bet left on a roulette table on an unlucky day. He shakes his head quickly, trying to wake himself up a little. "Oh Jesus," he says as the sun is blinding through the windshield, the water bottle in the drinks tray lukewarm as he takes a pull from it.
"Car sick?" Andrew asks, turning towards him too often and Jesse wishes he'd watch the road more. "You mentioned you're not a tidy passenger, back whenever. I bought some Gravol for you. Glove box."
"No, no, I'm fine," Jesse says, taking another slug of water. "How long have we been driving?" Jesse runs his hands back through his hair, sipping at the water again. He watches fields and falling down farm houses out the window, a patch of green with grazing horses, rusty old Fords from the 50s dug into front gardens like they're sinking. "This all looks so – far away. From everything."
"I know, right?" Andrew says, grinning and tapping his hands against the steering wheel in rhythm to the music. His grin is so pure and wide and full of white teeth and an eagerness to share that Jesse has to smile, can't even help himself. "We're only like two hours out of New York and I almost hit a cow."
They drive between fields of grain and apple orchards, the radio loud with Earth, Wind and Fire, the state road drowned under their tires and music and Andrew's cigarette smoke. The heat rings a wet collar around Jesse's shirt, a stripe of it where the seatbelt cuts down his chest. It all makes him smile, wildly and out of nowhere.
"Yeah?" Andrew asks, grinning out of the corner of his mouth and glancing at Jesse and to the road and back again. "Good, huh?"
"It's – not entirely awful," Jesse says. He lets his hand hang out the window, cupping his palm to catch the wind and ride it like a parasail.
"No, not entirely," Andrew says, laughing a bit. He keeps glancing over at Jesse every now and then, grinning small and private before turning away.
Cruising at eighty miles down an empty highway, Jesse sees signs for cities he didn't even know existed. It even smells like it should, like somehow Andrew promised a road trip and the world decided to deliver; the slight burn of rubber, hot baked road tar, the dust of wheat and sweet grass. It's like living someone else's cinematic life; it's like Dorothy landing in Oz and the whole world suddenly going color.
A sign for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, fifty miles, shines big and green and throwing them west.
"You know what it means, right?" Jesse says, winding the hand crank of his window down and resting his head in the wash.
"Pennsylvania." Jesse half-closes his eyes, the wash of wind pushing the hair out of his face and drying his lips in a smile. "Penn's Woods. Anything with that ends with something like sylvan always means forest – like silviculture, you know? So, like, Transylvania, for instance. It just means, beyond the forest. It's just about – trees. Just trees." Jesse winks open an eye. "I've ruined horror movies for you haven't I?"
"I won't tell the Cullens if you don't," Andrew says, the flash of a smile in the corner of his mouth, a glint of teeth before he tucks the cigarette there and takes a deep breath.
Andrew laughs, sucking another breath of smoke. "You are amazing, you know that, right?"
"Oh. Okay. Thank you."
Andrew just keeps laughing.
It just keeps going on and on, the road and the music and this warm buzz in the marrow of Jesse's bones. Andrew tosses him plastic bag full of candy they share through the smiles, Andrew chewing link by link through a sugar necklace and Jesse apologizing to each gummy bear before he bites down.
The sharp gold coin of the sun reflects in genuine waves of wheat that sure smells sweet, just like the Hammerstein song. It seems to go on forever, stretching out towards distant purple hills on the horizon of another state neither of them have to think about until they have to. Hundreds of miles of road shivering under their tires, no way to go back, no reason why they'd have to.
"So why are we even doing this?" Jesse says, sipping at the warm water. "Going to California? I – I suppose I should have asked earlier, shouldn't I?"
"Well, you know what they say –"
"It's the journey not the destination?" Jesse asks.
"No. As they say; if you're bored and in your twenties, develop an unhealthy love for Jack Kerouac." One hand still on the wheel, eyes still on the road, he grabs at the glove box and pulls out a tattered, paperback copy of On the Road, tossing it on Jesse's lap.
"Do they really say that? I don't think – I don't think anyone's ever said that," Jesse says, turning the book over in his hands. Twenty five cents written in sharpie on the front cover, the spine almost split in half. "So this is why you've decided to – borrow me?"
"They do say that. I say it, anyway," Andrew says. "We're going to retrace his route through America. Sal Paradise. Dean Moriarty."
"Oh God, not you too," Jesse says, tossing the book back in the glove box.
"Not me too what?"
"Taken by the beat generation. Chewed and swallowed – eaten alive." Jesse's head is lolling to the side, a lazy limp grin pointed at Andrew. "Soon you'll be – you'll be living in a cottage in – mm, uh, Fresno or something, writing pamphlets about healing crystals and casually taking LSD to commune with, with god – with the earth gods."
"Oh, gosh," Andrew says, trying not to laugh, a kind of hiss between his teeth. "Sorry, mein herr. I've also got a copy of Mansfield Park by that decadent Bolshevik Jane Austen if you want to add it to the fire as well."
"Fine. Okay, all right," Jesse says, raising his hands in defeat, not giving much of a fight, just falling back into his seat and smiling loud and watching the way Andrew wets his lips and glances every so often into the mirrors, and suddenly to Jesse and away again. "I will – follow you. I guess. Even if it means getting dysentery in Mexico."
"Come on. It'll be an adventure," Andrew says, laughing, laughing and driving and that's okay, it honestly is, Jesse decides. He can be okay with miles at his back and the sun where it is and this stupid kid with his cigarettes between his long fingers deciding for the both of them that today they're going to be happy, today is going to be good.
Jesse leans his head back against his seat as they charge forward to nowhere. He lets the wind rough his hair up into wild curls and closes his eyes as the car spits up dirt and gravel in a rooster tail along the forgotten road, and Jesse laughs a bit for no reason at all.
"No, okay, hold on, I'm gonna try it –"
Jesse stands between Andrew and the car, bare feet in the hard earth, sun-baked warm and almost painful. The gas station is almost empty but the people there watch them with shielded eyes, a little off the freeway and wrapped in wind and dust and empty cans of Red Bull. "No. Really. It's – it's a TV show, they have stunt men to do it –"
"I've seen videos on YouTube, it's not hard," Andrew says, nudging Jesse at the shoulders. "Step off. I can do this. I really can. I solemnly swear I will not get hurt –"
"You're going to get hurt."
"Worth it," Andrew says. He stops fidgeting for long enough to grab Jesse by both his shoulders, looking down at him with what he probably thinks is a sweet, earnest, trust-me smile. He pats Jesse's shoulders, smoothes up the lines of his trapezius, to his neck, running his thumbs along the skin there to keep their faces close. "Come on, I can do it. It'll be awesome. You'll see."
"The car is not the General Lee, you are not a Duke of Hazzard," Jesse, already knowing he's lost this battle.
"Come on," Andrew says, long dark lashes and a twitch of pink lips. "Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on."
"I'm not driving you to the hospital," Jesse says, stepping away as Andrew's eyes light up and he jogs backwards a few paces for a good run up. "Oh – oh lord."
Running, sprinting, dust cloud; a yelp (yeehaw) and Andrew jumps, knees up and landing on his shins, sliding across the hood of his car, arms flailing and shouting happily and – puff of dust, the sound of a burlap sack of a boy crashing on the other side.
"Andrew? You okay?"
Andrew pops up a second later, his hair full of dirt and dust, his lip cut a little but grinning all the same. "Did you see that?
If Jesse didn't know better, he'd have thought Andrew planned this too, the perfect roadside end of a day. The sun hovers low and copper-bottomed in front of them, dangling itself over Lake Erie and gilds the riverfront and the houses and the roads and the shopping malls. Just melts all butter smooth as they drive into town, the windows down and loud with other cars and crickets and frogs just warming up for the night. The air smells thick and metallic with the lake, a stink for sure but not a bad one, pleasantly gross.
They pull over by the side of the road and Jesse's legs ache and his t-shirt is damp with sweat, and he probably smells, and he's starving. Jesse watches Andrew fiddle with two maps and, thinking about it, it's all pretty great.
"I – we're not supposed to be up here," Andrew says. He's got written instructions on a piece of paper tucked into the Kerouac novel. The places they visited in order, the roads they took. "I think we're too far north. We took a wrong turn somewhere."
"We're not lost, though, right?"
"No, I know exactly where we are," Andrew murmurs, biting his tongue and tracing lines on the map with his finger. "Wait, shit, no, that's a river not a road."
"No, no, just kidding, I think." Andrew says, fed up and folding the maps up wrong. Jesse pauses a hand over Andrew's takes the maps from him and begins to fold them neatly along the creases. "We're not lost. We're – here."
"We should find somewhere to stay for the night," Jesse says, the sun lighting up the sweep of Andrew's hair and making him suddenly blond. It makes Jesse laugh for no reason, again and again happening today. Like he can't just keep it all in, whatever it is. "And - and I am really starving."
The car is still ticking cool as they sit on the hard shoulder, only the odd car passing them into the little city turn off they've peeled into. The feeling is lonely, and oddly warm. Just the two of them and everything unfamiliar and rusting and dusty and alive. Andrew nods, still face forward to the sun and the light and smiling at it, pink lips and dimples driven into his cheeks, his lashes long and dark. "Sometimes I wish I were American."
"Aren't you half?"
"I guess. But that's only paper and an apartment building. I'm pretty tragically British in most of the ways that count."
Andrew laughs and slides back in his seat, keys still in the ignition but everything off, the dust cloud they spat up as they pulled off onto the soft shoulder faded away. He lights a new cigarette and balances it precariously by the just the ends of his fingertips, dangling loosely as he props his knee up on the seat. "You can't do this in England. Look at this place. Some nowhere town and it – it just breathes with life. You're lucky to live here. You –" he takes a deep breath of smoke, exhaling it out his nostrils like a dragon, "I'm really glad we can see it like this. It doesn't look nearly as cool when you fly in, you know?"
Jesse wants to remind him that he doesn't live here, he lives eight hours away, another world entirely. Jesse wishes he could see the romance in dry cleaners and the paint-peeling cottages and alloy hubcaps glinting in the sunset. Wants to see the poetry in the earth. He squints. "Yeah."
"I just love it here – absolutely love it. I – man."
Jesse just nods because it seems to be an important moment to stay quiet.
Andrew pats the steering wheel, shaking himself away from stars and stripes. He's still grinning as he starts the car up again. "Let's find a motel. Let's find somewhere. I need a beer. Oh, I need a beer."
Jesse laughs and finally breathes out, pulling on his seat belt.
There are views, and there are views. The balcony of their third floor motel is like something else, an iron-wrought flower box sitting on the edge of a building and stretching towards Lake Eerie, loud with ghost-loons and deafening crickets.
They get a breakfast promised between seven and nine, a high schooler who lugs their bags up the steps and waits for a dollar bill that Andrew offers in twos and threes, and a room that is quiet and well-organized and daily.
Andrew drops his bags on his bed and makes a beeline for the sliding glass door. They sit above everything, pine trees just tall enough they rough against their feet like paint brushes. A wind like an afterthought, brushing Andrew's hair off his face and putting it back down again, the chewed fingernail of a moon hooked in the sky and making the lake milky.
Jesse sits on the offered folding furniture and draws his legs under, cross-legged and a little too cold, not cold to go inside quite yet, just watching Andrew grin out at the world. Jesse is filthy and tired with the road, but he doesn't move. He likes watching Andrew right then, the way his whole face seems to gleam, a little with sweat and a little in love with everything around him.
Jesse shakes his head suddenly, looking up, his eyes a little sore with sleep. "Hi."
"Fine," Jesse says, offering a small smile to back it up. "Just thinking."
"I'm gonna get us dinner," Andrew says, still in his day clothes, damp sweat at his collar and his arm pits. "You okay here?"
Jesse hugs his knees close. "You won't be gone for too long – right?"
"No, no," Andrew says, a little quirk of a smile like he wasn't expecting to hear that. "Have a shower. I'll be back with food."
Jesse doesn't move, his legs getting the print of plastic furniture on the backs of his calves. The minutes go like humming birds, fast and sudden and then gone. Sudden and gone.
It's past dark when Andrew at Jesse's shoulder, shaking him awake. He's holding out a sandwich in butcher's paper, a sweating bottle of beer. Jesse yawns and tugs down his shirt from where it's ridden up, unfolds his legs, numb as they are curled under him.
They eat on the balcony. Andrew smokes two cigarettes, his eyes dark with sleepless blue bruises and a wild idea about going a thousand miles tomorrow and falling asleep in California, if only they promise to get up at six o'clock tomorrow morning. If they promise to get up early and go, let's go.
Jesse is hardly awake, but he eats his sandwich and listens to Andrew talk about the west coast like they've never actually been. Andrew describes it in a way that Jesse never really ever experienced, full of these odd little quirks and images; the way the pavement feels soft when it gets really hot, or the shapes of the shaggy old palm trees, fractal and grey-bearded leaves. Things he has lived but never quite seen, not like Andrew has.
"You're not listening," Andrew says, patting Jesse's shoulder. "Are you?"
"Yes," Jesse says, sitting up a bit straighter. "Of course I am." He takes the first sip of his beer and it's already gone too warm, left cooling his ankle for half an hour.
Jesse forgets what Andrew talks about after that. He nods off and wakes up in the middle of why X-Men comics from the 90s are the best, Mister Sinister is the greatest villain. Wakes up again when Andrew nudges him and asks him what he thinks about The Guns of Navarone. (Favorable. Gregory Peck is really great. Isn't he?) Pats his shoulder again when he wonders what Jesse thinks about Joni Mitchell, she's just the best right?
Jesse's not quite sleeping, the clean straight arrow of Andrew's voice threading warm and unheard through his nodding attention, just always there. Andrew talking, growing quieter, until he stops and every so often Jesse sees him smiling around a cigarette, looking out beyond the balcony with this faraway stare.
Minutes or hours, Jesse opens his eyes and Andrew is watching him. Slowly, almost small with his half-lidded eyes, and his cigarette burning the last few centimetres of ash. Not really taking anything in, just happily directed towards him, a dopey pink-lipped smile, skin risen a little with the day's sun and that permanent winter-red slashed against his cheeks like some boys have when they drink.
"Sorry," Jesse says, struggling to sit up in the chair again.
"Oh, hey," Andrew says, shaking his head like he's been far away. His hair falls against his forehead, limp and tired from the day.
"What time is it?"
Andrew shrugs, tosses his cigarette over the side of the balcony. "We should go to bed. C'mon."
They bury the view behind curtains. Andrew pulls off his shirt and tosses it into his open suitcase. Jesse keeps his eyes open long enough to watch Andrew undo the button of his shorts, tugging down the zipper and stepping out of them, black boxer shorts and a sporting yawn.
"Good night," Andrew says carefully.
"Yes," Jesse says. "Okay. Night."
Andrew slides out of his own bed, pads the careful feet between them. Stands over Jesse. He leans down, as quick as you like, and plants a kiss as firm and easy as a Redwood tree. A smack of his lips and his hand lingering against Jesse's cheek, a burning print and skin that tastes a little salty with sweat.
Oh, and a beat. Jesse leans up, finds Andrew's lips as they move away. Straining in his shoulders as he kisses him, a weird goodnight that takes too long, the wind outside brushing against their windows as Jesse leans up on his elbows for a second to taste cigarettes and a shocked, warm mouth all of a sudden. Falling back into his pillows.
Andrew takes a deep breath and leans in closer, his whole body fragile and thin and naked but not touching. A nuzzle, his lips not touching but the shock of them right there, warming in steady breathing the corner of Jesse's mouth. Close, close, and then away.
Jesse pulls the sheet – too hot for anything else – over his legs, still in his jeans and t-shirt and too tired to do anything about them, and hears from somewhere far away Andrew flop into bed.
"Mm. Uh. Nothing. Night."
It's not a bad dream, but Jesse wakes up all the same.
Andrew is sitting on the edge of his bed, the morning already breaking silver over his shoulders, above and below the curtains they've drawn closed. He's smoking a cigarette close and fast, and it's a non-smoking room. His back to Jesse. Bare, the muscles of his shoulders tough and twitching as he brings the cigarette close to his lips.
Something to say. No.
Turning over, trying to get back to sleep. Jesse can hear Andrew turn, the creak of his bed. Looking at Jesse. The sharp breath and sizzle as the cigarette burns down another quarter-inch. No. He was never here.
Andrew piles a half-dozen muffins in a paper napkin, eyes darting back and forth quickly before he shoves them into his backpack. A banana, a couple of apples. Jesse keeps watch, fiddling with the conveyer-belt toasting machine and feeling a lot like everyone knows what they're doing.
"Let's go," Andrew says quietly. "I've already checked out. Just walk – confidently. Like nothing is wrong. Did you get some coffees?"
"Andrew – we can't," Jesse puts his hand on the backpack. "We can't steal. We – come on."
"It's not stealing," Andrew says easily. "If we sat at that table right now and ate every single muffin they wouldn't say a thing. We paid for this. It's a continental breakfast buffet."
"No, stealing is when I took two of the towels from our room."
"You – didn't," Jesse says, fingers fidgeting at the zipper of Andrew's bag. He stops. "You did."
"We don't know if the next place with have clean towels," Andrew says. He laughs but Jesse doesn't catch that hook and Andrew puts his hands on Jesse's shoulders, shakes him gently. "Listen, I left a big tip for the maid, all right? It's kind of stealing but not really, they buy this shit in bulk. No one's going to care."
"If everyone came in here and stole a towel they –"
"Relax," Andrew says, and it's not even a sarcastic, like he knows just what to say and how to say it to make Jesse stop, just stop and listen. "Come on. I don't want you to – It's not a big deal, it's a bit of – of mischief. Seriously, many people have done much worse to a motel. I can – I can put them back if you want, I don't want to –"
"No," Jesse says. He still kind of wants to say yes, but he sticks with no. It makes his fingertips itch a bit but he doesn't want to ruin – whatever this is, this quiet, this way they have of being together, just for now. The way they don't talk, he can't ruin that. "Let's go."
"And seriously," Andrew says. "We really might need these towels. You've read Douglas Adams, haven't you?"
"You are –"
"Yes," Andrew says, smiling widely. "I really am. Come on, get us some coffee, we've got places to be."
Jesse fills two Styrofoam cups with watery coffee, one black and one with three creams and two sugars like he knows Andrew takes. There are no plastic lids and he burns his thumb as they speed walk away from the motel, pilfered breakfast in the bag as the cracked egg of morning already spills yellow into the sky.
Somehow, Andrew manages to drive, smoke, and drink his coffee all at once. It's Saturday and the road is almost empty, no rush hour as they push away from Akron and into the yellow-green grass of the highways west, always west.
It's not that they don't have anything to talk about, not at all like that. They have a lot to talk about, but it's nice how they don't always have to. Sometimes it's just the morning hot sun, yellow-almost-white, burning sweat into the corners of their skin, around their nostrils and salty in the corners of their mouths. Sometimes they just fall quiet and it's no big deal to be quiet if they're doing it together.
Jesse leans back against the hard frame of the door, his hair pushed back and his cheeks going pink with wind-burn until his skin feels numb.
Turning his head. So last night. Looking at Andrew. His lips. Careful not to keep his attention on them. So last night.
Jesse nods. So last night. So, your mouth. So. "Yeah."
The countryside passes in frames, like a slow motion View-Master. Click and it's the rolling green fields of Ohio, valleys of earth and grass that the car dives into, hot and making Jesse nod off. Click and it's the flat forever of Indiana, so huge and empty you can almost see the curve of the earth. Andrew shakes Jesse awake to share that with him (look, look he says with both hands off the wheel, stretching out his palms like he's running his hands along the rounded edges of the horizon – Andrew, come on, Jesse pushing his hands back on the wheel.)
Gold corn that Jesse can stretch out and touch if he leans out the open window, fuzzy blonde tips like caterpillars. Click and it's spears of evergreens and the craggy rocks and fall off into a lake, a road without a guard rail that Andrew slows down to pass, the whole car filled with seaweed stink and the smell of wet sand and a shallow camping beach.
Somehow, Andrew manages to drive, smoke, and drink all at once. Jesse lights the cigarette with cupped hands and passes it over. He cracks open the seal of a water bottle and folds it into Andrew's hand. He holds the wheel when Andrew needs to pull off his tee-shirt, his undershirt riding up underneath. Jesse tugs that down too, his hand flat over Andrew's slim stomach while Andrew keeps both hands on the wheel.
"Well," Andrew says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I mean, it's big. But, like, it's not – huge. "
"What were you expecting?"
"I don't know. You hear largest ball of twine in the world and you think, like, three stories tall, you know? This is barely bigger than the rock in Indiana Jones." Andrew draws out a cigarette from the pack with his lips, clacks open his lighter and slams it shut again. "And they've – put it in a hutch. I can't even touch it."
Jesse scuffs his shoe in the dirt, the wind picking up in dust devils. "The sign says it was made by one man. That's – impressive, right?"
Andrew is puffing on his cigarette meditatively. "Or is it sad?"
"Can't it be both?" Jesse says, standing in next to Andrew.
There is no one about, no one at all. The trees all bend and flex in the wind and the only sound is the odd creak and squeak from the old water tower nearby. Jesse doesn't much mind the detours, the wild-eyed way Andrew gets when he says look and points to a peeling sign off the highway to visit the World's Largest Otter Statue or TRY OUR FAMOUS WALLEYE SANDWICH BEST IN THE STATE ("come on, it's the best in the state, Jesse") because they've been in the car for hours and his legs hurt and hair is tangled and wind-dirtied and he wants to remember this trip. Wants to put pushpins in a map at home and remember: oh yeah Darwin, Minnesota, that time Andrew tried to pry open a window in the Twine Museum because he really wanted to touch it.
"It's not budging," Andrew says, stepping away and rubbing his hands, smeared and dark with dirt and grease. "Aw, fuck it, who needs it? When I get home I'm gonna build one just a bit bigger. That'll show them."
Scuffing his feet in the dusty road they turned off to get here, Andrew flings away the butt of his cigarette and stomps on it.
"So," Jesse says, tugging on his door a bit because it gets stuck. "America not what you expected it to be?"
Andrew smiles at that, swinging into the driver's seat. When he talks, its swagger and movie-talk, an accent from old movies and a cocked smile. "Ain't got any balls of twine in England."
A gas station off the freeway. The stop is slow and hot and Jesse almost has sea legs when he gets out of the car, not sure how to walk after sitting for hours in a passenger seat.
Outside of New York, it's hard to believe how green the world is. July is loud with trees and bushes and green, overgrown grass and plants. Everything is alive, richly green in a way that Andrew sometimes sighs about, puts his hands on his hips and smiles. He's pumping the car full of gas so Jesse does the wonder for him, rolls new leaves between his fingers until he gets that fresh-mowed-lawn smell on his fingertips, sighs and revels at the world because Andrew is indisposed.
"Wait, before we go," Andrew says, tucking his credit card back in his pocket.
Leaning against the station wagon, Jesse watches as Andrew walks towards the automatic windshield wash. A jet hose by the far end of the parking lot, mounted high to spray down on cars. Andrew waves his hands in front of the automatic camera. Thunderstorm, pouring unstable rain. It shoots down on him fast and cold; he screams a little and turns his back on it, lets the power wash spray him down. He pulls off his soaking shit, holding it one hand as he turns to face it, head thrown back and a primal scream like a hunter. A soaking wet boy, full of life and adventure and water and it sinks to the bottom of Jesse's stomach.
Andrew making rain and dancing in it.
Watching Andrew, and smiling. Flexing muscles, a pale stomach against a splash of water. Jesse laughs and wrings his hands. Wants to give Andrew a towel, wants to taste his new and cold, cold skin. Oh shit, no, take a step back . Watches him half-naked and living the life, the life Jesse imagines in books, lived before him with a fire and a glowing skin. Wanting to kiss him. Ha. No. Shut up.
Andrew walks back to the car, winding his sopping shirt between his hands, fashioning it into a bandana that he wraps around his forehead, over his soaking hair. Wet and cold, cool enough almost to be steaming in the summer air. Andrew grinning when he opens the driver's door.
"That's better," Andrew says. Slim body flexing, the shape of a Spiderman and weeks training hollowed out in his stomach and chest. The knot of his shirt around the back of his head, dark and damp and dripping wet against Andrew's back. His jeans slipped low on his hips, almost black with wet. "Let's go."
It's bad enough he makes Jesse laugh so much. It's bad enough they get on so well. Any other boy, any other.
A plastic bag in the passenger footwell. Bottles of sweating soda, chips, a pack of cigarettes. Jesse cracks open a coke and rips off the plastic wrapping of the cigarettes, tucking a new one between Andrew's pale, cold, wet lips.
"No, clutch down, do it heel to toe –"
Jesse slams the gear stick hard into first, the judder and clank of the engine loud underneath him. "Like that?"
"No, smoothly –"
Jesse lets go and the car jerks forward, stalls under his foot. " Holy – Jesus – fuck."
Andrew smiles. "God, you are hopeless. I've never heard you swear before." He's laughing, and then he's not.
"I'm trying but this is - terrifying," Jesse says, pushing the car back into gear. He lets go of the clutch slowly, giving time for the car to warm up under him. A clank, a gear getting into place and they're off, a dog let loose from the pen and building, gaining speed without him. He slams down on the brake and they stop. "I'm going to kill everyone." They push forward and the car is going, out of the parking lot and into traffic, loud and fast and revving too high for the gear.
"Okay, into third – go into third – you're going to hit the van – SHIFT, ARE YOU SHIFTING – CHANGE LANES – YOU NEED TO PUT THE CLUTCH IN IF YOU'RE SHIFTING –"
"Okay, is this right, am I doing this right, oh my god –" Jesse swings into another, empty lane, the car complaining under him.
"No, you're in second, go into third –"
"No, fuck, that's first –"
Andrew grabs Jesse's hand, drags him back into first, the car revving quiet and purring like a cat, yelping as Andrew drags him back into gear.
"I'm going to crash –" Jesse says, his foot going too loose of the clutch, hearing the car scream underneath his foot.
"Probably," Andrew says. His hands twitch like he wants to stop him, do it all himself. But he does, just runs his hands over his knees anxiously. "Okay, think of it like a balance of – gas and throttle. Can you do that?"
"Oh fucking Christ, stop, stop, you're going to hit – okay, fuck, put it in neutral."
"I'm in neutral! Aren't I?"
"No! Neutral has no gas – oh fuck, okay, pull over here."
"That was okay, right?"
"Let me – let me start breathing again and I'll tell you."
"Come on up."
The field is barren. Harvested last year, crop circled bare, nothing growing there so it's just grey-brown and empty for miles. The dirt is turned and dry almost to clay, and it repeats the sun over and over until it's almost too hot to bear. The car is still and quiet and ticking cool. It's as lonely as sin, and yet. And yet.
The world stops for these minutes, as Andrew crawls on to the hood, the roof. Nimbly, his smile obvious with sun-dried lips and sweetness.
Jesse takes a slurp of water, tosses it onto the back seat, and gets out of the car. A shirt lands on him, Andrew's shirt. He's up there with his arms cradled behind his head, stomach and chest bare and soaking up the sun. Lashes flat, his smile so easy and empty and forgetful that Jesse takes note of it. Makes sure not to forget the time they had this silence, this heat.
"Come on," Andrew says gently, offering a hand.
Jesse climbs up on the hood, metal creasing under his feet, denting and opening up as he crawls up the windshield. Grabs Andrew's hand, lets that take him the few final steps.
"Hey," Andrew tosses, eyes closed and body loose and relaxed. He raises an arm, opening a spot for Jesse next to him. "Sit. Hey." Oh, and a kiss too, against his cheek and lingering. Just them in this loud, open, silence.
Jesse sits, eventually slides so his heels are kicking against the windshield next to Andrew's. Closes his eyes too. Lets the sun hit, lets it redden his legs, his arms, his face.
"Don't we have to – go?" Jesse asks. The metal burns into the back of his calves, his shoulders, the bend of his neck. He ignores it, hisses, ignores it to lie down next to Andrew on the roof of their car in the middle of somewhere.
"Nowhere," Andrew says. "Isn't that the best word? Nowhere to go, nowhere to be – isn't it the best?"
The sun draws out the freckles on Andrew's chest. His shoulders. A dark constellation in his skin, a pattern of spots and sun that Jesse traces with fingertips.
"I don't know where we are," Andrew says. "These maps don't make sense."
They've pulled into a gas station just north of Cheyenne and he's got all his American road trip plans drawn over his lap. The car is quiet, the rush of traffic going by them in ones and twos, leaving them behind. The trees turn gold as the sun hides behind them, threatening night time and they're in the middle of nowhere with no place to stay. It's quiet, the kind of quiet that is all about being lost in America, the kind of lost where they're suddenly somewhere with nowhere to be.
"Does it matter?" Jesse asks, watching Andrew run his fingers over their route, tapping on cities they should have visited but somehow didn't, forgot to in their rush of air and independence. Indianapolis in big road signs one hundred miles away. Chicago forgotten, replaced for a sandwich shop off the freeway. "I thought you said nowhere was a beautiful word?"
"But I wanted –" Andrew runs his finger down the list of places, his soft cover Bible and the jot-note list of places they should have seen. "We missed –"
Jesse nods, and he can't believe he's the one saying it. "I'm not sure it matters," Jesse is tired and pretty sure he's sun burned. "Can we just stop somewhere? Please?"
Andrew pauses, fists full of maps and clenched ideas. "But –"
"Please. I – I can't be lost, I don't know how to be lost. I never did," Jesse says quickly.
Andrew looks down, his laundry list of Americana, his outdated maps of roads they should be taking. His magic America full of life stuttered down to greasy spoons and a motel on the outskirts of town. Grand America lost, abandoned back in their decades when you could hitchhike and it was as easy as breathing. When America was ready for loose cannons and idealists. Not anymore. Andrew shrugs. "Fuck it."
Andrew throws his copy of On the Road onto the backseat, shaking his head like from a dream. "From now on." Andrew starts up the car. "Our own adventure. Fuck it. Our own, right?"
Back onto the highway, nowhere to go but following the punctured stars into a small city and its open doors.