Pairing: Jesse/Andrew, Andrew/Emma
Fandom: The Social Network RPF
Word Count: 19,447
Warnings: small town teenagers AU, drug and alcohol use.
Summary: Jesse has always felt older than he should. Like he tripped over some important years, slept through them one night and woke up rusty and cold and out of place. But now, with Andrew's hair all fluffy and wind-blown, with Emma singing a tired pop song at the top of her lungs, with the air smelling like cut grass and hot tar and kicked up dirt, it's kind of the other way around and Jesse can't believe he's ever been anything but seventeen.
Author's Notes: thanks to the unimaginably supportive th_esaurus, who is basically a living saint. Also thanks to liketheroad for her beta and sarcasm. Title from a Matthew Good song.
Jesse's cellphone wakes him up, rattling noisily between his empty mug and red numbered alarm clock. Sweat sticks his shirt to his back, Jesse's hair plastered to his forehead, the nape of his neck. It's the middle of the night, with the air dry and brittle, alive with the buzz of insects and almost claustrophobically hot. He thumbs the phone alive and cradles it to his ear, croaking: "Hello?"
"Oh shit, sorry," Andrew says, his voice quiet over the line. "It was so hot and I couldn't sleep and I thought maybe – I know you never sleep well in the heat and I just thought we could – should I hang up?" Not enough time for a breath in it all, Andrew fizzing like soda pop. "Jesse?"
"No, I was awake, I think," Jesse says. "I'm soaked with sweat. I hate summer. Hi." A car passes his window, the headlights panning across his room in white, casting his room in colossal silhouettes against the far wall, everything going hugely into focus and then vanishing again. "What's going on?"
"Naw, nothing," Andrew says, leaving a pregnant pause. "Just, you know, night thinking. I can never sleep. Needed to clear my mind."
Jesse rolls over in his bed, kicking his sheets off his bare legs. He curls on himself, the phone pressed between his pillow and his ear. "So that's my job now?" Jesse says, smiling a little and easing into the conversation, into the softness of Andrew's voice, far more delicate now at three in the morning than it ever is in the bright shout of day. "What'd you want to talk about?"
"I don't know. Nothing, I guess," Andrew says, laughing and suddenly stopping, like a hiccup. "Just wanted to hear your – a friendly voice, I guess."
"This – this is my voice," Jesse says quietly. "I am – talking. Does that, uh. Does that help?"
Andrew laughs, coughs in a buzz against the phone. "Seriously, don't worry about it. I'm – I'm good now, sorry I woke you."
"I was thinking," Jesse says, almost whispering now, "you – you wanna come over for breakfast tomorrow? We don't really have much but I'm sure I could – I could make something for you."
A pause. "Thanks, man," Andrew says, and then a long sigh out like a hiss. He sniffs for a second, his voice quieter than before. "Yeah. Yeah, okay, man. Thanks."
"Come on," Jesse says, breathy against the receiver. "Tell me, Andrew."
A long sigh, a longer pause. "I'm just so," Andrew clicks his tongue against his teeth, a mechanical noise over the phone, "I don't know. I don't know how to put it without sounding like a total fucking cliché. Do you mind if I sound like a total fucking cliché?" Deep breath, a crumpled laugh that doesn't go anywhere. "One day, Jess. One day we're getting out of here," Andrew says again for the hundredth, thousandth time. It's kind of Andrew's thing. Since they were kids Jesse's listened to Andrew say it, murmuring it under his breath, out of here like a zen mantra, out of here like he can almost taste it. "One day we're gonna leave this goddamn place. It's pretty out there, I bet. You think it's pretty? All those trees and big open roads and lakes and stuff. Really awfully pretty, like the movies." Andrew smiles, and Jesse can hear it over the phone, a big long sigh. "You ought to tell me to shut up when I get like this."
"You should shut up," Jesse says, smiling, the phone wedged almost painfully between his ear and pillow. "Go on, Andrew."
"I just – I can't help it. I can't help it, thinking that things will be better, I bet. In a year, in a few months maybe. That's stupid, isn't it?" It really sounds like Andrew means it, his voice all about a dirty old car and two hundred dollars they scrape out of couch cushions and just driving until their town is a spot on a map. "But I can feel it. We'll get out of here. When we're eighteen or something. You and me, huh? Do something fun, see something awesome?"
"Sure," Jesse says, closing his eyes again. "And Emma too."
"Course, Emma too," Andrew says and then laughs, tinny over the line but still warm and breathy and immediate, sinking into Jesse's chest like honey. "All right, try to sleep, I'll leave you alone now. No more bullshit. No more – whatever." A pause. "Love you, dude."
"Same," Jesse says, and hangs up. He lies back in bed, his ear sore from the press of the phone, sweat dripping down his temples. Cars pass outside his window, flooding his room with light and then gone again like pulses of quiet lightning, like a storm without the rain.
Jesse is brushing his teeth when Andrew knocks on his window. One storey up, Andrew is dangling on the lip of the window frame, hanging on the roof gutter by his fingertips like a monkey and grinning, a little close to devilish. The sun silhouettes him, a shadow blocking out the blue sky and too big for life as Jesse frantically tugs the screen out and lets him in.
Andrew swings into his bedroom, dusting off his palms. "Hey." Snapping down the hem of his shirt like nothing's the matter, brushing off his palms. He jumps to hug Jesse, a quick embrace and a squeeze around the hips. His grin is usually crooked, his body so long in arms and legs, hands fidgeting together because Andrew can't ever sit still, not even for five minutes (Jesse won ten bucks on that bet.) "Can I have a shower? I didn't sleep great last night and –"
"Sure," Jesse says, still sideways and dumbstruck. "You know, there's a door –"
"For chumps," Andrew says. "Plus, I wasn't sure if anyone was awake yet, so."
"So you – climbed up to my window? What if I was asleep?"
"I didn't really think it through, okay?" Andrew says, laughing, swaying a little on the spot.
"Andrew, did you – did you get any sleep last night?"
Andrew shrugs, waves him off easily. "I eat when I'm hungry, I drink when I'm thirsty, I'll sleep when I'm tired."
"You can – my bed, if you'd like. It's all right. I'm," Jesse smiles tentatively, not sure if it's a joke or not, "I'm, uh, I guess I'm done with it for today."
"You've got a thing, right there," Andrew says, grinning as he runs his thumb along Jesse's lower lip, smearing toothpaste across his cheek. "That's better."
"Shower, yes, have one," Jesse says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and swallowing a bit, minty and cold. "You okay?"
"Totally brilliant," Andrew says, slapping Jesse's cheek gently, snapping him to attention and holding him for a second. Jesse smiles tentatively, what's going on, and Andrew just looks at him like he's about to say something. Open mouth, blinking rapidly. Then it passes. Andrew steps away and pulls off his ratty shirt, tangling his arms in it like a bag full of angles. "I'm electric, didn't you know?"
"I – I did know," Jesse says, dodging into the bathroom to put his toothbrush away, rinsing his mouth out in a gulp. Andrew strips naked in front of him and Jesse busies himself at the window, putting the screen back in and winding it closed. "I'll – I'll go get you some towels."
"Aw, stellar," Andrew says, ducking into the bathroom. "I owe you, man. I'd owe you two if you got me some of coffee." Charming smile Andrew thinks is irresistible, just the flutter of eyelashes and the ghost of a wink. "Just saying."
Jesse laughs, rolling his eyes and feeling the tips of his ears go warm. "Sure. Right. Seriously though, with the window?"
While the coffee brews, Jesse grabs a few muffins and bagels, an apple, a butterknife, and a whole tub of Nutella. Three sugars, more milk than coffee, the way Andrew likes. The shower is still running as Jesse gets dressed, khaki shorts and a polo shirt. Jesse is well into combing his hair when Andrew steps out of the bathroom with a towel knotted around his waist.
"No, no," Andrew says, standing behind Jesse at his mirror, wrapped up in towels, water dripping from his chin. He tugs the comb out of Jesse's hands and digs his fingers into Jesse hair, messing it up properly. "Better like this, huh?" He leaves a nest of curls, pushing them this way and that, no order at all. "Make it look real, huh? Like you don't give a shit. Girls dig that."
"I got you – coffee, there," Jesse says into the mirror, pushing his hair back. "And some food if you want – food."
"Oh, man, thanks," Andrew says, grabbing the mug and draining it quickly. "I needed that." Looking up at him in the mirror, Jesse can see all of Andrew's freckles. A constellation across his shoulders and chest, the warmth of the coffee flushing his sunbrown skin. "What's that shampoo, huh?"
"Had to borrow from my sister, last week," Jesse says, glancing away again. "It's kind of – sorry, it's kind of flowery, huh?"
"Botanical gardens," Andrew says. His hair is a flop against his forehead before he fluffs it with a towel, wild and shaking, almost a seizure of a dance. He drops the towel on the floor. "Can I – I mean, we fit –"
Jesse pulls a drawer open. "Take whatever."
Andrew takes a shirt out of Jesse's dresser without even checking. A marathon breast cancer research shirt, pink and wordy, but he tugs it down without a thought. He digs out a pair of Jesse's white boxers and drops his towel to pull them on. Jesse hands him a pair of white check shorts that Andrew cinches with the belt he brought with him. "Brilliant, thanks."
"Your dad home?" Jesse asks quietly.
Andrew checks himself in front of the mirror, turning this way and that in Jesse's clothes. "You are so skinny, seriously. What is this, a hunger strike? This shirt is like, extra small."
"Yeah, sure, a hunger strike against people stealing my shirts," Jesse says, and Andrew punches him in the arm. Jesse sits back on his bed, hands fisting into the blankets and he takes a deep breath before asking: "Andrew – is your dad back?"
"Yes. Yes, he is," Andrew says, shrugging one-shouldered. His hair is a puff now, too long and careless, a boyish lion's mane, stubbornly refusing to get it cut. "That easy to tell, huh?"
"Yeah, I mean," Jesse swallows. "Kind of. You can – stay, if you want. You know you can stay. I mean, you always stay, but, you know. You can stay, if you want."
"It's nothing, only a week or something before he's back on the rig again," Andrew says tightly, obviously eager to switch subjects. "Nutella and bagels, oh my God, you are my favorite. You are the best person I know."
Andrew grabs the jar and a sesame seed bagel, throwing himself on the bed next to Jesse. He lies on his back, nestling his head on Jesse's thigh, a heavy weight, hair that smells of flowers. Andrew smears chocolate a half-inch thick over the bagel, wolfing it down. Chocolate at the corners of his mouth, on the tip of his nose, like dirt caked around his fingernails.
Jesse wants to hug him but he knows this isn't the time, knows that good solid boys aren't prone to it. So he sits there and tries to be a good pillow and watches as Andrew just gives up and eats chocolate from the knife. Leaning his head back, Andrew grins up at Jesse and, well, Jesse swipes his thumb over Andrew's mouth and smears chocolate in a line against Andrew's cheek. Only fair.
Andrew kisses Emma on her front porch with his bike at his feet. Arms around her shoulders, he kisses her like they haven't seen each other in months, not hours. Lifting her off her feet, cradling her in arms that bulge slightly with boy muscle and attention. The great cinematic moment, spinning her in his arms, kissing her like a triumph. Her bare legs wrap around Andrew's thighs, clinging to him tight and laughing loud enough for Jesse to hear.
Jesse waits, sitting astride his bike. He waits there as they kiss and kiss without taking a pause for breath. Jesse smiles out of the corner of his mouth, daring a look every now and then. What else is he supposed to do right now? He likes seeing them, the high school couple who never seem to explode, who take the days like cotton candy. He likes seeing them, likes to remember that the world might be kind after all. They're just good thing to be, a good thing to have, Jesse thinks, the way people ought to be. Andrew's hands around her waist, revealing the small of her back, little dimples in muscle as she arches towards him.
"Hey Jesse," Emma says as she guides her bike out of the garage and to the curb. Her lips are pink, rubbed flush with Andrew's mouth. "How's it going?"
"Good. Uh. Great," Jesse says, as they pedal off.
It's nothing really, but he wonders for a second why Andrew called him last night, slipped into his bedroom this morning. Jesse is nothing but a habit, a boy from shaggy teenage years, the way things used to be. Jesse pedals harder to catch up with them, and he's not sure why he's still here at all, surely Andrew has other people in his life, other ports in the storm. Jesse is a habit, just a bad habit Andrew picked up when he was thirteen and never gave up.
The sun sets in a shout of color against the flat of the land. Long shadows, the street lights turning on like a lit fuse, one by one down the street. Jesse watches, sitting still and wearing the sunglasses Andrew left on his dresser, his finger keeping place in his closed book.
Moths and bugs buzz by the lights. Sticking to brilliance, landing on Jesse's hands, the pages of his book. He swats them away, crossing his legs under him on the hard bench in front of McDonalds, reading about ideas he only half understands. Andrew should have been off work a half-hour ago, and Jesse keeps reading.
The parking lot empties and the windows of McDonalds darken. Jesse waits, a hundred flipped pages. He waits until he's about to fall asleep, lying on his back with his book of short stories under his head. Curling up on the bench under white lights, under the fluorescent chain restaurant glowing white-blue like a bug zapper.
"Hey," Andrew says, dragging the syllable out long like a scarf around his shoulders. "You – you waited?"
"What time is it?" Jesse straightens his shirt, closes his book, sits up. "Yeah. Thought I should. Yeah. You done?"
Andrew is in his work clothes, a red t-shirt and baggy black trousers tired and patched at the knees. He sits down on the bench next to Jesse. "I need a smoke. You mind if I –" He tugs a pack of cigarettes from his backpack, tucks one between his lips and lights it. "Jesus. I didn't know. I'm super late, aren't I? We were fucking around back playing football with the frozen burgers."
"Tough day?" Jesse asks.
"You really waited here for me?" Andrew exhales smoke, taps his foot against concrete. "Yeah, it kinda sucked. Got yelled at a lot."
Jesse nods. "Hell is –" he points down at his book, "hell is other people. I'm reading about, uh, other people."
Andrew laughs, little puffs of smoke. "Yeah," Andrew says, running his hands through his flop of hair. "Oh, fuck yeah." He reaches over and touches Jesse's shoulder, pats him there. "You must be starving, man."
"I'm okay," Jesse says. He's so close to Andrew, all of him, his exhaustion and his post-work smile all at once, that tired off-color happiness. "I was only here a – a couple of hours. It's all right."
Andrew shakes his head, holding his cigarette like a joint between forefinger and thumb. "Who even are you?"
"I just wanted to read. It worked out okay," Jesse says. His book digs into his thigh, his exhaustion like a gunpowder weight behind his eyes. "It really isn't a big deal. I mean, I wanted to. You're staying over now, so I just thought I'd –"
"You're too much, man." Andrew smiles at him, chin in his hands and elbows on his knees. "Thank you, by the way," Andrew says, the soft crackle as he inhales more smoke. "For waiting. For – caring, whatever, whatever. For, all of it, dude. Never mind," he says, laughing. His fizzes out into silence, glancing at Jesse once or twice. "Okay, fuck it. I was just thinking, I can't help it. I just thought, well – what do you think of Emma?"
"Emma?" Jesse says, frowning slightly, not expecting that right now, trying to think of how he might have slighted her. "Why are you asking?"
"I dunno," Andrew says, tipping off a blot of ash. "I just keep wondering, like, do you like her? I never asked you and, I dunno, I guess I ought to. Just, do you like her? Do you like me and her?"
Jesse nods, chewing on his bottom lip. "Sure. She's great. She's really nice. I like her."
"Really?" Andrew says, sucking a breath of smoke. "I think she might be. I don't know. I really – you know."
Jesse nods again, fidgets a little. He does like Emma, he really does. Mostly what he knows about her comes through Andrew, the way he talks about her with his eyes all fond, biting his nails meditatively. Jesse knows the things about her mostly in the second hand, a person he meets through Andrew's love. She's a girl who is painted outside the lines, bubbly and off-hand. Erratic in halves, tripping over nothing sometimes, then standing en pointe in lowtop Chucks. "Yeah. I mean, I don't really know her but she seems – she seems. Right, for you. I mean, you like her. And, uh, you – you like good things. Why wouldn't I like her?"
"Just wondering if I can keep her," Andrew says grinning, sliding back on the bench, the last of his cigarette burning itself out. "So she passes the test?"
Jesse shrugs, standing up and stretching. "I like her. Do you like her?"
Andrew nods earnestly, blushing a little and slinging his bag over his shoulder as he stomps out the butt of his cigarette. "You're still my favourite though," he adds, grinning, an arm thrown over Jesse's shoulder. "It's just, she looks prettier in a dress."
"Well, that's fine then," Jesse says, tucking his book in the back pocket of his jeans and yawning. "I can – I can accept those terms."
Jesse spends the afternoon by the foot of an oak, half-reading a beaten-up paperback copy of Franny and Zooey while Andrew and a couple of their friends swim in an old crater out beyond the High School. The hole is deep, almost totally circular, and always filled with rainwater and mud. It has become kind of a summer watering hole, suburban kids gathering around the muddy pit in the peak days of July.
Dressed only in boxers stolen from Jesse's dresser, Andrew climbs up an old Norwegian maple and along a gnarled old branch that just manages to hang over the lip of the pond. With a whoop and a yell, Andrew takes the last few steps at a jump and jackknifes into the water, the branch bouncing and the bough shaking big flat leaves into the water.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jesse sees Emma walking over, all legs and freckled arms and Carnelian red hair tied back in black elastic. She's wearing a too-big white t-shirt over her bikini, and she stretches it over her knees as she sits down, hugging her legs to her body.
"So, you don't swim, then?" Emma asks, pushing her big plastic Jackie O sunglasses back up the bridge of her nose.
"I, uh, I almost drowned when I was eight," Jesse says quickly. "In my aunt's pool. It made an impression, I guess. Uh, hi, Emma."
"Hey kiddo," Emma says, smiling warmly.
They both stare out at the pond, watching as Andrew deftly scales the tree, straddling the long branch and scooting down towards the water. When he gets there, Andrew just kind of falls off uselessly, flailing and laughing before he crashes into the muddy pool.
Emma smiles. "I don't blame you, that water is seriously gross." She worries a thread at the hem of her shirt, snapping it off. "He always gets a cold after he goes swimming." She shakes her head, and her smile softens, that way she gets when they talk about Andrew sometimes, a private smile, like Jesse is the only one who could understand why. "Remember that time he had bronchitis but still managed to smoke, like, three joints at Armie's party last year?"
"He was sick for two months after that," Jesse says, smiling down at the ground. It goes like this sometimes, sitting with Emma and talking about the hurricane boy with his scuffed up knees, their laughter a little bit kind, a little bit cruel. It's just the little things they catch at different times, comparing notes like scientists, laughing about the way Andrew eats popsicles (biting them in huge chunks) or the way he wriggles his toes when he's happy and anxious, or his love of Meryl Streep movies, even Mamma Mia! "He used – he used to wake me up in the middle of the night when he stayed over. He would, like, cough while he slept. Coughed and coughed and didn't even wake up. Like, sleep walking but, you know, coughing. I thought he was dying, but he never even woke up."
"And he never remembered to take his antibiotics," Emma says, picking a lock of her from her wet lips and curling it behind her ear. "I used to grind them up and put them in his soda at school. I don't ever think he noticed. Probably thinks he got over it himself." They pause on that for a while, watch as Andrew climbs out of the water, his hands and legs muddied, pushing back his slick hair, little bits of leaves clinging to his stomach and shoulders. "Hey, you coming to that party thing this weekend?" Emma asks, startling Jesse out of his stare.
"I – guess so, I think, yeah. Andrew mentioned it."
"You don't really like parties do you?" Emma says quietly, raising her eyebrows a little. "It always seems like you're kind of dragged there, you know?"
Jesse shrugs, one-shouldered. "They're okay. Yeah, they're okay, I guess. Andrew likes them, so I – I don't know. I don't really like beer."
"Well, at least I'll have someone to talk to," Emma says, nudging him in the side again. The wind picks up, Jesse's curly hair falling against his forehead, whipping the edges of his sleeves like a flag. "So, uh, Andrew's staying at your place, then?"
Jesse nods, looks down at his hands, his short bitten nails. "Yeah. Yeah, you know just when – his dad is home."
"Right, right," Emma says, touching Jesse's shoulder lightly. "That's really – you're a good friend."
"You can, you know you can come over too," Jesse says. "I don't mind. I know you two are. I don't mind."
"Thanks," Emma says, pushing her mess of red hair back, resting her chin on her knees.
"I mean it," Jesse says solidly. "I'm not kidding. You can – I mean, be there for him. That's cool. I'm totally cool with that. Just, like, put a – sock on the door or whatever they do in those movies, right?"
Emma laughs into her knuckles. "Jesse – you're a pretty great guy, you know that?"
Jesse blinks rapidly, nods once quickly.
Emma is quiet after that, just catching in Jesse in these sideways smiles as they sit there in the dirt, feeling the heat of the day collect in sweat in the hollows of their knees and backs of their necks. They watch as Andrew wrestles with Armie in the water, mud like war paint in slashes on his chest and under his eyes, grabbing Armie round the middle and then hurling him unceremoniously into the pond. Andrew stands there, hands on his hips, laughing like Alexander the Great. He twists around to grin at Jesse and Emma, a little wave like he's just making sure that they were watching.
The sunset burns a kind of chemical orange and pink as they walk their bikes back to Jesse's house. The tick-tick-tick of the wheels the only noise other than police sirens going off every so often in the distance and the rippling hiss of bugs in tall grass. Andrew and Emma hold hands as they wander the roads painted gold in late sun, and Jesse walks carefully, hissing every so often as his swinging bike pedal scrapes against his shins.
"I'm fucking starving," Andrew says. The pink shirt Jesse loaned him is over his shoulder, dried mud still caked between Andrew's shoulder blades. His bare feet, the bottoms almost black. "Jesse makes a mean chili. Not out of a can or anything either, all from scratch. It's my favorite food. It's the best."
Emma looks over at Jesse, a smile. "Yeah?"
Jesse nods, stumbles a little as the bike pedal scrapes his shin again. "It's just chili."
"Sweet deal," Emma says. "I like a man who can cook."
"I make toast," Andrew says proudly. "I make toast and mac and cheese and rum and cokes. She likes a man who can cook, you know."
"I've had his mac and cheese," Jesse says, crooked smile. "It's pretty great. Follows the instructions on the box and everything. You should hold on to him."
"Oh, for sure," Emma laughs, and swings her hand with Andrew's like playground games, big swaying arcs. "He's a real keeper."
"And that toast," Jesse says. "Not even burnt, most of the time."
"Guys, stop it, I'm blushing," Andrew says, grinning again. His hair has dried from the pond, sticking up all over in odd angles which somehow makes him seem younger than seventeen, the sun bringing out the inky splash of freckles along his nose. "Asshole," Andrew mouths at Jesse silently, bursting into a grin right after.
They walk on a bit in silence, Andrew in the middle and guiding his bike in a wobbly path. He's kind of untouchable at times like this, half-Hercules with his sunbrown skin and his lungs full of air, a bulletproof boy at sunset.
Jesse has always felt older than he should. Like he tripped over some important years, slept through them one night and woke up rusty and cold and out of place. Sometimes when he sits in his room and listens to music, or when he bikes to the grocery store alone, Jesse feels a lot like he could fade away, rubbed out like shaky pencil marks. But now, with Andrew's hair all fluffy and wind-blown, with Emma singing a tired pop song at the top of her lungs, with the air smelling like cut grass and hot tar and kicked up dirt, it's kind of the other way around and Jesse can't believe he's ever been anything but seventeen.
Andrew gives Jesse's shoulder a friendly punch, startling him out of the quiet and Jesse smiles ruefully. Andrew punches Jesse's shoulder again and then rests his hand there. There's something strange about it, a hesitant shiver in his hand, a touch like Andrew's afraid to let go, like Andrew needs to make sure Jesse is there. Andrew's palm is clammy as he squeezes the back of Jesse's neck and holds him solid, thumb just brushing the top knot of Jesse's spine.
Jesse gives him a smile and Andrew's lip trembles a bit.
They move to the curb as a car passes through the streets, spitting up dust as it races past them. The drone of the engine echoes and fades through the rows of identical houses, leaving the world quiet again save for the ticking of their bikes and the chirrup of crickets in the trees.
Jesse wakes up alone. It's weird, really, only three days of Andrew sharing his bed, yet waking up without him, without his brick of heat, is somehow lonely and unexpected. Jesse rolls over in empty sheets before he realizes the bits that are missing, breathing deep against Andrew's half of the pillow and smelling him in the cotton. His cologne, his sweat lingering in the pleats.
Jesse crawls out of bed, stumbled in the laundry. Andrew's laziness is already spreading like a disease; plates and crumbs from bagels and sesame seeds, toothpaste tube all scrunched up in the middle, the caps missing from Jesse's shaving cream and deodorant, clothes all over the floor.
It's raining hard outside, and the whole room smells like unwashed clothes and messy boys and damp green, something to clean but later, not now. Just in boxers and a t-shirt, Jesse ducks downstairs, careful on the creaking staircase
Andrew is on the front doorstep, huddled under a hoodie he's stolen from Jesse's closet, sweatpants from Jesse's drawers. The rain pounds down around them, a steady hammer on the roof like cavalry running over an aluminum bridge. A river from the gutters, flooding an inch of water into the roads.
"Sorry," Andrew says, huddling around the burning orange light of a cigarette. The mist of the rain and the wind, cold on Jesse's face. "I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to wake you." He shucks a breath, coughs into his fist. "I really like the rain. I – needed to get out. I can't sleep, and I thought, I dunno. I can't sleep. I can't ever fucking sleep."
Jesse nods quietly. The wind is unseasonably cold, a premature autumn breeze making goosebumps on his arms and legs. The air smells like ozone, and mud, and the whiff of the cigarette Andrew keeps to his lips, smoking privately. "I – it's weird," Jesse says, standing next to Andrew, touching his shoulder loosely, his hand falling away uncertainly. Wants to touch him, not sure how. "I missed you. I woke up and you weren't there and – and it was, well, it was lonely." Jesse's arms are wet with rain and he wrings his hands with it. "That's – weird. I'm sorry."
Andrew smiles, takes another breath of his cigarette. "Naw," Andrew says quietly. "Sometimes I feel like –"
"I noticed," Jesse says quietly.
Andrew stares out at the rain, blown in sheets against the roads, the bone-shaking crack of thunder hidden behind the clouds. It's hailing, almost, little pea pellets of ice cracking on the ground, the skies dumping everything they have. "It's out there," Andrew says, taking another breath of his cigarette, his smoke blown out like rainwater and mist. "I really think I can see it, sometimes. Right there, like low-hanging fruit, if I could just grab it. It's right out there but I can't – reach it."
"What is?" Jesse asks, cold, drawing his arms across his chest and hugging them tight.
"I dunno," Andrew says, smoke to the rain. He smiles, a private joke shared. "Kind of everything, I guess. You ever feel like that? Like everything good is happening somewhere else?"
Jesse nods, stands closer to Andrew. Elbow to elbow, wrist to wrist. Andrew's got a cigarette tucked behind one ear and another burning absently between his lips, the unflicked ash already an inch long. "Andrew," Jesse says, taking a deep breath and focusing it on words, on being heard. "I think I, I think I'm in –"
"Listen," Andrew interrupts, holding Jesse's wrist. Thunder rumbling like an earthquake. He bumps up against Jesse, from knee to hip to shoulder, his touch as immediate as lighting. "Isn't it grand?"
He's only lit up in halves. Andrew is silhouetted by the street lamps, illuminating his tense smile and fulgurous stare, eyes set in shadows and liquid dark like crude oil. Jesse holds Andrew's hand, keeps it tight. "Only when you point it out," Jesse says. "Then yeah, yeah, sort of."
"One day, you and me," Andrew says, squeezing Jesse's cold fingers. "You and me. I think it's the only thing I've ever really wanted, since I was a kid. I remember wanting it then. You and me."
Jesse nods. He can't see what Andrew does – never could, not quite – but the feeling runs over him like a fever. The tips of his ears burning hot, the same in his chest. He's spent months wondering what life would be like without Andrew, back before they were friends, but Jesse decides now he doesn't want to remember what that was like. Not really.
"I think I –" Jesse closes his mouth, and Andrew leans his head on Jesse's shoulder. Close, Jesse just turning his head to kiss Andrew's temple, resting against the crown of Andrew's head and his odd curls, his hair that smells like girl's shampoo. "Andrew, I –" please say it, please let it come out like a sentence, "I think I –"
Andrew tosses the last inch of cigarette out into the wet grass. "Are you cold? Shit, I'm sorry –" Andrew shrugs away quickly, peels off his hoodie, his shirt underneath riding up to his sternum until he pulls it down. He tosses the hoodie over, Jesse's own sweater borrowed and surrendered. It smells exactly like Andrew, every stitch of it as Jesse pulls it on. His own sweater, warm and somehow new. Andrew's cologne, his body, his smoke. Jesse tugs his hands through the sleeves, the hood bunched up around his mouth and he smells Andrew in it, as warm as fire.
"Thank you," Jesse says in a small voice, hugging his arms across his chest.
"We ought to sleep," Andrew says, his hands against Jesse's back, rubbing him gently. "Thank you for – we should sleep, right?"
"Sure," Jesse says.
They stand out on the porch for a bit longer, until the rain dies to a drizzle. Andrew's arm is against Jesse's, their cold hands clenched and wet with rain until they're both shivering and wet in the heavy late summer mist, walking back upstairs.
They meet after dark and late shifts at work, stuck in Jesse's room near midnight amongst crumpled wax paper from burgers and a stolen bottle of lukewarm beer they pass around lazily. Andrew holds Emma in Jesse's bed with his arms around her, with hands up in her hair and coiled deep in red curls. Bare muscles, Jesse's borrowed shirt too small and Andrew's stomach exposed in inches, his arms sunbrown and freckled. The way Andrew is when he's with someone else.
The night blows in through the windows, dark and damp and warm. They're sitting in Jesse's bed, at polar ends like the last place on earth, in the flood of copper lamplight like an island in black. Jesse shoves himself up against the headboard while Andrew and Emma hold each other by the foot, backs against the dresser. Their knees knock in the middle and Jesse's feet are buried under blankets, under Andrew's thighs, this constant warmth against his skin.
"Jess, Jess," Andrew says, thumb playing against Emma's collar bone. "Tell Emma that Finding Nemo thing you told me."
"What Finding Nemo thing?" Emma asks, nudging Jesse's thigh with her toe. "I love that movie."
Andrew laughs. "It's kinda gonna ruin the whole thing for you. Jess, tell her, it's hilarious."
"It's just something I read," Jesse says. The same blanket over his legs covers Andrew and Emma; when he tugs they tug back, just the three of them stuck on his bed. "You know how, uh, Nemo's mom is dead, right? And his dad is taking care of him?"
"Sure, Marlin," Emma says. "My dad loves Albert Brooks."
"Yeah, well, see," Jesse sits up in his bed, back against the hard headboard while Andrew is laughing with his mouth pressed against Emma's hair. "In real life, in actual biological clownfish societies – there's, like, an alpha male and an alpha female. And they're, uh, the only ones who can have kids in that school, the only ones who are –" a polite cough into his fist, " – sexually mature."
"Oh no, is this a weird sex thing?" Emma says, and Andrew laughs loudly, hiccupping when Emma slaps his arm.
"Well, when the alpha female dies, well, like Nemo's mom did. Well, the alpha male, uh," Jesse shrugs, tries to keep back the smile Andrew is forcing on him, "well, he sexually matures and – clownfish are late stage hermaphrodites, right? – so he, uh, becomes the new alpha female."
Emma groans and Andrew bursts out in laughter.
"So," Jesse says, holding his hands up helplessly, "by the time Marlin found Nemo, at the end of the movie, he would have uh – he would have become Nemo's new mom."
"Oh, Jesus," Emma says, kicking Jesse in the leg. "Seriously? God, I cannot watch that movie again. Nature has ruined my childhood. Why do you even know this?"
Jesse grins down at his blankets and Andrew keeps laughing, tears in the corners of his eye, catching Jesse in a smile and then laughing again. "It was in this book and I guess I just kind of put the pieces together?"
"Seriously though, do you always carry a book around with you?" Emma asks, prodding Jesse's thigh with her big toe. "I've noticed that, the way you always have one on you. You will go like a whole day with a book in your back pocket even if you never read it. Is it – is it just to ruin childhoods?"
Jesse laughs, twisting into a helpless shrug. "I've kind of always done it, I guess. When I was about – twelve, I think, I really wanted to finish Dune. It's a science fiction, uh, never mind, anyway – so I stuck it in my back pocket when I biked to school. And then when that guy –" Jesse shoves Andrew's shoulder a little, "– saw it, he grabbed me in a headlock until I'd admit to being a poindexter, uh, in front of what must have been half the school and I've just kind of done it since then. To, uh, to spite him, I guess," Jesse finishes, pushing Andrew's shoulder again. "Ruining childhoods came later."
"Well," Emma says. "I think you should stop. No good can come of this."
"Stop reading?" Jesse asks.
"Yes," Emma replies, grinning at him and how can Jesse not like her, how can he resist what Andrew found so easy to love. "Stop reading if it means ruining nostalgic movies for ignorant people."
Knees bouncing together, warmth in skin under the blankets. It's always like this, Jesse knotting these little strings and stories of Andrew, little gold threads pulled tighter and tighter each time they go over the same jokes, the same memories, this little Bayeux tapestry they've been building for fourteen years. Jesse leans his head back and it knocks against the headboard, a hiss of pain, Andrew and Emma are already laughing and touching his shoulders and dragging him back into their orbit.
"If you think that was good, wait till you hear what Jesse knows about The Lion King," Andrew says, fingers in Emma's hair, kissing the side of her head again. "You ever wonder why Nala doesn't have a father?"
Emma groans. "Oh God."
"Cause only the – the, whatsit, alpha male of the pride gets to be with the lady lions," Andrew says, nodding over at Jesse. "That's what you said right? So, Simba and Nala are actually, like, siblings. Mufasa is both of their dads. So, like, they're feeling more than the love tonight, you know?"
"I only know the facts," Jesse says, smiling apologetically at Emma. "Blame Disney for any sexual misconduct."
"Shit," Emma says suddenly, taking Jesse's wrist, reading his watch. "Hold that thought. My curfew is in, like, ten minutes. You can ruin 101 Dalmatians for me tomorrow." Emma leans close, over Andrew's knees, her palms pressing deep into the mattress around Jesse's sides. She kisses his cheek. "I've gotta go. Thank you, for –" she kisses his temple, "– ruining my childhood."
"No problem," Jesse says, feeling his cheeks flush with blood. Andrew slaps him on the shoulder as they crawl from the tangle, and out of Jesse's bed.
Andrew and Emma kiss in the dark by the front door and Jesse tries to look away. Furiously tight, the wet smack of their lips, hands around shoulders and the small of their backs as they lean into it. Jesse stands in the shadows of the hallway, and Andrew kisses Emma on the mouth, on the neck, on the soft blush of her jaw. Jesse wonders what that feels like, having a constant. Probably nice, probably right, the way inbetween years ought to be. Whispers that turn into nothing, into more kissing. Goodnight, yeah, goodnight, pressed on bottom lips.
"I'll walk you home," Andrew says. He's holding hands with Emma as they leave. He glances over his shoulder, winks at Jesse. "Don't worry, won't be long."
"Good night," Emma says, waving at Jesse as Andrew ushers her out.
"Night," Jesse says, hesitating a second before locking the door behind them, feeling oddly final.
Jesse brushes his teeth and changes into a ratty t-shirt and boxer shorts. He stares out the window, but there's nothing to see. No thunderstorm fireworks tonight, just clouds covering the moon and the stars to black. No excuse to stay up late and wonder about where Andrew is right now, if he's smoking, if he's feeling the world too heavy, if he's fucking the girl he loves. Okay, time to sleep.
After an hour, Jesse slides into bed and reads for five, ten, fifteen minutes. Another couple of pages and he gives up, switching off his lamp and crawling into darkness. The night thumps against his eyelids, and minutes pass like hours. Waiting, but not really, wishing he could just fall asleep now and stop thinking, always thinking when he needs to stop. Waiting, but not really. Not really awake, not really asleep.
Not really asleep. Not really anything, not much of anything at all.
"Sorry, sorry," Andrew says, knocking over a chair as he hops out of his jeans. Jesse sits up in bed like a shot, his heart thudding like gun fire as he grabs his glasses from the night table. Andrew is shadowed in the orange of street lights. He's a minor golden god, body still flush and wired from running back and whatever else. Andrew touches Jesse's shoulders, brushes a hand over his cheek. "Sorry, I didn't want to wake you. I did, didn't I?"
"It's okay," Jesse says, sliding his back against the bedroom wall and leaving an open space in the bed. "I didn't think you were – I thought you were staying with Emma –"
Andrew pulls off his shirt. Boxer shorts and nothing else, still so flushed from the day. Andrew is hot with lazy sunburns, all knobbly kneed and exhausted. He slides into bed, his legs already tangling with Jesse's like a knot, hands over Jesse's shoulders. "Nah. Her dad hates me. Can't stay there." Andrew kisses Jesse's cheek. "Night. Thanks for – waiting. Were you waiting? Fuck, I woke you up, didn’t I?"
"I wasn't waiting – well, kind of, yeah," Jesse says, the feel of Andrew's lips on his skin like a tattoo. "Andrew?" He hovers on it for a second, and buries it under worry. "Good night."
"Night," Andrew says, breathing out a last tired huff.
No matter how he moves, no matter where he stretches, Jesse ends up touching Andrew. The slope of his hips, the muscle of his shoulder, the curve of his ribs. Jesse can't find a place to sleep where he isn't somehow holding Andrew, where his hands don't slide over naked skin. Eventually, Jesse turns his back on Andrew and curls into himself, staring at the wall.
Sleep comes slowly, in pieces of light and dark. Dreams, only half-dreams, buzzing against the back of Jesse's eyelids. Somewhere in the hours, Andrew holds him, hands under Jesse's arms, linking around his ribs in a lazy, thoughtless way, a shift in sleep. Just as Jesse is falling off, just as the walls bleed away red and black and thick with clouding dreams Andrew hugs their bodies close, shared warmth and wet lips against Jesse's shoulders. And then Jesse stills and squeezes his eyes closed, and then he doesn't resist, and then he falls asleep.
Jesse and Emma wait outside for Andrew to finish his shift at McDonalds, slouched down on the benches facing the parking lot and tossing bits of stone at a coke can.
The sun does stupid hot things to the world, turns the roads to shivering lakes, stains a semi-circle of sweat around the collar of Jesse's t-shirt, slicks little threads of red hair along the back of Emma's neck. Jesse tries not to look, just scuffs up his shoes and kicks up clouds of dust.
"Have you thought about – after school at all? Colleges?" Emma asks, flinging a stone and missing the can by a foot.
Jesse shrugs, missing the can by – more than a foot. "Sort of."
"I'd really like to try for Stanford," Emma says, picking through the gravel with her foot, looking for a good stone. "But – there's no point. Never mind the grades, my dad's off on disability and my mom can't work And I've got my little sister too." She shakes her head slightly. "What about you?"
"I don't know," Jesse says, biting down on his bottom lip. "Probably get a job."
Emma frowns. "But – you're so smart. You can't just – you're just going to get a job and – rot here? Like the rest of these high school dickweeds? If there was anyone who should – who deserves to get out, it's you. I mean, you've got a pretty great brain."
"Do I?" Jesse asks, smiling just in the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, for sure," Emma says, patting his knee. "You've got the sexiest brain I've ever seen. What a sexy – sexy brain. Your, uh, throbbing six inch brain."
"It would be – nice," Jesse says, chucking a stone and missing handily. "But, I mean, staying here would be – it could be okay, right?" Jesse picks through a handful of gravel, finding the stones big enough to throw. "I could stay here too, I think, and be happy."
Emma throws a rock and nails the can, knocks it over. She isn't smiling through, just stares at the fallen can. "Is that because of –" Emma's shoulders slump. "You ever – think about it? What Andrew says?"
"Running away?" Jesse asks.
"I don't know," Jesse says. "Maybe, but it's just –"
"– not you?"
Jesse worries his thumbnail between his teeth and shrugs, shrugs twice. "I'm not as – interesting as he thinks I am." Jesse shuffles in place, knitting his fingers together, folding them out hopelessly. "I'm so – so worried about the day he figures that out, you know? To be – to be totally honest, I've been worried since he first became my friend – my, uh, first friend – that he'll figure out that I'm not funny or spontaneous or charming or that I'm not – not nearly as brave as he thinks I am, as he maybe needs me to be. I wish I – I wish I was. I wish I was like him, but –"
"But you're not," Emma says quietly. "To be honest – neither am I."
Jesse looks down at his Chucks and swallows back a wild, strange knot. Out of nowhere, just thick in his throat and he pushes it down, isn't even sure where it came from. It settles like lead in his stomach. "I just don't want to leave him here. With his dad. I don't know. I just – don't wanna do that. I don't know how but." Jesse shakes his head and shuts up.
"Andrew never talks about his dad," Emma says quietly. "Not in, well, long sentences at least. He seems really – I don't know. I'm too afraid to ask." Her voice drops, ashy whisper and she leans in close to Jesse. "Tell me."
"I can't really – tell you," Jesse says. "I don't know if I can. I mean, he's never told me anything. I've just – I've collected things over the years, that's all."
"Come on," Emma whispers. "You know him better than anyone. You know him better than himself."
"No, no," Jesse says quickly, resting his head on his palms, elbows digging into his knees. "I just – it's so hard to understand. His – his dad works on an oil rig in the gulf and he comes back every so often to uh, make sure Andrew has enough money to last him the next few months." Jesse shakes his head quickly, hair falling in front of his eyes. "And he always – you know, gets on Andrew for wasting his life, stuff like that. You know his grades aren't great, and he always liked parties more than the future. And, just, there was one time his dad threatened Andrew with boarding school and it – kind of freaked him out." Jesse sucks in a breath, hiccupping on a weird laugh. "It, well, uh, it t-totally freaked me out too. It was – it was. I didn't want to –" Jesse bites down on his bottom lip. "Then Andrew – he just started avoiding his dad. It was easier that way, I think. Avoiding that whole – thing. He stays with me. He sleeps in my bed. He pretends like his dad doesn't exist. He has since he was thirteen."
Emma nods slowly, breathing out a long sigh. "I – yeah, no, I get it."
"But. I mean, they only see each other like, four or five times a year. It's not – I can understand why he does it. I always did. Andrew – Andrew just doesn't want to get hurt every time his dad comes home, and they fight, and his dad leaves again. He can't handle people he loves going away." Jesse's gone so quiet he's surprised Emma can still hear him. He pushes his hair out of his face and shrugs. "And I think they do love each other. They just – they just – they don't know how."
"I'm really." Emma swallows hard, knot in her throat bobbing. "I'm glad he's got you, you know?" Emma clears her throat, her shoulders twitching as she sits a bit taller. "I always wanted to tell you but – you really do mean a lot to him. When we're alone, he talks about you – it's just, I know how much all this means to him, and he's too much of a boy to ever really say it so –"
"Yeah, no," Jesse mumbles, brushing dirt from his shins, the tops of his feet. "I – uh, I know. I do."
Emma smiles, pats his knee softly. "I really hope you do. I don't think anyone means more to him than you."
"Well," Jesse says, fades away, bleeds into the background, not sure what to say to make the world better. A hiccup in his throat, waiting for the world to shut him up.
"I've got presents," Andrew yells, pushing out the front doors of McDonalds and striding into their silence. Yes, that world, saving him from the wrong words. Andrew's in his work outfit, a tattered white button-up shirt and black dress pants, beaten up leather shoes. He's holding a paper bag, already soaked through in places with oil. "You waited so patiently, after all."
Emma gets up and kisses him on the mouth and Andrew licks her cheek. "Hey, beautiful," he says.
"You're a half hour late," Emma says, wiping her cheek with the back of her hand.
"I know, Armie was late, as usual," Andrew says, nipping at the end of her nose. "I got you apple pies so you better forgive me."
Andrew sits between Emma and Jesse. He pulls out cardboard boxes of fries and burgers hastily wrapped in paper, chicken nuggets and dipping sauces. They share, hand over hand, stealing from each other, taking bites out of opposite ends of the burgers. Fingers sticky with ketchup and mustard, more fries tossed at each other than eaten. Mayonnaise in the corner of Andrew's mouth that Emma kisses away.
Andrew's hair is matted down from his hat, smelling of fryer oil and old coffee. He just moves so easily, between them both, nimble thieving fingers and sly grins and filling up all the empty space in the world, taking up all the air. All at once the knot goes away, unthreaded in Jesse's chest like it was never there, opening his throat and letting him laugh out loud again.
Andrew is all fox and teeth, and he bites a nugget out of Jesse's hands, almost taking fingers with it. Jesse shoves his shoulder and Andrew shoves back, digging his forehead into Jesse's shoulder, wiping ketchup on Jesse's sleeve. "Hey Jess," he says at last, looking up at him through long eyelashes.
"Hey," Jesse says, careful to guard his next chicken nugget.
"Hey," Andrew says again, just finally resting his head on Jesse's shoulder, just for a moment, before he goes to steal a bite of Emma's hamburger.
"Not in the house," Jesse says as Andrew finishes rolling the joint, "the smell."
Jesse leads Emma and Andrew through the bathroom, tugging out the screen window and winding it open. The sloped garage thrusts out from beneath the window and, standing on the lip of the bathtub, they can hoist themselves onto the roof.
The shingles are still warm from the sun but the day has gone inky black, moon and stars blotted out by clouds. Andrew helps Emma out with a hand like a cavalier, guiding her carefully to the middle of the roof. The three of them lie back and stare up at nothing, black sky, the only light coming from the hundred lit front porches of a hundred identical houses strung up and down the street like Christmas lights.
Jesse's chest is all tight for some reason, some held breath he can't quite place. He's a wound spring, twisted tighter and tighter over the days as he smells Andrew stronger in his sheets and pillows every morning, as he forgets whose clothes are whose on the bedroom floor, as he memorizes the splay of freckles on Andrew's bare shoulders and can almost draw them from memory.
Andrew takes in a deep, loud breath and exhales happily, tucking his hands behind his head. Jesse can feel Andrew's knee bump against his own, his toes wriggling childishly against Jesse's ankle, like Andrew needs to wrestle it out or he'll explode.
Emma laughs and Jesse is pretty sure she's laughing for the exact same reason. She curls in against Andrew, rests her head on his chest, fingers playing loosely over the flat of his stomach. "You gonna light it?"
"Oh, right! – the joint, right, stellar plan." Lick of a flame from the lighter when Andrew inhales, his face cast in orange. "I honestly cannot think of," Andrew's voice is tight in the back of his throat as he holds the smoke in, soft and loose when he exhales, "a single thing that could make this any better." He glances between Emma and Jesse, holding the joint halfway to his lips. "The sky, a roof, weed, and my two favorite people."
"What about – a million dollars?" Emma asks, taking the weed carefully from Andrew, blowing on the tip a little. "A billion."
"Naw," Andrew says. "Nope."
"What about that car you always talk about, whatsit," Emma takes a deep breath of smoke, exhaling smoothly. "That Mustang?"
Andrew pauses for a second. "Nope. I'm sticking with this."
Emma hands the joint over to Jesse. Her hair is a mess now, a pool around her head where it rests against Andrew's sternum, threads and rivers of her hair along Andrew's neck like blood. Her smile is soft, makeup faded and lips a little cracked dry, nail polish chipped and peeling cobalt blue. "It's harsh, careful."
Andrew laughs, takes the roach from Emma. "Come on, Em, he doesn't smoke. When have you ever seen him smoke?"
Emma shrugs. "Doesn't mean I can't offer."
"I have tried like, a hundred times to get him high. You just think if a pretty girl comes along and offers him –"
Whatever is knotted in Jesse, whatever spring and clockwork has been jammed into the shape of his body just snaps, bursts open with gears and cogs. Jesse takes the joint from Andrew's loose grip. He frowns at it for a second, blinking quickly before he puts his mouth around the rolled cardboard filter. It's a little damp from their lips, and he takes in a short stuttered breath while Andrew just stares at him, his mouth open and quickly curling into a smile.
Emma slaps Andrew's stomach and says, "See. You're just not pretty enough."
It tastes like dirt and burnt herbs, like iron and lakewater. Jesse holds it in like he's seen Andrew do a dozen, a hundred times. Andrew is already laughing at him, hands against Jesse's hair, fingers rolled up in his curls as he grins like a wild boy. Jesse exhales and says, "This isn't my first time, actually," Jesse coughs, but only once, "I did it one time before and slept for six hours on my cousin's kitchen floor. Just – just so you know."
"Do it again," Andrew says. "I wanna see you toke again. It's my new favorite thing."
Jesse does, tries to stop his hands from shaking, really focuses all of his heat and stars and, wow, it's hitting him fast, and he draws in another breath. After ten seconds he hisses out this smooth breath of smoke as slick as James Bond.
Andrew grins. "God, that is the coolest thing I've ever seen. Look at him," Andrew says, kissing the top of Emma's head. "Who are you? Do it again, Jess, I wanna see it again."
Jesse shakes his head tightly, coughing into his fist as he hands the joint off to Emma. "I can't feel my fingers at all."
Andrew starts laughing and he doesn't stop, little hiccupping giggles and these fond looks at Jesse, shaking his head like he still can't believe it, not at all. He keeps touching Jesse's hair which is nice in a really deep down in his guts way, warm and tingling like coca cola fizz. Andrew digs his fingers against Jesse's scalp, scratches him there like he's a dog and it's nice, it's hilarious, it's all Jesse can feel. Pins and needles, little fuzzy vibrations of shivers and laughter starting from Andrew's fingers and rolling down the back of his neck like warm water, wet blood, past his shoulders into his chest.
"Never seen you do it, man," Andrew says. "This is crazy. When'd you get so – why'd you never –"
"I've become a stoner, I have," Jesse says, nodding quickly and finding he can't stop, has to will himself to stop nodding. His hair falls in front of his eyes a little, big curls. "I've been practicing for you."
"Well, I'm thoroughly impressed," Andrew says laughing, can't look away from Jesse. A smile like his own.
"I, uh, I need to keep – I need to keep a little bit of mystery," Jesse says, Andrew's hiccupping laugh ruining his concentration, making him smile, "or you'll leave me for, for someone – for someone younger."
"Never," Andrew says, laughing loud and bright and clear, "never ever, never never. Dude. Never, ever, never, damn that doesn't even sound like a word anymore. Never never never."
Emma takes another couple of hits, just watching them and laughing along. "Jesus Christ, you two are like, you two are like, totally in love with each other, you know that?"
Andrew winks open one eye, grinning at her. "Y'know, it's kinda true. It is, it's pretty much true."
Jesse laughs until he's quiet, rolling in against Andrew's side, finding a place where the world doesn't spin anymore. He buries his head into Andrew's shoulder and the world doesn't spin there, held in place with gravity and Andrew's warmth radiating like the sun, like the sun through his shirt. Jesse closes his eyes and his fingers link around Andrew's belt loops because he doesn't want to fall off the, uh, fall away from the roof.
"It's kind of true, isn't it?" Andrew murmurs, laughing when he kisses Jesse's forehead. Jesse can feel his laughter in warm breath against his skin and the stuttering press of Andrew's lips.
"Sure," Jesse says. "Wait, what's kind of true?"
Andrew laughs again, and Emma too, and they're both looking at him all quiet and seventeen and smoke. Jesse looks up at them and he realizes how tight he's holding on to Andrew, his leather belt and his warm hand.
And when Jesse leans up, shifting positions a little, Andrew is nodding down at him, and all at once they just, they just fucking kiss. Angled mouths, Andrew's just slightly open and wet, leaning into each other all fleeting and fading and dull and soft and static shock at once. Andrew stays there for a second, lips hovering with a warm breath a half-inch from Jesse's and then he falls back, laughing.
"Knew it," Emma says, laughing as she kisses Andrew's neck. "I knew it."
"Whatever, whatever," Andrew says, kissing the top of her head again. "You're like, whatever."
It's hard not to laugh too and Jesse buries his head into Andrew's shoulder again because the world is spinning too fast and the ground is lava, the ground is lava so he holds onto Andrew's hand and smells the sweat and soap and cologne in Andrew's shirt and the muscle of his shoulder, the way that feels. And his mouth now too, that's something Jesse remembers, like a bruise, like pop rocks and coke on his lips.
It goes quiet after that; none of them moving, none of them speaking. Crickets humming like white noise on TV, the yelp of a siren, the heavy thrum of helicopter blades like bug wings way out in the distance.
"What about a house in the middle of nowhere with no one else around," Jesse says quietly. "Not a million dollars or a car, just a – just a house. None of this, none of the shitty jobs or the parents or the –" Jesse stops talking. Andrew has turned to look at him, head back against the shingles, his mess of lion's hair all wild around his face, his eyes wide in the dark. Andrew nods, biting his cotton-dry lip, urging him on. "Just us three and a house and a – and a garden, and –"
"– a dog," Andrew says.
"A dog," Jesse adds dreamily, "and that's it for miles and miles and miles and miles. M-maybe some cats too?"
Andrew smiles a little, squeezes Jesse's hands a little tighter. "Yeah, yeah. Yeah," Andrew says, nuzzling against the top of Jesse's head, leaving another heavy kiss. Emma is asleep on his chest, arms all tangled up with Andrew's other hand, one leg over top of Andrew's. Jesse clings to his other side and he's so stoned and all he knows is that it's a bad, bad idea to let go right now. Just a bad idea to let go of Andrew.
"That's better. That's the best. That's better than anything. Out of here," Andrew murmurs. "Out of here, bags in the trunk, and just gone like ghosts, like ghosts in the wild like birds, three of us, three of us, like no one else exists. That's all I want, like no one else exists."