The next morning, Andrew feels full of happy, fluttering anticipation and just a little bit of panic. He’s excited to start working on the play for real and he’s already looking forward to seeing Jesse tonight. They’ve had one whole date now; hopefully it’s not too soon to wake up missing him.
Andrew has to be at the theatre for eleven so he rolls out of bed, takes a long shower, eats a good breakfast and tries to resist doing backflips down the street to work off some of his excess energy. There’s a billboard advertising Doctor Who on the building above the subway station so Andrew snaps a quick picture of it, texting it to Matt. Matt always turns a particular flustered mix of flattered and bemused when he gets any kind of recognition and, if Andrew can’t be there to see it, he’s at least going to cause it as often as possible.
The theatre is down a side street off Broadway; a squat little red-bricked building with a wide, green double front door and a semi-circular white awning jutting out from the front.
Andrew doesn’t often get nervous but he is right now. Back in England, he never second guessed himself; he had a couple of guest spots on TV programmes and never doubted that that was only the beginning, but getting turned down so many times since moving here has apparently put a dent in his confidence or something.
He bops a little on his toes, trying to psych himself up, add a little swing to his step. He’s good at this, he reminds himself, he can do it.
One half of the front door swings open when Andrew approaches it and Deborah, the assistant director who Andrew met at his second audition, pokes her head out. “Andrew?”
Right, show time. “Hi,” Andrew says brightly, bouncing forward and holding out his hand for her to shake. “Lovely to see you again.”
She takes his hand, shaking it firmly and that’s when Andrew remembers that he’s still wearing the gloves that Jesse knitted for him. A little thrill of warmth travels through him, topping up his faked confidence with some of the real kind. He really can do this.
The morning passes quickly. Andrew meets the rest of the cast and they settle into groups for early read-throughs while Deborah walks around between them, hmm-ing and making notes on her clipboard.
The woman playing Andrew’s mother, an older lady called Sally, seems to take a shine to Andrew immediately, exclaiming over his accent and admiring his mismatched gloves.
Andrew can’t say that his boyfriend made them for him, because that would be horribly presumptuous and even though Andrew is often lucky enough to get what he wants, he doesn’t want to count his Jesses until they’re officially his. Or something.
“Thanks,” he says instead. “My friend made them.” He can’t stop the stupid smile that spreads across his face but he tries to tone it down a little.
He probably doesn’t succeed because Sally laughs at him, wrapping an arm around his waist. “I’m going to adopt you,” she says. “I hope you don’t mind?”
Andrew beams at her. “Not at all,” he says. “I’d love that.”
When they break at midday, Sally offers to take him out for lunch. Andrew has an instinctual urge to always be a gentleman and to be the one paying, but he forces himself to say, “Thank you,” instead.
He stops her before they leave the stage. “Do you mind if we go through the theatre? I haven’t really seen it yet.” She doesn’t mind and they take the long way out of the building, through the costume rails and make-up tables filling backstage and down a corridor lined with posters from previous shows.
“Oh, this is amazing,” Andrew says, stopping in front of a 1973 poster for The Crucible, framed but still faded at the edges. Sally’s name is printed proudly across the bottom.
“I bet that feels like the Middle Ages to you,” Sally says.
“Not at all,” Andrew demurs then drifts on to the next poster. There’s Rocky Horror and Sweet Charity and Andrew’s grinning by the time he reaches a much more modern poster for something called The Squid and The Whale. He’s never heard of it and he’s about to move on when his eye is caught by the words printed along the bottom.
Staring: Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney and Jesse Eisenberg!
Andrew blinks, stares, but that’s still what it says.
“Andrew, honey?” Sally asks, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Andrew reaches up and traces the name, Jesse’s name, printed clearly across the poster for anyone to see. It could be someone else, obviously, but it isn’t a common name. “Who - ?” he tries to ask.
Sally leans in, reading where Andrew’s pointing. “Jesse Eisenberg? Oh he was great. Do you know him?”
“I, um. Maybe?” Andrew says faintly. “My age? Curly hair? Lovely blue eyes?”
Sally looks curiously at him after that last one, but all she says is, “That sounds like him. He was a really nice kid. He and I did a couple of plays together back in the day. You seen him at auditions or something? I thought he didn’t act any more.”
“No,” Andrew tells her. “Not at auditions. What, what happened?” He feels like he’s betraying Jesse, like he should ask him himself, but he can’t wait to know. If something terrible happened to stop Jesse acting then he has to know right now.
Sally sighs sadly. “I wish I knew. He was such a talented kid. Everyone thought he’d go far, he even made a couple of movies and then he just quit. I heard he writes plays or something now.”
“That’s a shame,” Andrew says quietly. His mind is reeling.
“It is,” she says, sounding genuinely sad. She gives Andrew a long look. “But if you do know him, you tell him he’s always welcome down here. We all miss him.”
“Yes,” Andrew agrees. “I will.” He’s not sure if he will at all. “Um, lunch?”
“Oh, sure, sure.” Sally puts a hand in the centre of Andrew’s back, guiding him past the rest of the posters, stopping now and then to point out her particular favourites.
Andrew takes a deep breath and forces himself to concentrate on what she’s saying rather than thinking about Jesse. It’s pretty much impossible. Jesse made it as an actor, just like Andrew is desperate to do, and now he sits at home knitting random strangers socks and locked in epic struggles with his devil cat. Andrew isn’t sure how he’s going to wait until the end of the day to find out why.
Jesse opens the door as soon as Andrew knocks. He’s smiling and he even lets Wednesday poke her head out from between his ankles and sniff at Andrew’s feet.
“Hi,” he says, twisting his hands in the hem of his t-shirt. He looks pleased to see Andrew and Andrew doesn’t know how to start the conversation they need to have.
“Hello.” Andrew tries to smile at Jesse like he always does, but Jesse still frowns, drawing the door a little closer to himself.
“Is something wrong?” Jesse absently pets Wednesday when she jumps up at his leg but his eyes don’t leave Andrew’s face.
“Can I come in?” Andrew asks.
Jesse steps back a little but doesn’t give Andrew room to follow him. “That depends,” he says. “If you’re about to tell me that you didn’t mean to kiss me last night and that you never want to see me again then, no, I’d rather we did that in the hallway.”
Now Andrew can smile and mean it. “Jesse,” he says, putting his hand on the door, which is closing millimetre by millimetre as he watches. “I definitely meant to kiss you last night and I want to see you every minute of every day.”
The door stops closing. “So, what’s wrong?”
Andrew bites his lip. “Let me in?”
Jesse doesn’t exactly fling the door open in welcome, but he steps back, picking Wednesday up and watching silently as Andrew squeezes past. Like Andrew’s flat, the front door leads straight into living room, but unlike Andrew’s flat, the living room is tidy and neat and well-furnished.
There are bookcases along every wall except one where an old-fashioned record player sits next to a computer table holding a surprisingly modern-looking Mac and a pile of books and papers. One corner of the room has obviously been given over to the cats - well, that or Jesse secretly enjoys sleeping in rolls of blankets and playing with the toys Andrew bought which are scattered all over.
“I like your flat,” Andrew says, honestly, more pleased than is probably appropriate to get to see inside.
“Would you like some tea?” Jesse asks. He’s holding Wednesday like a shield in front of his chest and Andrew suspects that if he lets Jesse go to the kitchen to make tea, he’ll never get him back.
“No, I’m fine,” he says. “Come and sit down?”
Jesse does, but he sticks firmly to the far corner of his sofa. Andrew sighs and doesn’t try to crowd him, just strokes Wednesday’s sleek back when she wriggles out of Jesse’s arms and pads across the sofa cushions to Andrew.
Jesse pulls his feet up onto the sofa and wraps his arms around his legs. Andrew feels awful for making him worry; he could probably be handling this better, but he’s still too thrown to be able to think clearly.
“I started rehearsals today,” he says, watching Jesse nod. “Do you, um. I don’t know that I mentioned which theatre company I was joining?” Jesse shakes his head so Andrew tells him and watches all the colour drain out of Jesse’s face.
“Oh,” Jesse says softly. “I’m guessing they still have those posters up?” At Andrew’s nod, he presses his cheek against the top of his knees for a moment before gathering himself up and looking Andrew in the eye. “I was going to tell you.”
“When?” Andrew asks, rougher than he intends. He shakes his head quickly, holding out a hand. “No, sorry, I didn’t mean that. It’s none of my business; you didn’t have to tell me at all.”
Jesse smiles, faint and humourless. “But I should have. You were auditioning and you talk about acting all the time, it’s not like it wasn’t relevant.”
Andrew’s hand is still extended into the space between so he touches the top of Jesse’s knee, stroking the soft fabric of his pyjama bottoms. “Did something horrible happen?” he asks, softly. He honestly can’t think of anything bad enough to make him turn his back on acting, and the idea that something happened to Jesse makes him feel a little sick.
Jesse shrugs, a jerky wobble. “I’m going to make that tea,” he says and jumps up.
Andrew sighs and follows him into the kitchen. “Jesse,” he says patiently. “Just tell me to mind my own business, if you want.”
Jesse turns around from the kettle. He has one of those old-fashioned ones that you put on the hob; everyone in New York seems to, except Andrew who’s sure he’d scald himself irreparably if he tried.
“It was terrible,” Jesse says, leaning back against the counter and looking across the kitchen, eyes locked on the floor just in front of Andrew’s feet. “The plays were okay, but then I started making movies and everyone, everyone started to recognise me. They wanted me to do interviews and tell them stuff about myself and people stopped me on the streets and took my picture when I was in line in Starbucks and - ” Jesse folds his arm tight across his chest. “You can laugh at me if you want. I know it’s not normal to be freaked out by all that stuff.”
He looks miserable. Andrew doesn’t even stop to think, just crosses the room and wraps his arms around him, resting his head on Jesse’s shoulder. Jesse stays stiff and embarrassed in his arms for so long that Andrew almost lets go, then he shudders and presses close, pulling Andrew against him.
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?” he asks.
“No!” Andrew says immediately. “No, of course not.” He strokes Jesse’s back. “But is it, just - ? You didn’t like being recognised, so you stopped acting?” It’s nothing like the traumas Andrew has been imagining and he tries to wrap his mind around how much it must have bothered Jesse.
Jesse pulls back but stays within Andrew’s reach. “I have an anxiety disorder,” he says. “You may have noticed.”
Andrew scratches the back of his neck. “And that’s why you don’t go outside? Because if freaks you out that badly if people recognise you?”
Jesse smiles faintly. “I do go outside,” he says, “I keep telling you that. Just, um. Usually early in the morning or on rainy Sundays?”
“God, Jesse,” Andrew mutters.
“Don’t.” Jesse holds up a hand. “I’m happy like this, I’m fine. I started acting because I was crazy bad at being me in front of other people, but I didn’t love it or anything, not like you do.”
“I just - ” Andrew tries helplessly.
“Don’t,” Jesse repeats, starting to sound cross. “You’re going to offer to fix me or something. I don’t need fixing.”
Andrew holds up both hands, mirroring Jesse. “Of course you don’t,” he says quickly. “I’m sorry. I’m getting this all wrong, aren’t I?”
Jesse shakes his head, but he looks sad. “It’s okay. It’s okay, but. Please don’t look at me like I’m broken.” His voice sounds shaky and all Andrew’s wanted to do since he discovered Jesse existed was try to make him happier. He’d thought he was getting good at it, but apparently he really wasn’t.
“I don’t think you’re broken,” Andrew promises. “I think you’re incredible.”
Jesse laughs quietly. “Can we have that tea now?” he asks. “I’m trying to use it as an excuse to avoid this conversation and you won’t let me.”
“Sorry,” Andrew says quickly. “How about I go back into the living room and commune with your cats and we pretend I never mentioned any of this?” It’s not what Andrew wants to do, but it’s obviously what Jesse wants so Andrew will give it to him.
Jesse exhales, looking relieved. “Yes,” he says, “Thank you.”
Jesse doesn’t ask Andrew to leave so Andrew ends up staying to dinner. It’s not until after they’ve eaten and Andrew has Wednesday curled up on one side of him, Orwell trying to eat his feet, and Jesse resting against his other side that Andrew looks across the room and realises, “You don’t have a TV.”
Jesse laughs softly. “No,” he agrees. He turns a little, propping his chin on Andrew’s shoulder and pressing his evening-stubbled jaw against Andrew’s cheek. It makes Andrew feel soft and shivery.
“What, what do you do instead?” Andrew asks, tipping his head a little, rasping their cheeks together.
“I knit socks for strangers with cold toes,” Jesse says, “And read books and play with my cats and I spend a lot of my time writing.” His voice turns teasing in a way Andrew’s never heard before. “Oh and sometimes I work at seducing the cute British boy next door.”
Oh god, Andrew wants to be seduced right now. “Really?” he manages. “How’s that working out for you?”
Jesse puts his hand on Andrew’s jaw. “Well, I hope?”
“Fuck, yes,” Andrew says and turns toward him, leaning in for a kiss. Jesse kisses him harder than he did last night, more urgency behind it and Andrew wonders if he caused that, if by bringing up Jesse’s past, he’s somehow scared Jesse in to thinking this might not last. He really hopes not; he wants this to last forever.
“Shh,” Andrew whispers against Jesse’s mouth, trying to gentle the kiss. He lies back, pulling Jesse down with him. Wednesday mews and leaps out of the way and they both stop to apologise to her before Jesse rests his weight against Andrew’s chest, legs slotting together.
Jesse pulls away, kissing the side of Andrew’s face, the skin behind his ear. “I don’t know why you... It makes no sense for you to want me.”
There are so many things Andrew wants to say to that that he’s temporarily speechless. “Because you’re gorgeous,” he finally manages, “And clever and funny and amazing.” He squeezes his hands between them, toying with the hem of Jesse’s shirt. “Can I take your jumper off?”
“Yes,” Jesse says, sitting up and helping Andrew to pull it up over his head. He’s flushed and dishevelled when he emerges. “And I wasn’t actually fishing for complements, you know.”
“I know.” Jesse’s skin is right in front of him now and Andrew can’t look away. He slides his palms up Jesse’s chest, thumbs his nipples and grins when Jesse shivers. Jesse’s chest is smooth, his skin soft and he tastes clean and lightly salty when Andrew licks a nipple into his mouth.
“Andrew,” Jesse groans, carding his hands through Andrew’s hair like he really wants to pull it. “Okay, you need to take some clothes off, too.”
“Gladly,” Andrew tells him. “How many of them?”
Jesse’s eyes are dark, wicked in a way Andrew wouldn’t have expected of him. “All of them?”
Andrew goes from half- to fully hard in the time it takes Jesse to suck his bottom lip into his mouth. “All right,” he says, voice coming out thick. “But do you think your cats will mind if we move to the bedroom?”
Jesse glances down at the cats; they’re looking up at him, tails swishing. Endearingly, he blushes. “Yeah, I think they’d be pretty relieved to be honest. They’ve never seen - ” He cuts himself off and Andrew tries hard not to react to the implication that Jesse hasn’t brought anyone home with him for at least as long as he’s had these particular cats.
Andrew pulls him down into another kiss then pushes against his shoulder. “Come on, then. Take me to bed.”
Jesse’s bedroom is almost as neat as his living room. There are more books on the floor but less cat toys in the corners, which Andrew takes about three seconds to notice before they’re pushing each out of their clothes and tumbling down onto the bed.
Andrew wants to kiss every part of Jesse he can reach, wants to pull the duvet over them both and promise Jesse’s that he’s safe, that he can talk to Andrew about anything that’s ever worrying him and Andrew will never judge him.
He can’t though, not right now; he doesn’t want to see Jesse shut down again.
“What’s wrong?” Jesse asks. He’s curled against Andrew’s side, kissing his hip and the top of his thigh.
Andrew shakes himself. This isn’t something he wants to miss. “Nothing,” he says. He bends his knee, giving Jesse better access when Jesse crawls between his legs and starts to kiss the inside of his thighs. “That feels fantastic.”
Jesse kisses down to Andrew’s calf, then back up the other leg. “Your legs go on for miles,” he says, “it’s ridiculous.”
Part of Andrew thinks that this is the wrong way around: he wants to be the one exploring all of Jesse’s body, learning how he tastes and what makes him groan, but this feels too good to ask Jesse to stop. Andrew will take his turn soon, he reassures himself, then closes his eyes, moaning when Jesse sucks the tip of his cock into his mouth.
“Jesse,” Andrew chokes, curling his knees up toward his chest because it feels so good. Jesse puts his hand on Andrew’s ankle bone, stroking consolingly while his other hand cups Andrew’s balls, thumb sliding down to rub carefully at his perineum. It’s too good, too much and Andrew can’t help the noises he’s making, the way he’s trying and failing not to writhe around the bed.
Jesse pulls back with a slow, gut-wrenching drag, thumb still rubbing behind Andrew’s balls. “Jeez, you’re hot,” he breathes, sliding forward for a quick, hard kiss before ducking back between Andrew’s legs and licking wetly down his cock, sucking Andrew’s balls into his mouth, one then the other.
“Oh, shit,” Andrew forces out brokenly and starts to shake, grabbing blindly for any part of Jesse in reach, finding his hand and clinging tight while he comes hard.
Andrew feels weak after, boneless and sleepy. He laughs breathlessly while Jesse licks his stomach clean. His skin feels sharp and oversensitive, tingling under every touch. “I think you killed me,” he mumbles, amused by the way his words slur, out of his control.
Jesse crawls into his line of sight. He’s laughing at him, but Andrew doesn’t care. Jesse’s lips are flushed dark and swollen, and Andrew’s cock tries to react to that. It’s too soon and he half-laughs, half-whimpers, pulling Jesse close enough to kiss and press himself full-length against.
“So you really like blowjobs?” Jesse asks, stroking a hand down Andrew’s side and curling around his hip.
Andrew shudders, pushing closer still. There’s no closer to go, but that doesn’t stop him. “Mostly I really like you,” he confesses, not really a confession at all because Jesse must know that by now.
Jesse kisses him quickly. “You too,” he says, barely a whisper and Andrew wonders if he wasn’t supposed to hear. Jesse presses his thumb into the tender skin behind Andrew’s hipbone, reeling him in. He brushes his mouth against Andrew’s ear and Andrew has the feeling that he wants to whisper something dirty to him but can’t bring himself to.
“What?” Andrew asks, rolling onto his back and pulling Jesse with him.
Jesse’s face goes hot against Andrew’s throat and his shakes his head, but he still says, “I wanted to ask, if you like blowjobs that much, how do you feel about fucking, but it’s not... It’s too soon for that. I’m not ready.”
He stares up at Andrew with huge eyes like Andrew is going to tease him or something. Andrew is categorically not going to tease him.
“No?” Andrew says. Jesse shakes his head. “Maybe some other time?” He reaches down between them, curling his hand around Jesse’s erection, which jumps in his hand.
“Yeah,” Jesse breathes. “Another time definitely. Shit. Andrew.”
Andrew rolls them onto their sides, pumping his hand slowly up and down Jesse’s cock, just trying to learn what he likes. Jesse’s eyes go wide and vacant for a second before he screws them closed, pressing his forehead against Andrew’s shoulder. Andrew pulls him close, holding him tightly and murmuring, “It’s okay, I’ve got you,” in his ear.
“Oh shit, oh god,” Jesse swears, mouth open and hot against Andrew’s bare shoulder. He trails off into a stream of mumbled words, but Andrew can pick out his name every so often and it makes his stomach roll over, slow and happy.
Andrew kisses his temple, the corner of his eye. “Yeah, it’s okay, come on,” he whispers and, a couple of strokes later, Jesse does, spilling hot and wet over Andrew’s hand.
Jesse lets all of his breath out in a rush, collapsing deeper into Andrew’s arms and Andrew just holds him, ignoring the way the cooling sweat on his skin is making him shiver or the stickiness of the come between his fingers. I love you, he thinks. It comes as a little bit of a surprise but it’s not exactly a massive shock.
Jesse is warm and solid and real right now, more than he’s ever been to Andrew before. He started off as a mystery Andrew wanted to solve and then a boy Andrew really liked but never got to touch. This is much better but it’s also much scarier because now Andrew has something tangible to lose.
“Andrew?” Jesse asks softly, rolling his head against Andrew’s chest. “You went tense.” He starts to tense up too. “What’s wrong, do you need to leave?”
“What? No.” Andrew hesitates. “Unless you want me to?”
Jesse seems to think about it carefully. “No,” he says at last. “I don’t want that.” He sounds confused, like he wasn’t expecting it. He sits up, wincing at the way their sweat chests try to stick together, and reaches down to pull the duvet up the bed. Andrew takes it from him, straightening out his side and waiting until Jesse’s done the same to pull him close again.
“We’re sticky,” Jesse protests, but he puts his head on the pillow beside Andrew’s anyway, kissing the corner of Andrew’s mouth quickly.
Andrew shrugs, unconcerned. “We could be stickier,” he says. He tries not to be too unforgivably codependent, but he really doesn’t want to stop touching Jesse yet. “Will you judge me forever if I admit I like to spoon?” he asks.
Jesse laughs, kissing Andrew again. “A bit,” he says. He strokes his hand down Andrew’s chest. “You’re clingy.”
He doesn’t sound like he really minds, but Andrew still wrinkles his nose. “Yes,” he admits. “Sorry.”
Jesse shifts onto his side, pushing at Andrew’s shoulder until Andrew does the same. Jesse settles against his back, arm around Andrew’s waist. “It’s okay,” he mumbles into Andrew’s hair, sounding sleepy. “It’s nice not to be the only neurotic one.”
Andrew laughs, putting his hand over Jesse’s and turning his face into the pillow, exhausted all of a sudden. He’s half-asleep when he feels fingers on his face, brushing his hair out of his eyes.
“Good night,” Jesse whispers, obviously thinking Andrew’s already asleep. “Don’t worry about me.”
I can’t help it, Andrew wants to say but he doesn’t manage to stay conscious long enough.
When Andrew wakes up, the room’s barely light and he groans, wanting to roll over and go back to sleep. Jesse’s gone though and that’s just not acceptable so he rolls out of bed, shivering in the early morning cold, pulling on a pair of boxers and wrapping the duvet around himself like a cape.
“Jesse?” he calls softly, padding through the flat. “Jesse, I know you didn’t run out on me.”
“I could have,” Jesse’s voice comes from the kitchen. He’s standing against the counter, holding a mug and he laughs when he sees Andrew. “I’m glad I didn’t though. I’d hate to miss the sight of you in the morning.”
Andrew mock-pouts at him. “Are you saying I’m not stunningly attractive at eight in the morning?”
Jesse just looks at him, steam from his tea drifting up over his glasses. “No, I’m not saying that,” he says, softly enough that Andrew has to drop the duvet and kiss him.
“Mm,” Jesse breathes, putting his mug down blindly and wrapping his arms around Andrew, pulling him in tight.
Andrew puts his hands on Jesse’s chest, fisting them in Jesse’s jumper which, wait. He pulls back. “You’re dressed,” he says, “Why are you dressed?”
Jesse tips his head. “Because it’s the morning? I can’t just wander around naked.”
Actually, Andrew doesn’t see why; he really likes the idea of that. “But it’s your flat,” he says. “That’s one of the rules of having your own flat.”
“Is that what you do in yours?” Jesse asks, arching an eyebrow.
Andrew grins at him, slow and wicked. “You should stay over one night,” he says, “Find out.”
Jesse doesn’t stop smiling at him, but something still shifts. He turns around, reaching for another mug from the cupboard. “I made coffee too, just for you.”
“Thank you,” Andrew says, taking it from him. “Did I say something wrong? I wasn’t trying to... Just because we - ” He waves a hand between them. “I’m not assuming anything.”
Jesse shakes his head. “Please assume,” he says quickly. “But I just, I don’t do too well sleeping places other than my own bed?” He bites his lip, looking up at Andrew with his crazily lovely blue eyes. “You’re welcome to sleep here though, whenever you like. Or not. I’m not, I’m not assuming anything either.”
Yes, there’s really no doubt about it now: Andrew is horribly in love. “How about we both agree to assume a little?” he asks once he’s kissed Jesse slowly, thoroughly, tasting warm tea on Jesse’s tongue.
Once they manage to pull away from each other, ten or so minutes later, Andrew sits down at the kitchen table and curls his hands around a fresh cup of coffee. “Why are you up so early?” he asks. He nods his chin at the kitchen counter where Orwell and Wednesday are curled up together like an incredibly fluffy dinner service. “Even the cats are still asleep.”
Jesse sits down opposite him, bare feet brushing Andrew’s. "I wasn't sure what time you needed to wake up,” he says. “I called the theatre to find out what time they wanted you but I, I didn't want them to recognise my voice so I tried to put on a British accent only I'm not sure how well that worked, so, um. If they ask, pretend I'm your weird cousin Burt or someone?”
“Weird cousin Burt?” Andrew echoes, laughing. “I’m shocked and appalled that you think I only have one weird cousin.” He stops laughing, realising the implications of what Jesse just said. “So if you don’t even want to talk to the guys at the theatre, I suppose the chances of you coming to see me in the play are quite low?”
Jesse winces. “Andrew.”
“No, no, it's okay I was just checking.” It's not really okay, it's actually incredibly disappointing. Andrew may have to be a grown-up about it, though. Unless. “Have you tried, I don’t know, seeing someone about your anxiety or something?”
Jesse sighs. “Andrew,” he says slowly. “Listen. I have two psychiatrists and a weekend therapist already. And I’m fine. I function, I look after my cats, I have a job I love which some people even think I'm fairly good at... I just - ” He waves a hand jerkily. “I need you to stop worrying about this, please.”
Andrew bites his lip. “Sorry, I'm sorry.” Jesse’s foot is no longer resting against Andrew’s and Andrew’s feet feel cold. “I've annoyed you, I’m so sorry.”
“No,” Jesse says quietly. “It’s okay.” He stands up, taking their mugs to the sink. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?”
I don’t want to, Andrew thinks. “Okay,” he says softly. “Will I - . Can I see you tonight?”
Jesse doesn’t turn from the sink. “If you want.”
Andrew spends all day at rehearsals feeling horrible and guilty. It wasn’t exactly a big fight, but he knows he hurt Jesse’s feelings and he’s sad that Jesse has potentially spent all day being mad at him.
“What’s the matter with you?” Armie, the guy playing Andrew’s brother, asks at the end of the day, slinging a friendly arm around Andrew’s shoulder. “It’s going great. You’ve got the accent down.”
Andrew manages a smile, although Armie is so fucking tall though that Andrew’s facial features probably look like dots on the surface of the moon anyway. “It’s nothing,” he says. “Just had a bit of a row with someone important.”
Armie hisses between his teeth. “Well, that sucks,” he says. “Have you tried flowers?”
Andrew shakes his head. “I don’t know if he likes flowers,” he says, but that gives him an idea and he takes the long way home, wandering down backstreets, looking in secondhand bookshops and hoping the perfect apology present will jump out at him. He and Jesse have a history of buying each other things, that’s how this whole thing began, maybe it will work.
It doesn’t and he slumps against the outside of another bookshop, knocking his head against the brickwork. There’s a bric-a-brac sort of shop across the street and Andrew lets his eyes travel over the window display, feeling a bit bric-y and brac-y himself.
Then he sees it, the absolute perfect present and he springs up from the wall, hurrying inside.
“Wait,” Jesse says when he opens the door and Andrew immediately starts apologising. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Andrew says again. “I didn’t mean to overstep or make you feel bad or anything. It’s your life and of course you know what’s best and, oh, here, I bought you something.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the lopsided, blue and white knitted tea cosy that called to him from the bric-a-brac shop. “It’s for your teapot. You make a lot of tea and you knit things and...” He decides to stop talking right now. He’s normally much better at things like this.
“Did we have a fight? Was that a fight?” Jesse asks, his eyebrows drawing together in a frown. “Did I miss an entire day of freaking out about us having had a fight?”
Abruptly, it feels like Andrew is a million stone lighter. It’s not like he thought Jesse was never going to speak to him again or anything, but it’s so much better to know that Jesse was never cross with him at all.
“No,” Andrew says quickly. “No, there was absolutely, definitely no fight.” He reaches for the tea cosy. “Let me just take that back...”
“No.” Jesse snatches it out of Andrew’s reach, holding it up and smiling at it. “No, I love it. And I...” He bites his lip, blushing. “And it’s far too soon to say the rest of that sentence, so I, um, won’t.”
Andrew’s stomach burns pleasantly. “Okay,” he says. He puts his hands on Jesse’s hips. “Can we say that was our first fight and agree to never have one again?”
Jesse kisses the corner of Andrew’s mouth, making Andrew’s lips tingle. “Works for me,” he agrees. He stops before kissing Andrew properly. “But you’re not mad either, right? About me not coming to see your play?”
“No,” Andrew says quickly. “No, honestly. I was thinking actually, Justin has a video camera. He showed it to me randomly in the hall the other day.”
“I really can’t say I’m surprised.” Jesse sighs affectionately. “Did he try to get you to star in one of his special movies?”
Andrew makes a face. “No, it was something to do with a documentary about squirrel mating rituals? I don’t know. The point is, maybe I could borrow it or maybe he could come.” He kisses Jesse since Jesse isn’t kissing him. “Would you like to see a really shitty home video version of my play, Jesse?”
Jesse takes a deep breath. “Yes,” he says, sounding relieved and Andrew wonders if he was actually worried about it. “Yes, that would be perfect.”
When Andrew gets home a couple of weeks later, Jesse is waiting for him on the front steps. He’s so unused to seeing Jesse outside of their building that he almost walks past him.
“Oh, hi, hello,” Andrew says, pulling up short and automatically wrapping his arms around Jesse’s waist.
Jesse laughs and leans into him, kissing his lips lightly. “Hi. Look at me, I’m outside in daylight.”
“You are,” Andrew agrees, happily. Jesse is wrapped up in a hoodie and a coat and gloves and scarf but Andrew isn’t that easily put off; he squirms his hands under the hem of Jesse’s coat, flattening them against his back. “You look lovely in daylight.”
Jesse shivers, pulling away from Andrew’s hands then pushing back into them. “You’re freezing,” he scolds, “Do I need to knit you more gloves?”
“I’m already wearing the gloves you made me,” Andrew tells him. “But feel free to make my a hat or a scarf or something. I’ve never seen you knit; I bet you’re super hot with a pair of knitting needles.”
“Hot like an arthritic grandmother,” Jesse agrees, nodding. The early winter sun is bright in Jesse’s hair, haloing his curls and Andrew reaches up automatically, stroking his fingers over the top of Jesse’s head, trying to see if it’s warm.
“What?” Jesse asks, ducking his head. “Do I have a bee in my hair?”
“Why would you have a bee in your hair?” Andrew frowns. Then realises he could have said something much better there. “I mean, if you had a bee in your hair, I would save you!”
Jesse laughs, rolling his eyes upward, trying to see what Andrew is doing to his hair. “You’re very strange,” he says.
Andrew shrugs. “You knew that. The first time you met me, I was arguing with a tumble dryer.”
Jesse’s smile was already affectionate, but somehow it gets fonder still. “The first time I met you, I wanted to bring you a blanket and wrap you up because you just looked so cold.”
“I would have been fine with that,” Andrew tells him, and then he can’t help himself, he has to kiss Jesse again. “Now, Mr Escaping Eisenberg, tell me what you’re doing out here?”
Jesse’s expression turns, not quite shy but something closer to it, closer than Andrew has seen for a while. “I wanted to show you something,” he says.
Andrew looks around. “What something?”
“Not here,” Jesse says. He drags his hand down Andrew’s arm and slides his fingers in between Andrew’s. “We need to take a walk.”
The idea of a walk probably shouldn’t be as thrilling as it is, but Andrew has never been outside with Jesse; he’s excited by the prospect.
“Okay,” he says, swinging their joined hands. “Lead on.”
Jesse walks with his shoulders hunched up a little toward his ears and he tenses when cars pass by, but his hand stays firm in Andrew’s, warm through his gloves and he hums, listening, while Andrew tells him about his day.
“Sally’s the one who taught me to knit,” Jesse says suddenly out of nowhere and in the middle of Andrew’s anecdote about the fight Sally got into with the producer about mice in the auditorium. (She thinks that should be encouraged; David really doesn’t.)
Andrew doesn’t mind being interrupted; he much prefers listening to Jesse than to himself. “Cool, that’s very cool. Sally doesn’t strike me as a knitter.”
Jesse laughs. “She’s not, she’s terrible at it. It was while we were rehearsing for the last play I did. I was promoting some movie at the same time and I was freaking out all the time, so she sat me down and pulled out this ball of yarn that her grandkids had given her and it, I don’t know, it calmed me down.”
Andrew squeezes Jesse’s fingers. Sometimes, Jesse just blurts out things like that and Andrew never knows what to say. He’s not allowed to worry about Jesse, so he mostly settles for hugging him. Which he probably shouldn’t do on the pavement.
“I’m hugging you in my head, right now,” he says.
They stop at a crossroads and Jesse shoots Andrew a quick, sly look under his eyelashes. “That’s cool,” he says deadpan, “I’m blowing you in mine.”
Andrew chokes and trips over his feet, but it’s okay, Jesse’s holding his hand and just uses Andrew’s forward momentum to drag him across the road between two zig-zagging taxis. Maybe this is why Jesse doesn’t go outside; he doesn’t actually know the Highway Code.
“Where are we going?” Andrew asks when they’re safely on the other side of the road. “Is it exciting?”
Jesse wrinkles his nose. “Not really. I mean, um. It’s probably not going to be exciting for you at all actually. Sorry, I don’t know, I just wanted you to be here, but...”
“Jesse,” Andrew tells him seriously, “Whatever it is, I want to be there.” He’s starting to worry, just a little, about what it might be, so he’s completely derailed when Jesse suddenly veers off and drags him into a large, multi-floored bookshop.
“It’s, um, it’s just.” Jesse hasn’t let go of Andrew’s hand so it’s hard to miss the way his fingertips have gone cold and his palm is sweaty.
He leads Andrew over to the New Releases shelves along the righthand side of the shop and then sort of hovers awkwardly.
“What am I - ?” Andrew asks, eyes scanning the books, looking for a clue. His gaze glides over one set of books, black with silver writing then screeches to a halt and jumps back. “Jesse,” he breathes, picking up the nearest copy and staring. 30 Minutes or Less it says on the cover then, underneath but not much smaller, J A Eisenberg.
“It’s, um.” In Andrew’s peripheral vision, he’s aware of Jesse shifting from foot to foot. “I’ve sold plays before, obviously, but I always thought people were just being nice? Then I got bored last winter and sort of accidentally wrote a novel and Emma made me show it to my agent and, yeah. Published.”
The book feels thick and heavy in Andrew’s hands. He’s amazed and stunned and stupidly proud because this is his boyfriend; his boyfriend wrote a book.
“Andrew?” Jesse asks uncertainly. “You don’t have to say anything or, uh, anything. I just, they lifted the embargo today and I wanted you to see...”
Andrew whirls around on the spot and kisses Jesse right there in the middle of the shop, one hand on Jesse’s shoulder, the other carefully holding the book against his back.
“Mmph,” Jesse says, pulling back and looking some mix between scandalised and turned-on. “We’re in a bookstore, you can’t do that here.”
Andrew kisses him again, but just quickly this time. “You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met,” he says, meaning it.
Jesse blushes. “It’s just a book,” he mutters.
Andrew rolls his eyes. “Right, because just anyone could write a book.” He grabs Jesse’s hand again. “Come on, where do I go to pay?”
“Pay?” Jesse asks, digging his heels in. “What, no, you don’t have to buy it. I just wanted you to see it.”
“And now I’ve seen it,” Andrew tells him patiently, “do you think there’s any chance I’m going to put it down?” He lowers his voice, conspiratorially. “I know the author, you know. I’m hoping for a private signing.”
“I’m both distressed and impressed by how dirty you managed to make that sound,” Jesse tells him but stops resisting, following Andrew around the shop, looking for the cash desk. “Andrew, seriously, they’ve sent me copies to give out to my friends and, um, you know, other important people. I will give you a copy if you really want to own it.”
“I don’t want to own it, I want to read it,” Andrew says, ignoring the rest of Jesse’s protests.
“Oh god,” Jesse says faintly. Andrew flashes a grin at him and then passes the book to the cashier. He feels Jesse tensing beside him, like he thinks Andrew’s going to tell the girl that Jesse’s the author. To be fair, that is the sort of thing that Andrew might do, but not to Jesse, not when he knows how much Jesse hates recognition.
“We just got this in today,” the girl tells him while they’re waiting for the machine to accept his card.
“I know,” Andrew says happily. “Have you read it?”
She shakes her head. “Not yet. My manager has though and he said it’s awesome.”
Andrew does his best not to look at Jesse but he can’t help grinning. “Awesome,” he echoes taking his card and the book from her.
When they’re walking out of the shop, he leans into Jesse and whispers, “Apparently you’re awesome.”
“Shut up,” Jesse mutters, but he’s smiling widely enough that Andrew can’t see anything but dimples.
Two Months Later
“Oh my god,” Jesse says, coming out onto the balcony and shielding his eyes. “Come down from there, are you insane?”
Andrew kicks his feet against the balcony bars and stays where he is, sitting on the railings with his back against the wall of their building. “I’m method acting; one day I may need to be a pigeon.”
Jesse shakes his head and grabs Andrew’s hand like he’s trying to stop him plummeting to his doom. “‘And aspiring young actor Andrew Garfield falls to his death just hours before making his off-Broadway debut...’” He makes a face. “Ugh, actually, pretend I didn’t say that, that’s too horrific to think about.”
Squeezing Jesse’s hand, Andrew hops down onto the balcony and pulls on Jesse’s collar, tugging him into a kiss. “I have to leave in a minute,” he says regretfully. It’s opening night and he should be at the theatre right now but he begged and pleaded to be allowed home for lunch since Jesse won’t be there tonight.
“Are you nervous?” Jesse asks, fingers curled tightly around Andrew’s hips.
Andrew tips his head, considering. “Not really?” When Jesse makes a disbelieving face at him, he laughs and holds up his hands. “I’m really not. Mostly I’m excited and a little bit relieved that we finally get to stop rehearsing. And I know that even if it’s a disaster and the absolute end of my career, I’ll still get to come home to you after, which would make up for a lot.”
Jesse shakes his head slowly, looking at Andrew like he thinks he’s crazy, but loves him anyway. It’s really all Andrew needs, honestly. “It’s not going to be a disaster,” he says. “I mean, seriously, I did okay as an actor and you’re way better than me.”
Andrew opens his mouth to argue then closes it again. He’s managed to get hold of the films Jesse did way back when and Jesse is amazing in them, even better than Andrew could have imagined and Andrew is thoroughly besotted so he’d already imagined him being pretty good. Jesse knows Andrew has seen them, but prefers it when Andrew pretends he hasn’t.
“But if it is a disaster, will you run away to London with me?” Andrew presses.
“Yes,” Jesse says straight away which is surprising since Andrew had expected a don’t be so silly type of non-answer.
“Ugh,” Andrew groans, “Well now I want to stay here and kiss you forever. Why did I decide that being employed was a good thing?”
“Because when you’re unemployed you form ill-advised attachments to your weird neighbours,” Jesse tells him. He glances down at his watch and frowns. “Damn, do you have to go right now? I, um. I got you a break-a-leg gift but it’s not here yet.”
As if on cue, Andrew’s mobile starts to ring. “If this is the theatre, I’m going to have to go,” he says apologetically then looks down. It’s Emma’s number on the display, which is weird since normally she just stands at the bottom of the fire escape and yells for whichever tenant she wants to speak to.
“Andrew, sweetie, are you dressed?” Emma says. “Unless you’re having sex at this exact moment, you need to come down here right now. The Doctor is on the sidewalk with a couple of companions. I asked if he wanted help parking his TARDIS but I think he thought I was hitting on him.”
“The doctor...” Andrew starts to echo then trails off. He glances at Jesse’s who’s looking a little overly innocent then leans over the balcony, looking down at the street.
“Fall to your death,” Jesse mutters sadly, curling his hand in the back of Andrew’s belt.
Andrew shoots a smile over his shoulder at Jesse but doesn’t stop leaning out further, searching. Matt’s pretty easy to spot: standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to Andrew’s building, wearing what looks like a green-checked knee-length coat and a tartan trilby.
“Matt!” Andrew yells, waving frantically.
He remembers he’s still holding the phone only when Emma mutters, “Ow, loud.”
“Sorry,” Andrew says, quickly. “Don’t let him go anywhere, I’ll be down in two seconds.” He hangs up and lets the pressure of Jesse’s steady grip on his belt pull him back and turns around, waving his hands excitedly at Jesse. “My best friend’s downstairs!”
There’s a complete lack of surprise on Jesse’s face which Andrew will examine later, but right now all he does in concentrate on what Jesse’s saying, which is, “What are you waiting for? Go see him.”
Andrew goes to run through Jesse’s flat but hesitates. “Will you - ”
Jesse waves him on. “I’ll be right behind you,” he promises.
Andrew takes the stairs so quickly that it’s a miracle he doesn’t break his neck and he’s out of breath by the time he reaches the bottom. Which doesn’t stop him at all from stumbling into Matt and exchanging laughing, backslapping, bone-crushing hugs.
“I can’t believe you’re here.” Andrew beams, squeezing Matt’s shoulders. “I thought you had to work.”
“Yes, well.” Matt clears his throat, looking down at his Converse. “That may have been a tincy-wincy lie. Oh! But.” He wafts his hands at Andrew. “I’m not actually your surprise. Your actual surprises are standing right behind you.”
“Right behind - ?” Andrew whirls around. His parents are leaning against a car, sharing a fondly exasperated look with each other, presumably because he didn’t notice them right away. Andrew doesn’t even waste time on words, just makes a strangled sound and throws himself at them.
He catches his dad around the chest and his mum around the waist, clutching them both and pressing his face into the merged space where their shoulders press together. “Oh my god,” Andrew breathes, greedily inhaling the scent of his dad’s aftershave because he hasn’t seen them for months and he’s been mutedly homesick the whole time.
“You didn’t think we were going to let you have your Broadway debut without us, did you?” his dad asks, laughing in his ear.
“Off-Broadway,” Andrew feels like he should point out. He pulls back, still greedily drinking them in. “But, but the cost?” They’d looked into flights but it had just been too much money to justify both his parents flying all that way.
“Yeah, um.” Andrew hears from the top of the front steps followed by the sound of Jesse clearing his throat.
Andrew finally manages to wrench himself away from his parents and turns around. Jesse’s standing in the doorway behind him, hands shoved in his pockets and a private smile playing around his lips. “Did you do this?” Andrew asks, bounding up the steps and grabbing his hands. “You did, didn’t you?”
Jesse shrugs, but he’s a terrible liar so Andrew knows that he did. He doesn’t know why and it’s far, far too much, but he’s too happy to say any of that.
“Thank you,” he manages, feeling choked.
Jesse wriggles one hand out of Andrew’s grip and splays it out over his chest. “You should have people who love you there to watch you be brilliant.”
Matt awws, turning it into a cough, which reminds Andrew that he’s going to get to introduce Jesse to his family. He’s been looking forward to that but he wasn’t sure when he’d ever get a chance.
“Parents,” he says, spinning around on one heel and dragging Jesse around with him. “You should meet Jesse. Jesse is amazing.”
His mum laughs while his dad looks like Andrew’s enthusiasm is just too much after a long flight. Andrew isn’t worried though; his dad is going to love Jesse.
“We’ve spoken on the phone a few times,” Andrew’s mum says. “Jesse called us out of the blue to arrange for us to come.” She comes up to them, holding her hand out for Jesse to shake. “It really was incredibly generous of you.”
Jesse starts to look uncomfortable. “Yeah. No. I mean. Um, they gave me a stupidly huge advance for my book and it was do this or donate it all to the ASPCA and they already think I’m using them as some kind of tax relief.”
Andrew’s mum gets a look on her face like she’s planning to adopt Jesse on the spot and Andrew physically cannot stop his face stretching into the widest smile ever. This is the best day.
Andrew’s dad shakes Jesse’s hand too, clapping him on the arm and saying, “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other before we head down to the theatre, son.”
Jesse goes a blotchy sort of pink like he wants to blush over being called ‘son’ and wants to blanch at the idea of spending the afternoon getting to know Andrew’s parents. Andrew hugs him sideways, just because.
“Oh,” Matt says, leaning close and peering at Jesse, “I can absolutely see why Andrew is so smitten with you.”
“Um,” Jesse says in return. “Did you know your face is all over the subway?”
Matt laughs, stepping back and rubbing the back of his neck. “Actually, yes,” he says, “Frightfully embarrassing, really.”
Jesse looks intrigued, like he wants to rank Matt on the sliding scale of exactly how embarrassing he finds notoriety, but before anyone can say anything else, Andrew’s phone buzzes.
He glances down at the text and swears, apologises to his parents, and swears again. “I am apparently very late and my director is contemplating chopping me up into little pieces and serving me as a snack in the interval.” He looks helplessly at Matt and his parents. “I have to go. I really don’t want to go.”
His mum pats him on the arm. “We’ll see you at the theatre tonight and we’re here for a few days, so there’ll be plenty of time to spend together. Jesse helped us find a lovely little hotel around the corner.”
Andrew really wants to tell her to check that her lovely little hotel has bars on the windows, but he’s too busy thinking wow because Jesse went to so much effort for him. He hugs Matt and his parents quickly, promising to save them seats near the front then he grabs Jesse’s hand and makes him walk him down the steps, a little way away from the others.
“I’m sorry you’re going to be stuck with my parents,” he whispers. “They’re very chatty; will you be okay?”
“What?” Jesse asks. “I mean sure, sure, I cope with you, don’t I?” He’s teasing but he still sounds distracted.
“What’s wrong?” Andrew asks, concerned.
Jesse takes a deep breath then says, all in a rush, “I’ll, um. I’ll. If you really, really want me there, I’ll come. I’m sure Emma has some prozac or something somewhere or - ”
Andrew shakes his head. Jesse’s hands are trembling and he’s shifting on his feet like he wants to run up to his flat and bolt the door. “Maybe some other time?” he says, because he appreciates the gesture but he knows he’d never be able to concentrate if he was busy worrying about Jesse having a panic attack in the third row. “How about when I do one of your plays?”
Jesse laughs, looking so relieved that Andrew knows he gave the right answer. “I think I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than see my own plays performed but maybe... Maybe if it was you. Maybe.”
Andrew kisses him, ignoring the fact that Matt whistles and his parents laugh. He presses into Jesse, pulling him close quickly then reluctantly uncurling their hands. “I’ll see you tonight?”
Jesse nods quickly. “You should definitely come over; the cats will want to hear all about the play.”
Andrew beams at him. “Well, we can’t disappoint the cats.” He takes a couple of steps backwards down the street, keeping his eyes on Jesse as long as he can before accidentally walking into someone. Then he turns around, thinking fuck it, today's a good day, he's allowed to grin stupidly all the way to the theatre.