“Let me drive you to the airport?” Jesse asks the next morning. He’s been awake all of ten minutes, just long enough to drag himself into the kitchen and form a lasting adoration for the cup of coffee Andrew poured him.
Usually, he’d brush his teeth and shower and dress and possibly sneak out of a window and run away rather than show someone what a disaster he is first thing in the morning, but Andrew’s leaving today; Jesse’s too sad about that to remember why appearances matter.
Andrew shakes his head. “No, it’s okay. My agent’s sending a car.” He’s dressed and standing in the space between the kitchen and the hallway, looking awkward.
Right. Of course. It’s hard for Jesse sometimes to remember that Andrew’s a big star, that he has people who will call other people when he needs a ride. Jesse looks down at his mug, feeling weird about everything again.
“Jesse?” Andrew asks. He leans against the back of Jesse’s chair, pressing his face into the side of Andrew’s neck. “You have your ‘holy fuck I’m dating a celebrity’ face on again.” He kisses Jesse’s cheek quickly. “I don’t like that face. Well, okay, that’s a lie, I like all your faces, but I like that one the least.”
Jesse feels his mouth twitch up into a smile even though he tries to hold it back. “I only have one face,” he says, pursing his lips up and turning his face to show Andrew. “See? The wind changed and it stuck like this when I was twelve.”
Andrew kisses his lips which wasn’t what Jesse intended, but he doesn’t object. They’re still kissing when there’s a knock on the door.
“I guess that’s your ride,” Jesse says, leaning away reluctantly.
Andrew looks down at his cellphone then shakes his head. “No, Shauna said she’d text so I’d know it was them.” He looks up. “You must have a visitor.” He sounds like he’s trying to be pleased about that but mostly failing.
Jesse rolls his eyes. “It’s probably Justin. Or Emma. Or maybe even Joe. It’s probably not Abigail, at least. She has some tact.”
“I don’t think I know Abigail?” Andrew asks, trailing Jesse down the stairs to the front door.
Jesse shakes his head. “No, we keep her in a box in the basement and only let her out on special occasions.” Then he feels kind of mean, because Abigail is one of the least annoying people in his life. “Or, well, that or she’s sixteen and so couldn’t come to Justin’s party.”
“Do I get to pick which answer I believe?” Andrew asks, hand on Jesse’s hip when he reaches out to unlock the door.
It occurs to Jesse that he’s still wearing ratty boxers and a stretched out t-shirt that he’s had since he was sixteen and that he almost definitely has horrific sex-hair and a giant hickey on his neck but, well, he didn’t ask anyone to knock on his door so whatever they see will be their own fault.
The person at his door isn’t anyone he recognises; it’s a guy in a sports jacket and chinos. “Jesse Eisenberg?” he asks, his eyes travelling slowly over Jesse’s from the top his hair down.
“Yes?” Jesse says and then a lot of things happen: the guy puts his hand on Jesse’s front door and shoves, Andrew snaps out a startled curse, stepping back at the same time as the guy whips a camera out from behind his back and a flashbulb goes off in Jesse’s face, so bright that he can’t see anything until after Andrew’s dragged him back out of the doorway, slamming the door behind him.
“Oh my god,” Jesse breathes, sagging back against the wall and watching yellow lights dance in front of his eyes.
Andrew stares at him through the after flashes. “There’s no way he didn’t just get a picture of the both of us, is there?” he asks helpless. Jesse doesn’t answer because he doesn’t want to lie. Andrew nods. “Right. With me... here and you looking like that and. Fuck.”
Jesse watches him tug at his hair and feels unexpectedly hollow. It’s not like he thought that Andrew was going to want to admit to the world that he was sleeping with some guy who owned some bookstore in Cobble Hill, Jesse doesn’t even want him to do that but it still smarts to have confirmation that Andrew’s definitely embarrassed by him.
“They already know you’re gay,” he tries then winces because that’s not helpful, is it?
“Right, but they don’t...” Andrew tears at his hair. “This going to be horrible for you. I’m so sorry.”
Jesse pauses, frowning. “Me?” he asks. “Why me?” Andrew just winces and it doesn’t take Jesse long to work it out. “Oh god, they know my name; they’re going to come to the store.” He cannot have paparazzi trooping through his beautiful bookstore; they’ll ruin it. “Andrew, they’re going to touch things.”
Andrew doesn’t say anything, just watches Jesse for another couple of seconds then drops his gaze, heaving a shaky sigh. He looks as miserable as he did when the story first broke and Jesse hates that; he’d thought he’d made it better but everything’s just gotten ruined again.
Andrew’s cell phone beeps and he jumps. “It’s Shauna,” he says, checking the display. “They’re here. I’ll - ” He reaches out and Jesse thinks Andrew’s going to pull him in for a kiss, but Andrew just squeezes his shoulder instead. “I am so sorry about all this, but I’m, I’m going to fix it, okay? I promise.” He looks a little wild.
Jesse wants to grab him, tell him that he wishes he could fix it for Andrew, but Andrew’s gone without a backward glance.
Two hours after Andrew leaves, Jesse gets a text:
Feb 5 10:58
Just boarding. So sorry about everything. A x
Jesse stares at it for a while, tapping his thumb against the screen for so long that Andrew’s probably already on the airplane by the time he replies.
Feb 5 11:11
Have a safe flight. I just want to make sure you know that I didn’t tell the press you were here and neither did Emma etc.
Andrew doesn’t reply. He doesn’t reply seven hours later either when he should have landed in London. By the second day, Jesse stops waiting for a reply and gets back to his regular day-to-day life. Books won’t stack themselves after all.
Days roll by into one week then two and Jesse still doesn’t hear anything from Andrew. He’s not surprised; it might be nice to be surprised, he thinks. It hurts worse, maybe, that he’s been expecting this all along.
Andrew gives an interview to some British talkshow then asks for privacy. Jesse doesn’t watch the interview and he doesn’t touch a newspaper to find out if they’re respecting Andrew’s wishes but Emma tells him that things are looking a bit better.
Just like Andrew warned Jesse they would, the press find Dust Jacket and he has to contend with a steady stream of men and women barging through, bugging him for quotes and getting their boots on his books.
That’s really not okay.
“Maybe we could booby-trap the door,” Emma muses thoughtfully, standing next to Jesse on the mezzanine and watching two journalists in ugly cars nearly rear-end each other racing for the last parking space.
“Maybe I could hide under my comforter and never, ever go out in public again,” Jesse suggests morosely. It’s possible that this might be funny in other circumstances but, in these circumstances, it’s mostly just hell.
He misses Andrew, he wants his peaceful store back, oh, and, did he mention? He really fucking misses Andrew.
“Jesse,” Emma chides. She bumps her hip against his. “If you do that, I’ll let Justin into the store unsupervised.”
Jesse rolls his eyes. “No, you wouldn’t,” he says because Emma pretends that Jesse is the only one who loves this place, but he knows that isn’t true.
The door chimes and the two idiots who nearly crashed in the parking lot barge each other through the door, making it rock on its hinges.
“Careful,” Emma snaps, while Jesse steps back and pretends to be invisible.
“Jesse,” says the first journalist, like she knows him or something. “Jesse, have you heard from Andrew lately?”
The other one tries to step in front of her, nearly hiding her behind his bushy black curls. “Yeah, Jesse, any chance he’ll be back soon?” He leans back casually, elbow nudging the travel book display and Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island thuds to the floor.
It’s not an old book or a valuable one, but it’s still a book and Jesse has had enough.
“No,” he snaps, stepping forward and glaring with all the force of these pent up emotions that he’s been pretending to himself not to have. “I don’t know where Andrew is and I don’t think he’s ever coming back, okay? So get the fuck out of my store.”
They blink at him and the woman opens her mouth with a follow-up question. Emma takes one look at Jesse’s face and clatters down the stairs, dropping one hand to each of their shoulders.
“Yeah, you should really go,” she says, pushing them backwards and through the door, “He’s about to hulk out and you really don’t want to see him when he’s literary.”
As soon as they’re gone, she turns back to Jesse with her hands on her hips, looking half impressed and half sympathetic.
“You really haven’t heard from him, huh?” she asks.
Jesse really, really can’t talk about this. It’s stupid to be this hurt, he knows that, Andrew has his own life and they hardly knew each other, not really.
He still really wants to yell at someone though.
Instead, he joins her at the bottom of the stairs and stoops to pick up the fallen book. “We should look into restocking the travel section,” is what he says. “Spring’s coming.”
Spring comes in early that year and the press finally gets bored with hanging around outside the store, getting ignored by Jesse and pelted with stale bagels by Joe.
Jesse’s phone rings early one morning when he’s staring up at the ceiling. It’s Anna and Jesse feels like he’s been sent back in time five years.
“Hey,” he says, abandoning his attempt to get the ceiling tiles to add up to an even number. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
“Morning, baby,” she says and doesn’t ask if she woke him because she’s Anna and she always knows when she hasn’t. “I’m going to be in the city this afternoon, mind if I swing by and see the store?”
“It’s your store,” Jesse says agreeably.
“Fifty percent,” she agrees, the way she always has. Sometimes, he wonders why she didn’t sell her half when she moved out, but he doesn’t want to ask, afraid of putting ideas in her head.
She arrives at the store just before lunch, looking tanned and happy like Florida agrees with her.
He doesn’t know how he looks, but she hugs him for longer than normal, kissing the corner of his mouth. “Show me around?” she asks, rather than asking what’s wrong.
Jesse manages a smile there because he loves showing people his store, even people who used to know every inch as well as he does. Anna links their arms together while he gives her the tour and Jesse doesn’t think about showing Andrew around in the middle of one drunken night.
“We had the mezzanine painted last fall,” he tells her, leading her up the steps. And this is the place where I kissed him for the first time, he thinks.
“Abigail and Emma think we need to modernise the window display. What do you think?” This window is where Andrew tucked his hands under my shirt because his fingers were cold.
“Look, I finally invested in a new cash desk. This one wants to eat my fingers, I swear.” I was standing at this counter when Andrew let me force books on him because he wanted an excuse to see me again.
“It looks awesome, Jesse,” Anna says, stopping before he can take her to see the new YA section and Abigail’s favourite arm chair. “Do you stock audio books, yet, or are you still boycotting them?”
Jesse sniffs; it’s an old argument. “I’ve never boycotted audio books. They’re great for making books accessible for people who can’t or don’t read. It’s DVDs that I am never, ever letting through this door.”
“And here I was thinking you’d found a new appreciation for actors,” Anna teases.
Jesse feels like he’s just gotten punched in the stomach. Of course she’s heard, he thinks, but god, he stupidly wasn’t expecting her to mention it.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” Anna says, squeezing the arm that she’s still holding onto. “That was stupid.” She turns to face him, cupping his face with her free hand. “I hate how sad you’re looking, Jess,” she tells him. “Anything I can do?”
Jesse shakes his head. “No,” he says too quickly. Then softens it with, “But you can buy me lunch, if you want.”
Anna does want, as he’d known she would. She’s never been able to resist trying to fix him, which is one of the main reasons why they didn’t last. He likes things better this way, if he’s honest; they’re better as friends.
They’re definitely not getting back together, Jesse thinks, swirling his wine around in his glass and watching her across the table. He’s relieved about that. It’s good to know that he can go from being blindingly in love with someone to comfortably just-friends. It means there’s hope that, at some point in the future, maybe he won’t miss Andrew quite so much.
It probably looks kind of weird that Jesse and Emma show up to Abigail’s graduation but she grins happily at them and waves from the podium, running out to meet them when it’s over with her gown trailing behind her and her cap clutched in one hand.
“Who’s running the store?” she asks breathlessly and Emma laughs, hugging her.
“Dude, don’t worry about the store, it’s graduation, you should be worrying about how shitfaced you’re going to get tonight.”
“Emma,” Jesse says, appalled. He leans in, getting a hug of his own. “Don’t listen to her, I can’t have my employees coming to work hungover.”
Abigail stills, pulling back and staring at him. “Wait,” she says, “Your employee? You’re giving me a job?”
Jesse shrugs. “Well, you’re there all the time anyway...” He trails off because she’s hugging him again, long pieces of her hair flying into his mouth and Emma’s coming up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and somehow he’s in the middle of this hugging sandwich even though he’s sure that this is supposed to be Abigail’s big day.
“Yeah, Jesse, we love you too,” Abigail says in his ear. “And hey, are you going to pay me this time?”
It’s hard to talk with his mouth still smushed into her hair and with Emma still crushing the air out of his lungs, but he manages, “Proximity to the written word should be payment enough.”
Emma snorts. “Yeah, that and ten dollars an hour.” She pinches Jesse before he can object (not that he’s going to object. His accountant might but if Jesse hasn’t driven him into an early grave yet, this probably won’t do it). “Now, come on, Eisenberg, we better get back. I left Justin in charge of the store.”
Jesse squawks and detaches himself from Abigail. “You said you asked Kristen,” he says, betrayed.
“Yeah, I did,” Emma agrees easily while Abigail laughs at them. She links her hand with Jesse’s, waving over Abigail’s shoulder at people who look like Abigail’s (very confused) parents. “She just said no.”
Jesse doesn’t usually take the bus, since he lives above his work, doesn’t go out much and owns a car, but in August, his car breaks down and his little sister freaks out about going away to college. Which leads to him standing at Port Authority, en route to New Jersey and blinking at a bigger-than-lifesize billboard of Andrew’s face.
“Huh,” he says, staring at it. Apparently Andrew is in a movie which is playing in theatres right now. That’s... Well, that’s something that Jesse really didn’t need to know, to be honest.
The title pings something in Jesse’s memory and he remembers Andrew asking if he’d read Never Let Me Go, telling him to check it out.
So that’s why, Jesse thinks, and wonders why Andrew didn’t just tell him. Then he remembers how he vehement he was that movie adaptations suck and thinks he probably has his answer.
Shit. No wonder Andrew’s forgotten all about him.
Jesse has twenty minutes until his bus - he always worries that they’re going to come early and he never wants to be that kid who runs ten blocks only to have the driver close the door in his face (again) - so he figures he can risk five minutes.
There’s a bookstore nearby, so he ducks inside, taking a couple of seconds like he always does to size it up against Dust Jacket - favourable, he decides, but Dust Jacket still has better displays and more light.
Andrew’s face is right there on the front cover of the book too, looking heartbroken with his forehead pressed against a pretty blonde girl’s. Jesse isn’t sure he can read a book that makes Andrew’s face look like that, but he’s a masochist so he pays for it and nearly gets run down making his way back to the bus shelter while trying to read page one.
Hallie looks better than Jesse’s expecting when he finally gets home. In fact, she probably looks less like a crazy person than he does, since she’s the one who pulls him into a hug.
Still, he has some big brother skills in his arsenal. “How are you doing?” he asks, pulling out a brown paper bag filled with books from Dust Jacket, holding it just out of her reach. “Mom said you had a panic attack?”
Hallie rolls her eyes dramatically and jumps up to snatch the bag. “Oh my god, no, I didn’t.” She clutches the books to her chest. “Is that why you’re here? Mom told me that some boy broke your heart.”
He looks at her: she’s all fierce and protective but he can see the dancing anxiety in her eyes and hates that she had to inherit that too. “Some boy definitely broke my heart,” he says, sighing sadly to distract her and lets her drag him into the kitchen for ice cream.
They spend the afternoon hanging out, but Jesse doesn’t think he’s actually helping. Hallie’s voice gets tighter and higher every time he mentions that the world might still exist past the end of August and finally he decides that drastic action has to be taken.
“Come on,” he says, standing up, his brain screaming bad idea, bad idea at him. “We’re going to go see a movie.”
Hallie gapes at him, grabbing her purse before he can change his mind. “The last movie you took me to was Mulan when I was six.”
“Yeah, well,” Jesse says brusquely, “Think of it as a dodecennial family event. I’ll take you again when you’re thirty.”
“You just made that word up,” Hallie says suspiciously, following him out the house. “What are we going to see.”
“Whatever’s playing,” Jesse tells her casually, but he doesn’t think she’s fooled when they get to the theatre and he nearly jumps out of his skin at another poster of Andrew’s face. It’s like they’re making them bigger, just to get Jesse’s pulse racing.
He’d thank the movie industry for its commitment to ensuring his cardiovascular health, but he’s too busy stuffing suddenly shaking hands into his pockets so Hallie won’t notice.
“That one, then?” she asks. She’s just as bad at faux-casual as he is, which is why she’s his favourite sister.
“Sure,” Jesse says and hands her some bills so she can go buy the tickets.
Jesse spends the movie with his eyes glued on Andrew’s face. It seems to be true-ish to the half of the book he’s read so far, but he can’t be sure he’s being objective since the only thing he can really think is that holy shit, Andrew’s talented.
Half way through, Hallie’s hand slides into his and Jesse doesn’t know if it’s because she’s affected by the movie or if she can tell that he is. Either way, he doesn’t let her have her hand back until the end.
“Huh,” Hallie says as they file out of the theatre.
“Yeah,” Jesse agrees. Movies are weird; he’s left with all these thoughts but he can’t go back to those passages and reread them until he gets his feelings sorted out, the way he would with a book.
Hallie swings their joined hands. “Did you really have sex with him?”
Jesse stumbles. “What? Hallie, for god’s sake.”
“What?” She shrugs, unrepentant. “I’m going to college in the fall, Jesse, I know what sex is.”
“Those things are in no way connected,” Jesse says (lies) primly, carefully not making a big deal about the fact that she’s mentioned college. “You’re going to college to learn and if any boys - or girls - hit on you, you should make sure to mention that. Repeatedly. Preferably from the safety of the library.”
Hallie laughs, pressing her face to the top of Jesse’s arm. “So, Andrew Garfield,” she says. “He’s dreamy.”
Jesse gives her a little shove, grabbing her back quickly just in case she trips into traffic and dies or something. That would be bad. “Shut up.”
Jesse opens the front door one bright September morning and bites back a yell when Justin tumbles in, nearly crushing Jesse against the wall.
“Holy fuck, Justin,” Jesse snaps, “Why are you lying in wait to kill me? What did I do?”
Justin looks just as confused. “I was taking a minute before I knocked,” he says, “Why are you trying to kill me?”
It’s too early for... Well, really it’s too early for Justin and Jesse hasn’t had any coffee. He prods Justin back out of door and locks it behind them both. “Why are you here?” he asks, heading over to Joe’s rather than straight into Dust Jacket.
“Oh, oh, dude.” Justin stops still and waves his hands in excitement. Unfortunately, he does it in the middle of the road in rush hour traffic so Jesse has to grab one flailing sleeve and pull him over to the sidewalk before Justin’s excitement turns into Justin’s extinction.
“Dude,” Jesse says flatly.
“Dude,” Justin agrees and Jesse sighs. It’s like a whole other language. “Dude, I asked Britney to marry me.”
Now it’s Jesse’s turn to freeze. “Fuck,” he says, “What?”
Justin beams at him. “Isn’t it the most awesome thing you’ve ever heard?” he asks. “I’m going to be Mr Justin Spears or what-the-fuck-ever.”
“Wait.” Jesse shakes Justin’s arm. “She said yes?”
Justin’s expression turns blissful. “She said yes,” he confirms and he just, he looks so happy, Jesse can’t do anything but congratulate him.
By October, Hallie’s at CalTech, Abigail’s at NYU, Kristen and Armie have almost-but-not-officially moved in together and Justin and Britney can’t talk about anything but weddings. Emma and Joe are still doing their hook-up-and-pretend-not-to-be thing, but that’s the only thing that’s stayed the same.
All of Jesse’s friends are moving on with their lives and he feels kind of stuck. He does love his life, mostly, just, he feels like it could maybe be a bit fuller.
A week later and after three talks with his therapists and one with his mom, Jesse decides that if there’s something missing from his life, it’s not a cute, flaky British actor, it’s cats.
(This isn’t entirely the advice that his therapists or his mom gave, but it’s how he’s choosing to interpret it. He definitely doesn’t need to try to get in touch with Andrew; closure’s for people who don’t have cats.)
It takes him approximately ten minutes at the shelter to go from, “Hi, I’m looking for one cat. Just one,” to, “Wait, these come as a pair? Sure, I guess I’ve got room for both. Oh and is that one there their mom? She better come too, then.”
Three cats later, Jesse’s apartment feels much more like home. He gives them a corner of the living room and a corner of the kitchen and it’s good to feel boxed in by someone else again, even if it’s three someone elses and they only love him for his opposable thumbs.
The littlest kitten is a scrawny tabby who he calls Tommy for no particular reason and definitely not because of the character Andrew plays in Never Let Me Go. The other two get more Jesse-traditional names: the mom, who’s barely older than a kitten herself, becomes Dulcinea and the other kitten with the pot-belly is Sancho.
“There,” Jesse says, after he’s told them their names and Dulcinea has nosed at his hand in what was probably agreement. “Now, what are you going to call me?”
Sancho meows at him and Tommy falls over trying to stick his head in his empty food bowl.
“You’re right,” Jesse agrees, standing up, “I’m the large human with the unlimited food supply; I don’t need a name, I only exist to serve you.”
Dulcinea purrs and rubs herself around Jesse’s ankles, which Jesse takes to mean that everyone’s satisfied with their roles in his new household. He thinks he probably is, too.
“Okay,” Emma says, clapping together her mitten-covered hands and sending up little puffs of snow. “I have a plan.”
“No,” Jesse says preemptively. “It’s nearly the holidays. We have to decorate the store; I don’t have time for your plans.”
Emma sighs and hands him a paper cup. “It’s a pumpkin spice latte,” she says when he sniffs it suspiciously. “And my plan is nothing that’s going to take up your daylight hours. It might take up your nights though,” she adds with a little leer and, oh, he can see where this is going.
“Please don’t tell me you have a friend who - ”
“I have a friend who’s a lovely guy,” Emma interrupts, “and I think the two of you would get along great.”
“I don’t need a boyfriend, Emma,” Jesse tells her pleadingly. “I have cats now, I’m fine.”
Emma folds her arms, looking fierce and little bit pink-nosed from the cold. “You’re twenty-seven, I refuse to let you give up on love.”
Jesse sighs. “I haven’t given up. I’ve given it a go twice. Love hates me and wants me to be alone, Em, and who are we to argue with love?”
“Eh,” Emma says dismissively, “You know me, I’ll argue with anyone.” She leans her arms on the counter. “So, his name’s Aziz and you’re having dinner with him tomorrow night.” She holds up a hand before he can argue. “Abigail has already offered to cat sit. And she’s bringing her boyfriend so make sure you stay out late, they’ll probably want to make out in your bed.”
Jesse learns two things about Emma’s friend Aziz straight away. One, is that he has very strong opinions on how much food is acceptable to order on a first date (answer: as much as possible) and he’s got gas.
“Right here,” Aziz says, thumping himself in the chest. “There’s this little bubble right here.” He grins at Jesse. “And my dad’s a gastroenterologist and says that digestion is always acceptable dinner conversation. That’s right, yeah?”
“Sure,” Jesse agrees, nodding. “My mom’s a clown, so sometimes she likes to smack our dinner right into our faces.”
Aziz laughs, waving a breadstick at Jesse. “Tell me you really do own a bookstore? I couldn’t tell if Emma was shitting me.”
“No, I really do.” Jesse frowns, wondering if it’s that unbelievable. “What do you do?”
Aziz points more emphatically with his breadstick. “Stand-up comedy, man. Pretty much the antithesis of the written word but I still bet you’d love it. Want to come along to an open-mic thing with me tonight?”
For the first time this year almost, Jesse isn’t completely desperate to get home to his cats so he nods. “Sure, why not?”
At the open-mic, Jesse learns a third thing about Aziz: he’s fucking hilarious. Jesse laughs until he cries and he has to stop drinking his beer, worried that if he tries, he’ll choke to death.
Afterward, Aziz grins smugly at him and throws an arm around his shoulder. “So, comedy is fucking hot, right?” he asks.
Jesse shrugs. “Not as hot as books but, yeah, sure.”
Aziz nods like that’s fair and insists on walking Jesse home even though Jesse’s sure he lives somewhere near here, which Jesse really does not.
“What’re we gonna tell Emma?” Aziz asks. “Did I turn out to be a serial killer or are you a crazy cat lady?”
“I am a crazy cat lady,” Jesse feels the need to point out but Aziz just laughs, like he thinks Jesse’s funny. “Wait, why are we telling Emma anything like that?”
They’ve reached Jesse’s subway station and he is seriously not letting Aziz walk him any further out of his way. “Well, I mean.” Aziz hesitates, losing confidence for the first time tonight. His eyebrows pull together. “I was just thinking that - . I mean, you don’t want to kiss me or anything, do you?” Aziz asks cautiously.
Jesse thinks about it. “No,” he decides. He’d like to spend a lot more time with Aziz - assuming Aziz is okay with that - but he feels no need to introduce tongue into the situation.
Aziz looks relieved but Jesse doesn’t feel insulted; he agrees that their connection is definitely not sexual. “Cool. Besides, you’re totally still in love with your actor-dude, right?”
Jesse has given up asking how everyone knows about that. “I, um. Yes.”
Aziz gives him a bright, lopsided smile. “Hey, man, we’ve all been there. One minute you’re living your life, the next, some world famous movie star is sweeping you off your feet and you’re spoiled for anyone else ever again.”
“You’ve been there too, huh?” Jesse asks.
Aziz sighs dramatically. “Oh man, remind me to tell you about me and Mila Kunis some day.”
“Sure.” Jesse nods. “As long as you never let me tell you about Andrew.”
“Deal.” Aziz grins wide. “Wanna be friends?”
When Jesse gets home, there’s a text from Emma on his cell, which he deliberately left in the apartment so she couldn’t hassle through dinner.
Nov 25 7:17
Soooo? Hot or what?
Jesse leans against the counter, pouring cat food with one hand and trying to text with the other while Tommy mews piteously from the floor for Jesse to pick him up.
“Your dinner’s down there,” Jesse tells him, trying to nudge him toward the bowls. “Your mommy and your brother are going to eat it all if you’re not quick.”
Tommy mews again so Jesse sprinkles a couple pellets of dry kibble on the top of his head. Tommy spins around in a circle, trying to eat them as they fall off his ears but he gets the message and follows the trail Jesse leaves for him from his feet to his bowl.
Jesse doesn’t have the sharpest kitten in the class, but he’s okay with that.
Eventually, he remembers to reply to Emma.
Nov 25 11:09
So hot that I’ve decided to replace you as my best friend. Sorry.
The speed with which she texts him back shows that she’s far too invested in his love life.
Nov 25 11:11
Hahahaha. Just try, Eisenberg.
“Your Aunt Emma means well,” Jesse tells Dulcinea who’s the first to finish eating. She jumps up at his knees so he sits down in the kitchen floor, prepared to be a cat obstacle course for a half hour or so.
It’s not a bad way to spend the end of his evening.
Things start to settle down at the end of the year and Jesse manages to spend hours at a time thinking of things that aren’t Andrew.
Then it’s the New Year and Andrew comes back to New York.
Not owning a TV himself, Jesse would probably have missed it, except he has horribly well-meaning friends who don’t subscribe to Jesse’s belief that sometimes denial is the healthiest option.
“I’m sorry, they made me,” Aziz says, handing Jesse a cup of coffee and the remote control for the TV in the corner of his apartment.
Emma and Kristen who marched him over here both pat him on the shoulder in an eerily synchronised move and join Aziz in the kitchen.
“Yes, it’s a TV,” Jesse calls, “I have seen one before. Or did you expect me to start poking the shiny black box to see if I could free the little people trapped inside?”
“Just press play, asshole,” Emma tells him. “Oh, and remember we love you.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” Jesse mutters to himself, pressing play with quite a lot of trepidation. It’s some kind of entertainment show, Jesse thinks, since the recording starts playing right at the end of a segment about some vaguely familiar girl called Carey Mulligan having just married some boy called Marcus Mumford.
Jesse is pleased for them, he supposes, but he’s not sure why his friends feel he needs to know.
“Just keep watching,” Emma calls before Jesse can actually ask.
“And now,” says the host from behind huge, artificially whitened teeth, “to another British cutey. Actor Andrew Garfield, who was famously dropped from the Spider-man franchise after coming out during post-production for the second movie - ” Jesse grips the arms of his chair, feeling dizzy. He hadn’t known that. “Is back in New York, filming an adaptation of Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. We caught up with him during a break on set.”
The show cuts to a clip of Andrew and Jesse closes his eyes for a minute. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of the books Jesse made Andrew buy and now he’s not only working on the movie version, he’s come back to New York to do it. Jesse has no idea what that means.
“It’s very true to the novel,” Andrew’s voice says earnestly and Jesse forces his eyes open again.
Andrew looks good - his hair is longer and scruffier and his eyes are bright. He’s right there and Jesse has to sit on his hands so he won’t do something supremely stupid like reach out to touch the screen.
Andrew-on-the-TV keeps talking, “I think it’s very important that adaptations respect the novels they come from, because a lot of people love those stories, you know?”
Jesse almost breaks his thumb jabbing the mute button but he still wants to hit his head repeatedly against something hard.
“Oh god, shut up,” he groans at Andrew who can’t hear him. “Why do you exist?”
Emma’s laugh floats out to him, which Jesse thinks is pretty rude considering he’s having an actual crisis here. Then Aziz is there, squeezing Jesse’s shoulder from over the top of the couch.
“I know I wasn’t here for act one, dude, but I really think you need to go see him,” he says, resting his head on top of Jesse’s, which would be nice except for how his chin is trying to drill through Jesse’s skull.
That pulls Jesse out of his melodramatic panic into a real one. “I can’t,” he says straightening up. He sounds serious to himself and must sound serious to Aziz and to Emma because she joins them but doesn’t bully him into it the way she normally would.
“Jesse,” she says instead, putting her hand on his arm. “You’re going to regret it if you don’t.”
“I think I’ll regret it more when I show up there and he looks at me like he can’t figure out why I’m there,” Jesse tells her. “I’m sure he didn’t land in New York by accident; he’s already chosen not to get in touch with me.”
“Don’t you want to know why?” Aziz asks. He holds up her hands quickly. “That’s a genuine question. Me, I’d want to know why. Then maybe I’d smack him around a little, just to get my point across.”
“I’m not going to smack Andrew. And neither are you,” he adds to them both, just in case they’re getting any ideas.
Emma rolls her eyes. “As if I’m going to smack Andrew,” she huffs, “I mean, he deserves it, probably, but it’d still be like punching Bambi or something.” She leans over and thwaps Jesse’s arm.
“Ow,” he protests, rubbing his arm.
“You, I will smack,” Emma tells him. “You should seriously go and see him. Tell him about your cats, tell him about Aziz. You need to let him know that you’re not pining for him.”
“I’m not dating Aziz,” Jesse points out, with an apologetic look at Aziz who shrugs.
Emma makes a face. “You also are pining for Andrew.” Her eyes light up. “Oh and you could tell him - ”
“No, Emma,” Jesse says firmly, putting his foot down and standing up. “Now, come on, we’ve got to get back to work.”
“But,” she tries.
Jesse gives her his best I’m the boss look. He knows it’s not a very effective look so the only reason she lets the subject drop is because she wants to. Which should probably worry him a lot, but he’s too busy being relieved to dwell too much or what she might or might or not be plotting.
Friday evening, Emma hustles Jesse out of the store at five, telling him to take the night off, spend some quality time with the cats, maybe take a bath. Jesse is instantly suspicious but he’s also incredibly tempted by the idea of curling up with his cats for the evening so he doesn’t fight too hard.
He’s just out of the shower, towel-drying his hair and wriggling when his t-shirt and boxers cling to his still-damp skin, when the doorbell rings.
“Emma,” he mutters, making his way down the stairs and scooping Sancho up when he tries to answer the door for Jesse, “if you want me to rest, don’t come knocking. Oh.”
It’s not Emma at the door.
Of course it’s not Emma at the door, Jesse thinks, holding a hand up to Andrew so he won’t speak until Jesse’s taken a moment to bang his head against the doorframe.
“Um,” Andrew says awkwardly. “I knew you might not be delighted to see me, but I didn’t know I was going to make you want to kill yourself.”
“No,” Jesse tells the doorframe. “I’m just punishing myself for falling for Emma’s tricks.” He straightens up. “That’s over now. Hello.”
The corners of Andrew’s mouth twitch. “Hello,” he agrees. “I, um. You have a cat.”
“I do.” Sancho is trying to eat Jesse’s hair. He does that. “I have three.”
Andrew clears his throat. “That, um. That’s new.”
“Yes.” Jesse nods. He should invite Andrew in, he thinks. Except he’s wearing a t-shirt, boxers and a cat and he doesn’t want to invite Andrew in. He’s kind of incredibly pissed at Andrew, it turns out.
Andrew scratches the back of his neck. “Can I come in, please? I know, I know I don’t deserve to but it’s really cold out here and you’re not wearing much so if you’re going to yell at me, you should probably get to do it in the warm.”
Jesse steps back, sighing at himself. He was always going to let Andrew in, wasn’t he?
Sancho wriggles in Jesse’s arms when they get to the top of the stairs but Jesse doesn’t put him down; he could use a warm, fluffy shield right now.
Dulcinea and Tommy come scrabbling out to greet their guest the way they always do and Andrew drops down immediately, petting them both in equal amounts. “They’re lovely,” he says, looking up at Jesse. “When did you get them?”
“October,” Jesse tells him, finally relenting and letting Sancho down to fawn over Andrew too. All Jesse’s cats are traitors.
Andrew’s bright eyes turn sad. He stands up, making Jesse step back because he can’t cope with being too close to Andrew’s warmth right now.
Andrew looks fantastic, in tight jeans like always and a thick, dark sweatshirt. His hair is mussed and his cheeks and lips are red from the cold. Jesse is pissed and hurt, sure, but he still wants to touch him really badly.
If anything, Andrew looks sadder still when he sees Jesse widen the space between them. “If it helps, it wasn’t Emma who told me to come and see you.”
“No?” Jesse asks cautiously. “That’s a problem because I’d already come up with a foolproof plan for how to dispose of the body.”
Andrew does that thing where he almost smiles again. It’s not a fair thing to do, because Andrew almost smiling makes Jesse wish he were actually smiling, which makes it much harder to remember that he’s mad at him. “It was your sister,” he says, “but I don’t think you should kill her, she was adorable.”
“My sister’s in California,” Jesse says automatically, except that’s not true, Hallie’s still in New Jersey on her winter vacation. At least, she should be.
“Not this morning,” Andrew says with a shrug. “She told me that you took her to see Never Let Me Go? And apparently that’s a sign that you’re still, um. That you still.”
“It’s a sign that I liked the book,” Jesse says desperately. He’s definitely going to have to give consideration to murdering Hallie. And Emma; she was clearly in on it too.
“I know I should have got back in touch with you months ago,” Andrew says suddenly, like he’s been bursting to say it. He looks at the floor. “I wanted to, you have no idea.”
“You could have,” says Jesse. “You know where my store is; I haven’t moved.”
Andrew looks up then and he looks so sad that Jesse half wants to tell him that it doesn’t matter. It does matter though, kind of a lot.
“I know,” he says softly. “But, but everything was such a mess at home. My mum cried for a solid week and my grandfather doesn’t know how to talk to me anymore. It was all... It was horrible and then I had to deal with the press and my publicist threatened to quit and - .” He breaks off.
“Go on,” Jesse prompts.
Andrew shakes his head. “And those are all terrible excuses; you don’t have to tell me, I already know. The truth is that I left in such a shitty way that I was sure you hated me and I couldn’t stand the idea of you telling me that. And, and I know you got arseholes hassling you at your shop. I just, I thought you’d be better off without me.”
“No,” Jesse says. He frowns. “Did it occur to you that that was maybe my decision to make?”
Andrew nods slowly, biting his lip. “My friend Karen pointed that out about six months ago, but I thought I’d left it too late by then.” He looks up at Jesse under his eyelashes, looking tentatively hopeful. “Was it too late?”
“Six months ago? No,” Jesse says, knowing he’s being cruel but not really minding until Andrew’s face falls.
“Right. All right.” Andrew slides his hands into the pockets of his pants. “If it helps, I’m really sorry.”
It doesn’t help. It doesn’t help. It... Oh fuck it, who’s Jesse kidding. “I was just being an asshole,” he says quickly, when it looks like Andrew might actually leave. “You asked in past tense so I answered in past tense. It’s a thing I do, a grammar thing, it was ridiculously inappropriate just then but... What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
Andrew isn’t so much looking at him as staring at him, eyes dark and bottom lip sucked between his teeth.
“I missed you so much,” Andrew tells him quietly.
“Don’t,” Jesse says but drops his arms from their defensive fold across his chest. He’s trying not to build this up into something it can’t be, he really is, but Andrew’s moving closer and Jesse wants to kiss him so badly that he curls his hands in the front of Andrew’s shirt as soon as he’s close enough. He has to pull him in, because Andrew’s just not moving quick enough on his own.
At first, the kisses are hard, fast and clumsy, while they grab at each other and forget how to let go. Then Andrew’s hands unclench from the back of Jesse’s sweatshirt and he starts to stroke Jesse’s upper arms, drawing him closer into a kiss that’s more of a hug until he drops his head onto Jesse’s shoulder and mouths carefully at Jesse’s throat.
Jesse shivers again and again, touching the back of Andrew’s neck where it’s cold from the icy winter weather, encouraging him to keep going.
“I missed you,” Andrew says again, licking the words into Jesse’s skin. “Fuck, Jesse, I missed you so much.” He fumbles with the hem of Jesse’s sweatshirt, hands cold on Jesse’s stomach and when they slide up his torso, spreading across his chest until he can brush his fingertips over Jesse’s nipples. “I missed your nipples.”
Jesse laughs, except it comes out shakily because Andrew is touching him and he never thought that would happen again. “No one misses nipples,” he manages to say.
Andrew shakes his head, hair brushing the side of Jesse’s face. “I did. Your nipples are the best nipples.”
Jesse kisses him again because he can’t help himself. Andrew’s here and he smells amazing and he feels amazing.
“You’re ridiculous,” Jesse finally remembers to say, because he might very much enjoy kissing Andrew, but he stills thinks it’s only fair to tell Andrew the truth.
“Yes,” Andrew agrees happily before sinking down to his knees and carefully opening Jesse’s pants.
“Shit,” Jesse says, thumping his head back against the wall then stopping that immediately because he wants to see.
Andrew spends forever on Jesse’s cock, licking and kissing and sucking until Jesse’s knees are weak. They get weaker still when Andrew pushes his mouth all the way down, throat constricting around the head, breath dragging raggedly through his nose.
“Oh god, oh god,” Jesse mumbles, cupping the back of Andrew’s head, fingers tangled in his hair. I love you, he thinks, but you can’t tell someone that you love them when they’re deep throating you; it lacks sincerity. “Can you breathe?” he asks instead.
Andrew makes a sound, which Jesse thinks means he’s choking until he realises that Andrew’s laughing. Which then makes him choke, pulling back and breathing hard against Jesse’s cock.
“Date me?” Andrew asks, looking up at Jesse with dark, glassy eyes. “I’m out now, so. Date me? Please?”
“I don’t know.” It’s really hard to be rational when Andrew is asking him questions in the middle of a blowjob. “You disappeared.”
“I’m a bastard,” Andrew nods. “And an idiot. And I won’t ever do that again.” He kisses Jesse’s thigh, the base of his cock, his balls. “Jesse, I don’t think I can be away from you again, it felt like there was some like, some part of my soul missing.”
Jesse wants to tell him not to be so melodramatic but he doesn’t, he just slides down the wall and kisses him instead. “What would dating you involve?” he asks.
Andrew crawls forward and straddles Jesse’s lap, pulling him in to kiss again, hands firm and warm around his skull.
“Lots of boring industry parties and having your picture in the paper,” he says apologetically, which sounds awful, shit. “But, but seriously, I’m a really good boyfriend. I make breakfast in bed and I give massages and I... Jesse, I...”
“Yes,” Jesse interrupts, because he doesn’t need Andrew to make any grand declarations, not when he doesn’t completely trust that Andrew isn’t going to disappear again. The idea of Andrew telling him he loves him and then leaving him, well, that might be unbearable.
“Yes, what?” Andrew asks. The way he starts to smile tells Jesse that he already knows.
“Yes, I’ll date you,” Jesse says even though it’s stupid and reckless and likely to end in a broken heart all over again. He grabs Andrew’s hand. “Now, come on, we have to do this in the bedroom or the cats are going to think you’re a new climbing wall.”
“I’d be happy to let your cats climb me,” Andrew declares grandly.
Jesse rolls his eyes and pulls him to his feet. “Well, I’d be happier with the rest of that blowjob, so.”
“Oh,” Andrew agrees, eyes dropping to Jesse’s groin. “Oh, yes, me too.” He turns around, tugging Jesse along. “You didn’t move your bedroom too, did you?”
“No,” Jesse says, following him. “But I’ve thrown away the bed and made it into a cat motel like one of those cube hotels in Japan.”
Andrew turns back to him, kissing him hard. “I’d be okay with that,” he says, “I’m okay with everything right now.”
Jesse pulls him down into one more kiss then pushes him backwards toward the bedroom, not trying too hard to resist when Andrew clings to his shoulders and licks at his mouth the whole way there.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five