"You do realize I have a cat, right?" is the first thing Jesse says to him.
Andrew can’t see him, but he can imagine the way he’s got his face squinted up as clear as if it were a painting on the wall, and smiles despite himself.
"No, that is brand new information," he returns wryly, although he can’t, at the moment, remember specifics about the animal, like its name or gender. Still, small, fluffy creatures with adorable eyes and more independence than the average fifteen-year-old? Andrew thinks he can handle it. He rolls his pencil between his fingers and gets out, "So ..."
"Oh!" Jesse goes. "Oh, god, sorry, of course I’ll come help with your brother’s things, Andrew," and the pain lances through him, quick as a burn, but only briefly. "I should have said that immediately. I just wanted to make you were in possession of all the facts."
Andrew smiles, underlines Jesse’s name three times and pins it to the fridge. "Your brain five miles ahead of your mouth again?" he teases, and, "of course your cat is welcome here, don’t be silly."
It’s raining when he hangs up, the surface of the water shivering with impact. He’s pulled on his three longest shirts and a turtleneck over that, and yet the cold is like seasalt in his bones and he can’t shake it. It’s not quite dark yet, but the rainfall’s heavy enough to give the appearance of dusk and the street lamps on the dock are just the faintest firefly smears of light. Andrew doesn’t know what to do.
On the day he goes to the airport, it’s raining again. Or still raining, or something, and Jesse’s one of the last people off the plane, to the point where Andrew retreats twice to make sure he got the right gate and time. When he comes through airport security at last, Andrew is the first thing his eyes find.
"You look like a deranged fisherman," he says by way of greeting, shifting the cat carrier to the other hand so he can touch the fabric of Andrew’s turtleneck, then his beanie cap, accidentally brushing the exposed skin at the base of his jaw. "Seriously, when was the last time you shaved?"
Andrew opens his mouth, but Jesse’s face visibly changes, and he goes, "Shit, sorry, that was rude. I’m sorry," and there’s the hug Andrew’s been craving since he heard Jesse’s voice on the phone, tight across his shoulders.
"I’m sorry," Jesse says again. "I’m so sorry."
"Yeah, well," Andrew says to the side of Jesse’s neck, and then can’t find anything to add to that. Russel wasn’t old, he wasn’t sick, it wasn’t expected, there wasn’t anything polite to say about it. He’s just dead.
He’s dead, in a way Andrew can’t quantify, can’t express, has no words for, because dead is dead and this is his big brother, except his big brother is dead and Andrew volunteered to take care of his stuff without full comprehension of what that meant.
Jesse thought to bring his coat, which he transfers to Andrew’s shoulders at some point on public transit, while a little girl with a boyband-du-jour backpack and pink sandals tries to peer through the bars of the cat carrier. He touches the zipper teeth with the end of his finger. The coat smells dry, like cat food.
When he keys them into the pier, pushing open the gate that says "Private Property - No Loitering" in big letters, Jesse pauses for a moment and says, "This is really nice. It looks like a postcard."
Andrew stops and looks. He supposes it does, with the drizzle turning the sea to a grey-white etching and the seagulls cutting wheels through the sky, the masts of the sailboats clustered at the other end of the harbor half-shrouded by mist, the individual houseboats all in their neat little rows right along the dock, and the city far removed in the backdrop.
"When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be a ballerina, but my brother always said his life’s dream was to own a houseboat on the Seine and play guitar on the steps of Montemartre." He gestures. "Seattle, Paris, same difference, right?"
"Absolutely. Same romantic vibe and everything," Jesse agrees, droll. The rain has plastered his curls down. "City of love."
He laughs and says, "Jesse."
The houseboat Andrew seems to have inherited is log-shaped, with glass that fogs and dark green walls, the rigging fraying in the front and No Name still etched onto the bow because Garfields are poetic souls when it comes to naming their ships. "Stateroom, galley, and head are all below decks," he points out, as Jesse settles into the armchair with the uncertainty of a guest, silhouetted by mist and rainfall, and opens the carrier door.
The cat’s name is Ginger, despite being neither ginger nor female, and he freaks the hell out the second he realizes that he’s on a boat and that’s a sensation he wants to experience never, and there’s an entertaining five minutes when he flies around the cabin, trying to keep all four paws in the air at once.
Jesse doesn’t seem concerned by the behavior, and they wait it out.
"How much progress have you made?" he asks, while Ginger yodels confusedly from the windowsill.
The only other decoration on the windowsill is a fake orchid that Andrew definitely tried to water before noticing the plastic seams. "I --" he tries, and his throat closes up. He hasn’t touched anything. It’s like everything on board is trapped in amber, some paleolithic remnant of his brother that he can keep fossilized until cloning becomes available to the common man.
Jesse nods, and rolls up his sleeves.
Ginger calms down once they let him out onto the deck and he discovers the seagulls. He sits at the end of the prow like a figurehead and keeps watch.
It takes Jesse two days to learn the neighborhood inside out: with a combination of his own retention skills and some help from Google Maps, he shows Andrew the closest laundromat, the Sam’s Club and the grocer that sells kosher meats, takes him to State Farm so Andrew can discuss responsible things like insurance policies with his brotherʻs agent. There’s a bar on the docks they go to that first night, with seedy sawdust floors and lighthouse-themed decor, and the bartender lets them take a stack of cardboard boxes she broke down earlier that day with an airy wave of her hand.
He doesn’t ask Andrew to help, and so, bit by bit, his brother’s life disappears: the receipts and torn envelopes containing holiday cards are suddenly gone from the drawer in the galley, underwear and socks vanish from the hamper, and the second bunk bed in the stateroom reappears after the stacks of sheet music and scattered maps of the Olympic coast are cleared off it.
Andrew spends a lot of time smoking with Rooney, who works at the moped rental shop up the street from the bar. The real owner has a vacation home in West Bengal and hasn’t been back since August, so she pretty much runs the place.
"You gonna keep the boat?" she asks him.
Her jacket has an intricate skull design printed across the front, but her earmuffs are in the shape of panda heads. "Yeah," Andrew decides, there on the spot, because the alternative is to sell it, and everything inside of him revolts at the thought.
He grinds out his cigarette and goes to tell Jesse.
Jesse just looks at him strangely. "I brought my cat, Andrew," he says, patient.
"You did," Andrew allows, blinking back at him. And then, "Oh."
"Oh," Jesse echoes, and smiles so that the dimples show.
He’s sitting at the bottom of the narrow staircase. Each step has been hollowed out to be used for storage, so at some point the staircase became a winding bookshelf. From the top, Andrew can’t read the title of the book Jesse’s been distracted by, spine neatly cracked over one knee, but he climbs down to join him and, helpless with gratitude, catches his thumb, the curve of his wrist, and squeezes it.
After that, the houseboat transforms. Andrew flies back and forth twice, once to seriously purge his possessions and pack only what was multi-functional and necessary (it took him two weeks and a lot of harried texts to friends, because Andrew thinks everything with the slightest bit of memory attached is necessary) and again to hand over the lease and keys to his apartment to Keira, who fixes him with her most judgmental look, although on Keira, that might just be concern.
"Iʻm glad you started shaving again," she says, confirming the theory. "You looked awful with that thing all over your face, I donʻt know how your fellow stood it. Pick me up something pretty in Paris!" she calls after his retreating back.
"It’s Seattle, Keira, not France."
"Boats travel, don’t they?"
They wind up keeping some of his brother’s things, adjusting them to suit their needs; they attach carpeting to the outside of Russel’s guitar case to make a scratching post for Ginger. Their wardrobes meld, and Jesse -- who only brought two pairs of jeans and three bland shirts, because he’s Jesse -- winds up wearing more plaid, wool, and tight jeans than probably half the people who grew up in the state of Washington.
"Now who looks like a deranged fisherman?" Andrew teases him one morning, setting a plate of eggs in front of him and turning back to unplug the range and store it.
Their next-door neighbor ("next-boat neighbor?" he wonders, and Jesse makes a pained face) is this trust-fund kid named Rob, whose life philosophy seems to be "if life hands you lemons, make lemonade, add vodka, and stir," and he throws them an impromptu housewarming party because he can. Rob, it turns out, is on his way to being a one-man jug band, and Andrew goes to get his guitar and the night somehow winds up with them on YouTube, half-lit by decklight and arguing about chord progression, and it’s the first time Andrew’s made music in months, so that goes a long way to endearing Rob to him.
They make friends. Andrew and Rob start playing low-key gigs in a coffeehouse by the fish market, and Jesse continues to read books for Audible and looks at down payments on a Honda.
They never decide on a name for the boat.
In April, Jesse sidles up behind him, sleepily tucking in the tag of Andrew’s shirt where it was showing above his collar, and says, "My mom wants to know if she’s allowed to appropriate my room for a sewing room yet."
There’s a question in there, Andrew knows there is, and some part of him wants to turn around and wrap his arms around Jesse’s waist and press his weight into him until it’s imprinted on his bones, half thank you and half I’m sorry it took me so long to come back to myself, and some part of him wants to tell Jesse he can go home now, because Jesse’s selflessness has to run out sometime, right?
But he's an only child now, and the first night Jesse was here, Andrew tried to sleep in the armchair on the upper deck, and woke up to a weight against his leg that turned out to be Jesse, on the floor with his head pillowed against Andrew’s knee and one hand anchored to his ankle, and from that moment on, Jesse hadn’t let him sleep alone.
You were the first person my brain thought of when I realized I couldn’t do it on my own, he thinks.
Out loud, he says, lofty, "Tell her I’ll allow it, so long as she makes us dollies or something."
"I don’t think sewing works like that," Jesse sounds amused.
Andrew is unrepentant. "Christmas sweaters, then. Fantastically ugly ones, we’ll make the entire neighborhood jealous."
Jesse laughs. Outside, it rains, and the boat rocks.
The job goes south the second he hears Kristen begin to laugh hysterically in the next room.
The mark lives in a 350-square foot studio apartment in Brooklyn with paint-swirled, fractured plaster for walls and a tattered bathmat in the kitchen, so the "next room" is actually the other side of a partition that separates the kitchen from the couch-futon. The couch-futon has half-inverted candy-red jeans discarded carelessly over the back, which says all you need to know right there. There are neighbors, Kristen is one of the quietest and most discreet people he knows, and to hear her laugh like that is so bizarre that for a second, Jesse just freezes in place and looks at Aziz, the futon half-suspended between them.
Aziz stares back, the whites of his eyes showing, and then Emma pokes her head out of the bathroom, mouth skewed with distaste because she drew the short straw on the bachelor’s bathroom, and hisses, "Kristen! The fuck!"
"I’m sorry!" comes back, followed by the most undignified giggle-snort that Jesse’s ever heard. "Oh my god, you need to come see this."
Jesse looks at Aziz again, and he shrugs, and they lower the futon back onto the frame, careful to rearrange the duvet over it in the same position it was when they found it. They pile scarves on top of that.
"The guy’s got too many scarves," Aziz complains.
"This is Brooklyn," Jesse feels the need to point out. "He’s an artist."
"Still," Aziz takes one, black and gauzy with silver sunbursts woven into the design, and wraps it around his neck, flinging the tail over one shoulder and striking a flamboyant pose. Jesse snorts.
In the kitchen, Emma makes a stifled, startled noise, clenched high between her teeth.
"I know!" Kristen’s voice returns giddily.
To be honest, they definitely didn’t need a four-man team for this job, but it was the holidays, and those that weren’t looking for extra cash to send "I’m sorry I’m away from home all the time” and “Iʻm sorry for all the times I made up a profession and then had to Google it under the table to avoid talking about what I really do" presents back home were looking for the excuse to work so they didn’t have to buy presents for anybody.
Kristen approached him a week ago with the portfolio:
Andrew Garfield, 29, was a middle class, white, male transplant from the UK who made it big as a New York scene artist in a way that nobody was expecting, Garfield himself least of all. He’s done two art gallery openings in the last year, and Jesse’s sure there are numerous ways to describe his work while sounding as pretentious as possible, but to Jesse, they all look like self-portraits, no matter the subject: bright, chaotic things with more color than sense and a lot of things to say. He didn’t sell well, but he created buzz, and then somebody started looking at the way he designed his clothing.
Seventh Avenue laughs down its nose at the thought of Andrew Garfield having enough talent to showcase for the Fashion District. After all, the boy’s already had his New York minute, shouldn’t that be enough?
However, brand names get to stay brand names because they sense the trend and make clothing to match, and the best way to sense the trend is to steal it from the up-and-comers who have all the bright ideas.
Enter Kristen Stewart and her team.
The job? Steal any and all of Garfieldʻs designs from his apartment, bring them back to the corporation. Discretion, of course, is paramount.
The kitchen is by far too compact for the four people trying to cram into it. Garfield seems to treat canvases like suggestions, because the walls in here are caked with paint: meandering designs interspersed with messy swatches of paint samples, and an purple octopus peeks out from behind the fridge, gesturing at them with a champagne flute, from which three large, glitter-encrusted bubbles burst forth. The table is the kind that you can fold into the wall when you need it out of the way, but judging by the place settings, cereal boxes, and teetering pile of magazines and torn-open mail, it’s been in the way for awhile.
Kristen’s got an enormous sketchbook open on top of this mess, and when she looks up, her eyes catch Jesse’s and she immediately starts giggling, muffling it with a hand.
"What?" goes Jesse with a dawning sense of dread. "What did you find?"
"I would say that a certain somebody has been our mark’s muse recently," Emma drawls out, and kicks Jesse’s ankle. "You sultry minx, why didn’t you tell me?"
Emma and Jesse are both forgers. They usually come in a set, like a good BOGO deal, but for thieves. Emma can create whole people out of nothing; falsified tax records and Barnes & Noble memberships and love letters stamped Return to Sender -- the detritus that people leave in the system wherever they pop up on the grid. She’s also really good at drawing little cartoon animals on napkins that gain their own following on the Internet. Jesse follows all five of her fan Twitters.
She created Jesse’s undercover for this job: a fashion columnist from Milan with his own pretentious blog, who routinely gets into fights over the themes of depression in Alexander McQueen’s collections on YouTube and gets invited to the kind of parties that Garfield frequents.
Jesse’s skill lies in the ability to forge himself into exactly what people expect him to be.
His mother says he should have stuck with theater in school; with that ability to shapeshift his personality, who knows, maybe he could be in Hollywood by now. Jesse supposes she’s right, but crime came knocking on his door first, and you tend to go with the first people that offer you a job. He's loyal like that.
"Should we show him?" Emma bites her bottom lip between her teeth, sly.
Kristen looks back, smirking. They’re totally milking this for all it’s worth.
"Oh, come on," Aziz complains. "I didn’t climb twenty stories to get you into this apartment just for you to withhold the juicy bits from me now. Is it good? Can we use it to blackmail him?"
"See for yourself," Kristen spins the sketchbook towards them.
They’ve all looked at a lot of Garfield’s art recently, both what was on display in the galleries and what was available for preview on Lily Cole’s Vogue-inspired fashion blog -- which quoted a lot of Garfieldʻs earnest gushing about how excited he was, because isn’t it so nice to receive recognition for something you’ve always loved doing, but damn, he’d be happy if he never had to look at spandex ever again -- but it takes a moment to reconcile the arresting riot of color that Jesse’s used to attributing to Garfield’s work with these, because these are ...
With no color to steal all the attention, it’s ... the sketches seem softer, quieter almost, like the space in between heartbeats, like something tender to be whispered.
He touches the edge of the page with his fingertip.
"Woah," comments Aziz, and Jesse nods, numb, because about half-way down the page, his own face suddenly starts appearing with a frequency that would be comic if it were anything but his own face.
They go through the next few pages in silence, Kristen no longer laughing; here is a study of Jesse’s hands in pencil, Jesse’s jaw and cheekbone in smudged charcoal underneath a stained coffee ring and a smear of jam, as if the contours of Jesse’s face had been the first thing Andrew Garfield wanted to draw one morning. Here’s something too abstract to make out, except it reminds Jesse of bubbling champagne, of the soft, fizzy way he’d made Garfield laugh at the party he was supposed to be infiltrating, up against a wall underneath an oil painting of a grotesque, zombie-esque teddy bear.
Perhaps strangest of all, there are two whole pages of what looks like an attempt at interior design, like Garfield had wanted to see if his talent extended to architecture, too. Spiral staircases lead into a room full of beanbag cushions and asymmetrical piles of books and a red brick hearth, adjacent to a bathroom with a porthole window and philodendron spreading tendrils everywhere, which turns into a minimalistic bedroom with a vaulted ceiling drawn like itʻs trying to reach straight up to heaven.
In each room are the same two figures; they’re no bigger than scratches, really, silhouettes of arms and legs and shoulders and hairlines and somehow, somehow, Jesse knows who they have to be, and they’re in every room in this make-believe house, like the design wouldn’t be complete without them both.
He’d gone to the party. That’s all. That’s all he’d done.
He’d gone to the party, he introduced himself to Andrew, and they talked fashion in a way that lit him up like starlight and champagne bubbles, the way people get when they talk about what they love. He’d been wearing corduroy pants, Andrew had; one of his front pockets had a zipper, the other a big button. Jesse gleaned important information and forgot his cover story twice, and interjected random Italian words into the conversation to make up for it.
They drank a lot and Jesse made out with him three times, because it had seemed like the thing to do.
Part of him wants to laugh it off, because this poor dude’s been doodling him like a lovesick schoolboy and they’re here to rob him blind in the name of cut-throat consumerism, and he’s going to laugh, he is, because the team’s looking at him now and they’re expecting it, except he forgets, because nobody’s ever drawn him like this.
He’s comfortable with himself in an abstract way, as in he trusts in his own ability to leave the house without making anyone feel violently ill at the sight of him, and that takes a lot of bravery in and of itself, but it’s another thing entirely to be drawn as if his every feature is precious, to be drawn side-by-side with someone like it’s a foregone conclusion.
Emma, quickest on the uptake, suddenly clears her throat and goes, "Whatever, we’re on a schedule here, guys, so let’s get to stealing what we actually came here to steal."
Siouxsie and the Banshees is stuck in his head the entire flight over, because his subconscious isn’t subtle at all. At some point, it becomes mashed up with They Might Be Giant’s Istanbul, not Constantinople, and Andrew finds himself humming some quick-tempo, bastardized version of the two, mostly out of nerves.
When he lands, the sunshine hits him like a physical weight, hot on his face and the tops of his arms. There’s a smell in the air like something he can’t quite place, something that reminds him of fruit and water all at once.
He stands on the kerb with the suitcase at his flank and looks out across the tops of the buildings; the boxy airport terminal, the parking structure, the distant rise of a minaret half-obscured by a skyscraper and the 70-ft advertisement for cologne splashed up its side, and waits to see if some long-ago echo of Canaan in his bones feels at home.
He catches a bus, and when that gets him lost, steps into a shop with a lazy, rotating fan on the ceiling and glass bottles of Coke in a case in the corner. A boy his age is eating a sandwich behind the counter. He borrows the phone and calls a cab.
The cab driver, who looks about forty and has a shirt unbuttoned half-way down his chest, curls of hair peeking out, takes one look at him and goes, "American?"
"British," Andrew corrects, and gives him the address.
The cab driver looks even more amused, and takes him back the way he came. His English is fractured, but earnest, and Andrew hasn’t spoken Hebrew since he was thirteen, and it probably shows. The driver doesn’t stop grinning in the rearview, shark-like and teasing, and even Andrew -- who typically finds other people’s delight equally delightful, and doesn’t begrudge it even if it’s at his expense -- starts to feel a little annoyed, and a lot foolish. It was a long flight, and he’s never done anything like this before.
"And this," the driver says cheerily, turning the car down a dirt lane that Andrew wouldn’t have spotted for the life of him. Something must show on his face, because the man tells him kindly, "It s'okay, you were close," and then ruins it by sniggering.
It’s a dead-end lane, and they reach the last house before they roll to a stop, right up against a large fence with a warning in three different languages. Andrew swallows.
It’s low, concrete, with a shabby corrugated roof not aligned properly and two windows with no glass that face the street, curtained with paisley sheets in a DIY kind of way. The whole building has been uncomplicatedly white-washed, and there’s a chair with wooden slats on the porch, dead leaves and cobwebs scattered between its legs.
Before he can decide whether or not he has the courage to do this, or what he’s going to say, the cab driver leans on the horn.
Andrew jumps. The driver cuts him a grin, and then gets out of the car to pop open the trunk.
Fumbling for the door handle, Andrew gets out, too, just as the screen door creaks open and Jesse steps out onto the porch.
He’s in yellow rubber gloves and a worn t-shirt, the kind so ragged you don’t wear it anywhere but to the kitchen and back, flecked with paint splatters and the smear of one green handprint over his shoulder, like someone had tried to hold him still for a kiss. Andrew’s hand would probably still fit the print.
"Friend here speaks the most awful Hebrew I ever heard!" calls the cab driver, setting Andrew’s suitcase down next to him.
"I’ll look into that," Jesse responds, mild, like Andrew’s a broken taillight somewhere far down on his to-do list. On anyone else, it would sound borderline rude, but that’s just Jesse, who has never had an idea when to fake it for appearance’s sake.
While the driver reverses down the road at the same reckless speed he drove up it, Andrew tucks his wallet back into the groove it’s cut into his jeans pocket and picks up his suitcase. He can’t make out the expression on Jesse’s face until he reaches the porch and steps into the shade, and without the sunlight to compete with, he can see the smile crinkled into the corners of Jesse’s eyes, the unblinking way he studies Andrew’s face like he's a creature caught under glass.
"I wasn’t expecting you," he says.
"It was kind of spur of the moment," Andrew confesses, and when Jesse glances curiously at the suitcase, amends that to, "Well, kinda."
Jesse grins, then turns back and hauls open the screen door.
He’s gotten a haircut since Andrew saw him last, short, and when he bends under the row of herbs drying from the doorframe, it bares the knobs of bone at the base of his neck, a sight that sends desire winking through Andrew’s body, fast as a flash of light. He feels warm and sunburned, like he’s still standing in direct sunshine, like it’s hard to breathe through, and he wants to touch Jesse. Anywhere, hip or hand or the L-curve of his jaw. Andrew always wants to touch Jesse, like Jesse is artwork, a smudge of charcoal that leaves Andrew’s fingerprints fundamentally changed.
He doesn’t know how welcome it would be. He’d been asked to come visit before, but there’d always seemed to be an excuse not to. Maybe after his roommateʻs surgery. Maybe when he had more money. Maybe.
Eventually, though, there weren’t any excuses left.
It’s remarkably cool inside. The walls are all cinderblock, the curtains stirring with a breeze that smells even more strongly of fruit than it had at the airport, and there’s an extension cord positioned in the middle of the floor that Andrew almost trips over, hooked up to two other extension cords and snaking wires into the other rooms.
Decoration is sparse, limited to a rug that Andrew recognizes as one of the afghans from Jesse’s old apartment, incomprehensible scrawls on the walls that look like they’ve been there since construction, and a family portrait nailed up where some families might have hung a cross.
It looks small and clean, but incredibly temporary, like it had been set up to be habitable, and not much more.
"Long flight?" he hears Jesse ask.
"Not bad," he replies offhandedly, even though they both know Andrew hasn’t taken an international flight since he was very young. "I had ‘Israel’ stuck in my head the whole way, though. What?" he goes, when Jesse suddenly presses a gloved hand to his chest in pain.
"Eugh, I think I just felt my ancestors roll over in their graves."
"Oh, shut up, you," Andrew says happily, and abandoning his suitcase up against the wall underneath the coat hooks, bounds across the room to join him.
And abruptly stops.
"Oh," he gets out. "Oh, that’s lovely."
Jesse’s eyes crinkle.
The window in the kitchen is much larger, and actually has a pane of glass. There’s no curtain, which is good, because the view’s too stunning for one: the house sits on a ridge above a grove of lemon trees, thick verdant green leaves spread in the hot sun, crates of fruit half-filled in the rows between them. There’s a swing dangling from the branches of the one closest to the house. With the blue sky framing it and Jerusalem a shimmering block of buildings in the distance, it looks like a postcard. Andrew can see how his ancestors thought this was the promised land.
He looks back. On the countertop, several large jars stand in a row, filled with ice water and neat rinds of lemon, herbs, and flowers; one even has chillies floating near the top.
Each slice of lemon looks like a sunburst, like someone had taken the impression of the Mediterranean Sea and the sunlight and captured it in the genetics of fruit.
Condensation gathers at the bases, and as he watches, Jesse finishes slicing one lemon from the crate at his feet, dropping the slices off the cutting board into the last jar on the end. He picks up a sugar bowl in the shape of a fat cat with a curling tail for the handle, and pours until the water clouds. He stirs the lemon, ice, and sugar against the glass with a sound like so many summers that the hairs along Andrew’s arms stand up with a feeling of displacement, until all the sugar grains have gone, and then he seals the lid.
He takes two of the jars -- more like jugs, from this angle -- by the handles and carries them out of the room. Andrew catches a glimpse over his shoulder of a dark alcove with a bed lofted above rows of shelves, all of them nearly full with jars of lemonade.
And then he gets it. This isn’t the house. The house is just the afterthought.
The true home here is the lemon grove.
He sinks down at the kitchen table. "Is this what you do?" he asks when Jesse returns. "Instead of being rich and famous? Tend lemon trees and make lemonade?"
"Surprise," Jesse says softly.
He returns to the sink, pulling down baking soda and vinegar. He coats the drain and the rubber flap of the sink dispose-all with the baking soda, then pours down the vinegar. It fizzes and pops. Flipping on the water, he runs the dispose-all and then feeds the discarded bookends of the lemons down the drain, one-by-one.
Their mothers used to do the exact same thing. The acid from the lemon juice helps clear the gears, they said. And it smells better, at least for a little while.
"I missed you," he says, because it’s so painfully, obviously true, and Andrew doesn’t care where on the globe he is, his bones look at Jesse and they say here, thank you, we’ll rest here.
He doesn’t mean for Jesse to hear him over the roar of the machinery, but he does, and casts a quick, fond look over one shoulder.
He caps the vinegar and stores the bottle, moving with the absent familiarity of someone at home, and Andrew pushes away from the kitchen table. He means to wrap his arms around Jesse’s shoulders and maybe bury his face in the back of his neck, wondering if he smells like lemon as much as everything else, except Jesse seems to sense his approach, because he twists around at the last second, stepping back against the counter so that Andrew cages him there.
He catches Jesse’s face between his hands, tipping it and rubbing at his cheekbones with his thumbs.
Jesse smiles with every feature, angling their heads together. The sink gurgles and grinds until he thinks to reach behind him to flick everything off.
"Is your Hebrew really that bad?" he wants to know.
"God, yes," Andrew replies. "It’s atrocious. I’ll embarrass the whole family if I ever open my mouth, so you’re going to have to do all the talking for me whenever we go out."
"Deal," Jesse murmurs, and pulls him in.
He supposes that, deep down inside, he didn’t really believe Andrew until he sees him transform with his own eyes.
It’s not that Andrew lied or anything -- please, Andrew couldn't lie even if you jinxed him -- it’s just one of those things that’s fundamentally hard to believe, like the existence of dragons might be to Muggles, or the Daily Prophet calling itself a free press. Jesse’s life primarily consists of finding interesting secondhand appliances in the Oxfam in the village, feeding snakes, and calling in to his favorite wireless program to answer their obscure Potions-related trivia questions, and werewolves just always seemed like something that happened elsewhere, out of sight, like Inuit natives in the Americas or Hermione Granger’s equal rights amendments. Jesse had never seen one for himself, so it was easy to forget they existed, up until one moved in with him.
"Are you sure?" Andrew had asked, at least fifteen times. He was more interested in keenly watching Jesse’s face than he was in Jesse giving him the tour. "Are you comfortable with this?"
"Why wouldn’t I be?" Jesse blinked at him. The ad in the Potion Master’s Gazette specifically asked for a roommate adept at brewing Wolfsbane; what else would he be expecting?
"Okay, then," Andrew peered at him, thoughtful. He picked up one of the photographs on the end table; in it, Jesse’s mother straightened Hallie Kate’s Hogwarts robes on platform 9 3/4 while steam billowed in the background, before she had to duck behind the frame to dab at her eyes. "It’s just ... most wizards would be a little concerned, rooming with a werewolf."
Jesse had paused, considering what would be truthful.
"Let’s just say," he ventured, after a long beat. "That however concerned I am, I’m more confident in my ability to brew Wolfsbane properly. At least, enough to answer your ad. The decision is yours, ultimately. I just want you to feel safe. Here, I mean."
"Okay, then," Andrew said again, and started in with a slow, delighted smile. Then, catching up to the tour so far, "hang on, what’s wrong with the toilet?" and Jesse had laughed, because what wasn’t wrong with the toilet?
The sound of the loo going upstairs alerts Jesse that Andrewʻs awake, and he flips down the cover of the Chatsworth Daily -- the headlining story of which concerns a local classroomʻs missing gerbils, if that tells you anything about the relative excitement of Chatsworth-upon-Pyne -- and gets up to check the smoking cauldron on the stove.
“You know,” he says conversationally when Andrew staggers in, eyelids at half-mast and jaw cracking around a yawn. “I routinely have trouble reconciling this image with your alterego, the cursed creature hardwired to consume small children and the elderly.”
“Rawr,” Andrew responds lightly, curving his hands into claws and brandishing them in Jesseʻs direction. “Dunno what youʻre talking about, I strike fear into the hearts of Aurors.”
“Plainly,” Jesse retorts, wry, and then, “no!” when Andrew starts fumbling around, looking for his wand. Jesse knows for a fact itʻs propped in a mug with all the spare biros in the room upstairs, for reasons he doesnʻt pretend to understand. “No magic before you take your potion. Or, for that matter, before youʻre properly awake.”
Andrew levers himself against the counter, like he needs its assistance in remaining upright, and looks at him imploringly.
Smiling, Jesse switches stirring to his other hand and fishes his own wand out, and with a flick, starts the kettle boiling again and gets two slices of bargain-bin white bread from Sainsburyʻs to nobly fling themselves into the cauldron fire, long enough to toast properly.
When he finishes counting off a hundred and ten seconds in his head, he lifts the stirring rod out and fetches the small, hooded purple flowers wrapped in a handkerchief by the butter. Andrew draws away, seemingly instinctively, as Jesse upends the monkshood into the potion, which immediately turns as transparent as tea and starts giving off clouds of smoke the same color blue as a midnight sky. Jesse promptly stirs thrice more, in the same direction the moon wanes, and then pours a goblet full.
“Hold up,” he goes, when Andrew reaches for it with the immediateness of habit, still crunching on the rinds of his toast. He was bit the summer after he left Hogwarts, and has lived with lycanthropy his whole adult life. Jesse can't even begin to imagine. “I have to test it first.”
This earns him a speculative, squint-eyed look. “When have you ever brewed a potion incorrectly?”
“Once. My third year,” Jesse answers without missing a beat. “So it was before your time. I diced instead of shredded, because I thought it would have been an acceptable shortcut. I was wrong.”
“Did anyone die?” Andrew asks, hushed.
“No. My potion turned black and smelled like armpit, though, and I didnʻt receive full marks that day.” He pauses mournfully, allowing the moment of silence the occasion requires, and when he looks over, Andrewʻs giving him the most ridiculously fond look. “What? You didnʻt know me at thirteen.”
“I really wish I had,” Andrew replies, voice dropping to an embarrassed mumble, ducking his head and addressing the lino between their feet, and it makes Jesse flush all the way to his nailbeds.
He has no idea what to do with that, so he just dips the end of his stirring rod into the potion and touches a droplet to the back of his hand, where the skin is puckered and scarred from numerous encounters with venomous substances -- the springtime, in addition to being mating season for boomslang, is also the time of year when boomslang skin is most in demand for students and Ministry employees undergoing annual exams, and even Jesseʻs got the wounds to prove it. Because its active ingredient is aconite, which is poisonous to most living things, Wolfsbane Potion is notoriously hard to brew and is so easy to cock up.
He waits thirty seconds, and when his skin doesnʻt welt, he deftly ladles up a gobletful for Andrew and hands it over.
“Told you youʻre a potion master,” Andrew toasts him, and then gulps it down.
He flinches at the taste, full-body, like someone trying to swallow a still-wriggling fish, and goes, “Eurgh. I know honey renders it useless, but why hasnʻt anybody looked into, like, aspartame sweeteners or that stuff that comes in little packets at diners?" Smacking his mouth distastefully, he hands the goblet back. "Muggles are forever inventing alternate solutions to things, surely thereʻs something that can make that taste less like bollocks.”
Jesse checks the cauldron. “Thereʻs enough here for another dose. Do you know if Freemaʻs gotten hers today?”
“Iʻll pop ʻround and ask,” and then, seemingly oblivious to the fact heʻs still in his pants, Andrew straightens and picks Jesseʻs wand up off the counter and Apparates with a crack!, sending the notices pinned to the corkboard fluttering with displaced air.
“Youʻre supposed to go outside to do that,” Jesse informs the empty room, but his voice sounds hopelessly affectionate, even to himself.
He stuffs the remainder of the toast into his mouth and goes back to his paper. A lorry trundles by on the street outside, the high whine of it muffled by the wards. The clock on the wall ticks at every second; itʻs a palewood, slightly malevolent-looking thing that came with Andrew when he moved in. If heʻs to be believed, he Transfigured it out of some valuable possession of Robert Sheehanʻs that he wouldnʻt stop showing off -- Jesse had been a seventh year at the time and only vaguely remembers the incident; Sheehan had been in his House and might have raised a ruckus about it, because Ravenclaws respect anotherʻs property, you just do -- and now itʻs got a mermaid that swims around the face of the clock every hour, singing Pachelbel Canon in D. Andrew wasnʻt bad shakes at Transfiguration when he put his mind to it. There's probably something ironic about that.
When he comes back -- through the front door, this time -- heʻs got Freema with him, her dressing gown clasped shut at her throat and her hair nappy, clearly not styled yet and pulled back into clumps.
“Heʻs got no manners, this one!” she declares by way of greeting. “Apparated right into my sitting room,” she cants her voice up into an exaggerated falsetto, “I was in my unmentionables!”
“Best part of my morning, really,” says Andrew happily.
“Cheeky!” she swats at him. Then, “good morning, man of the house.”
“Good morning, Freema,” Jesse responds, over Andrewʻs protesting oi, what are you implying!
She looks him over, head to toe. Heʻs already in his Thursday trousers, and a jumper on over them, the kind of thick polyester blend specially designed to keep one in a permanent state of cold sweat. “I donʻt suppose youʻve ever been caught in your unmentionables.”
“No. I came out of the womb wearing these.”
He goes and pours the last of the Wolfsbane Potion into a goblet and passes it over: she grins at him toothily, says “ta!” and knocks it back like a pint.
Freema came by her lycanthropy by heredity, which is unusual, given that werewolves donʻt make a habit of breeding. She lives in the only part of Chatsworth-upon-Pyne that isnʻt postwar terraced housing, and she and Jesse have an agreement: Jesse can help himself to samples of the herbs and fungi that grow on her estate -- the basic stuff that every potion set requires -- if Jesse brews enough Wolfsbane Potion every month for two, just in case the Department for Control of Dangerous Creatures “forgets” to send hers. If Jesse doesnʻt have enough, Sally Field down by the chemistʻs usually does, and they all like Sally: for someone who was bit so late in life, she took to her new condition like it was an adventure, and dyes her hair a new color every month, since the change reverts it back to natural each time. Three werewolves in Chatsworth is three more than Jesse ever expected there to be.
“How are your snakes, Jesse?” Freema asks as, with a wave of her wand, she Vanishes the remaining contents of the cauldron and whisks it off the stove.
Andrew fusses with their kettle and tin of tea, and nudges Jesse out of the way with his hip, hunting for mugs. Jesse edges sideways, saying, “Excellent, thank you. Weʻve bedded most of them down for hibernation already, so there isnʻt a lot for me to do until spring.”
Freema considers it, then shudders. “I donʻt know how you donʻt die of fright,” she says, but itʻs by rote. This is the kind of small talk with other wizards Jesse can handle without panicking.
He smiles at her, because really, heʻs scared of things like having to Floo into the Ministry of Magic to pay his taxes, haggling with shopkeepers who donʻt seem to understand that you canʻt just Summon pickled newt, somebody has to prepare those things, and that somebody needs to be paid. Honestly, heʻs scared of anything that requires more from him than curling in an armchair with the Potion Masters Gazette and a tome of Russian fairytales while Andrew sings in the kitchen, so he doesnʻt have any room left to be frightened of werewolves or venomous snakes.
“Are you guys going into the shop?” he asks. “I mean, not today, obviously, but --“
Freema snorts ungraciously. “This week is Ministry inspection week. Justin told us itʻd be best if we took a short holiday.”
“The Ministry isnʻt allowed to discriminate based on your status as a magical creature,” Jesse reminds her.
“No, but it doesnʻt stop them from hating us almost as much as the Welsh hate proper vowels.”
“You should come with us!” Andrew sets a mug down in front of him, steam curling off the top. “Weʻve got three that just need a final varnish, so maybe weʻll give you a concert if you behave nicely,” he grins at Freema over Jesseʻs head, and she winks.
Jesse narrows his eyes suspiciously. “Which instruments?”
“Two violin and a ukelele.”
His eyebrows go up, and Andrew lifts his hands defensively. “We wanted to see if we could!”
“And could you?”
“Of course!” he beams. “Weʻre werewolves. Weʻve got fantastic ears for music: itʻs one of the perks of being cursed, you know.”
Jesse sips mildly at his mug. “Fantastic crafters of musical instruments, lousy with dressing themselves?”
“Hey!” Andrew and Freema protest.
He usually spends full moon nights at his motherʻs house (heʻs pretty sure his family knows whatʻs up -- theyʻre all Ravenclaws and extremely insufferable sometimes.) He doesnʻt have to, thatʻs the point of the Wolfsbane Potion, but he figures itʻd make Andrew more comfortable.
He Apparates back shortly after sunrise. The whole street is quiet, most of the bins out for collection, the line of housing curving with the bend in the road. His own is eighth down the row, squeezed in between an Arab grocer with a large family and foreign-made car, and a solicitor named Dick. He steps through the gate, and immediately catches the gleam of yellow-orange eyes peering at him from the gloom of the bushes.
“Andrew,” he says, and the figure straightens up, coming up to him in a long-legged lope.
It always unsettles him, every time, just how wolf-like and not werewolves are. Andrewʻs face is thin, lupine, and his russet-brown fur silky with health, but his limbs stretch unnaturally long and bend at odd angles, like he was made for covering large distances on a hunt, and he balances his front end on human hands, thumbs digging into the dirt and nails black. His eyes, amber-colored, look at him with fondness and affection that Jesse could recognize anywhere, no matter the face they were in.
“What were you doing in the bushes?” he wants to know, as Andrew snuffles at the top of his head familiarly. “Daft.”
The sun lifts off the horizon just enough to illuminate the top of Andrewʻs head, and he lifts onto his hindquarters and turns his muzzle up to it.
“You should come inside,” Jesse says, sidestepping him. “Unless you want to permanently traumatize any Muggles who might be looking out their windows.”
There wonʻt be, thatʻs what they have the misdirection wards up for, but by the time Andrew joins him in the sitting room, heʻs mostly human again and Jesseʻs got a set of robes waiting for him.
“I found out whoʻs been knocking Dickʻs bins about!” is the first thing out of his mouth once his teeth retract into their usual shapes with a grinding sound that makes Jesseʻs jaw ache in sympathy. His voice comes out muffled by the folds of cloth as he tries to find the proper holes for all his limbs. “It was a stray, so I chased it off! I did good, right?”
“Youʻre adequate, I suppose,” Jesse returns lightly.
“Iʻm sorry, would you like a carrot for your high horse?”
He laughs. Itʻs good to be home, with all of his books and the scattered paraphernalia Andrew keeps bringing home; spare strings from work, brochures on spellwork, and pamphlets from the village theater. Heʻll do inventory in the storeroom later, rows and rows of labelled ingredients stacked on top of one another like wandboxes, and at some point, heʻll Apparate out to check on the boomslangs, but none of that is as particularly pressing as Andrew, who wraps himself around him.
“Sorry,” he mumbles into the top of Jesseʻs spine, not sounding horribly sorry. “Everything smells better when youʻre around, is all.”
“Does it really?” Jesse returns, soothing.
“You could try staying next time, you know.”
“And what, throw rolled-up newspapers for you to fetch? Mind, itʻs really all the Chatsworth Dailyʻs good for, but …”
Andrew doesnʻt laugh, and after a beat, Jesse covers his hand with his where itʻs caught around his chest. Thereʻs a peculiar feeling coming over him, the kind of electric recognition you get when you learn that thereʻs a word for that disconnected feeling of meeting the morning on the wrong side of night, or finding that name you couldnʻt remember in the most unexpected place, a feeling of, oh, right, there you are.
Out loud, though, he says, “I might, yeah.”
He checks the whole length three times, but can’t find a kink or a cut, which means there’s some obstruction in the hose he can’t see, or their water’s running out.
Jesse doesn’t want to think about the latter, because it probably means he’s going to have to go visit Emma, and the longer Jesse spends indoors, the less capable he feels of venturing outside for anything.
Emma used to be a mechanic for foreign automobiles before everything happened, so she’s the closest thing any of them have to a handyman. She lives with Shailene and Martin in a squat, grey bunker on the lip of the gorge where the winds wail at a near constant, wintry and ashy, and dust cakes the windows shut, while Martin dies the slow, undignified death of someone coming apart at the seams from radiation sickness. If it were anyone else, Jesse’s sure they would have cut their losses, but Martin’s the oldest survivor any of them have ever met, and those thirty extra years of life experience go a long way sometimes.
In the beginning, when they’d just found the house and Emma was patiently showing them how circuit breakers work, how to run the generator because reliable heat was going to be very critical very soon if the sky stayed blackened, and even how to rehang cabinet doors because apparently neither Andrew nor Jesse were equipped to live on their own, Jesse had been so sure that it was always going to be the three of them, that she was going to stay.
The house was big enough and safe enough, shielded from the worst of the fallout, and Jesse knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it would be so easy to get used to the sight of Emma’s red hair, twisted up under a bandana at the kitchen table in the mornings, her bright laugh when Andrew tried to serenade them, piecing together choruses from pop songs none of them had heard in years. Andrew liked company, liked people, in a way that Jesse was largely capable of doing without.
But Emma, when he asked, gave him the most unexpected smile and said no thank you. She wanted to live somewhere she could be found if other people needed her, and Andrew and Jesse’s priority was the exact opposite: they never wanted to be found.
"Besides," she’d said. "Didn’t anybody tell you there’s nowhere more frightening than the suburbs?"
Frowning, Jesse gives the hose another shake, which doesn’t do anything, of course. He thumbs the spray that comes out, forcing it to curtain, but it doesn’t push against his thumb with quite the amount of force it usually does.
He mists down the beds of seedlings anyway, still frowning and dread swirling low in his gut, when something knocks on the glass.
He jumps, but it’s just Andrew, lifting a hand in greeting with heavy bags slung across his back, shoulders hunching apologetically when he sees he startled him. Jesse would recognize that suit anywhere. It’s the third-most important thing they own.
He pinches the hose shut in one hand and goes to let him in. Careful not to touch, he positions Andrew right over the drain and then directs the blast of water smack in his face because he can. Andrew flails in surprise and then swats at him with a glove good-naturedly, and Jesse smiles, and hoses the rest of him off until the water that goes down the drain runs clear. They wash down the bags, too.
Only when he passes spot check does Jesse let Andrew strip off the helmet, peeling the suit back to his waist before crowding in close for a hug.
"How was it?" Jesse wants to know, canting into the pressure unconsciously and touching his fingertips to Andrew’s spine, tracing them like topography. "What did you find?"
"Food," Andrew answers gleefully, right up against his cheek. "A lot of prepackaged stuff and some mystery cans. I think some of them might be dog food, but it’s still meat and protein, so I figured we could do something with it anyway."
Jesse nods absently, while Andrew parts his mouth and gnaws on his cheekbone affectionately. Jesse, who has a high tolerance threshold for other people’s eccentrics, lets him.
"And?" he prompts.
"And potting soil." Andrew laughs when Jesse sags into him with relief. "I found what I think used to be a university. I could go back one more time, I think, but it’s a week away, and we’re going to have to start making our own media sooner rather than later, probably."
"Do you know what --"
"Peat moss, bark, perlite, and and a few other things depending on how well each individual species retains moisture," Andrew nods around the greenhouse, and Jesse starts making lists in his head immediately.
"Where are we going to ..." he trails off, looking up through the skylight. The skies today are white, streaked with slipstreams of ash, and he has no idea where the sun is. Everything they know about what’s going to happen to them came from watching Dinosaur at an impressionable age and a half-remembered Nova special Jesse saw on PBS once because everybody went through a dinosaur phase, but he’s pretty sure it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.
Compulsively, he draws away from Andrew and nervously checks the bed of seedlings he was just watering. Are they yellowing? What’s going to happen when they need to be repotted and the only thing they have is ashfall and no water?
"Jess," Andrew murmurs, quiet. Jesse looks over just in time to see Andrew’s smile broaden, turn teasing. "Are you more worried about potting media than how we’re going to feed ourselves?"
"Without green plants, we’re dead anyway," he mutters mutinously. "Unless you really like not breathing."
"I missed you too," Andrew returns, apropos of nothing, and Jesse rolls his eyes but willingly comes back over to help him out of the rest of the Hazmat suit, hanging it up to dry.
Jesse found Andrew in a bus shelter four months after the initial impact, standing there with eyes trained on the horizon like he was just waiting for the 4:15 from Chicago. When he refocused, looking right at Jesse before Jesse could decide whether or not he wanted to be seen, his smile crinkled all the way through to his eyes and he said "good morning!" and Jesse stuck with him from that moment on because there didn’t seem to be anything else to do.
One of the first things Andrew ever told him was that his name wasn’t really Andrew, but he felt like an Andrew and hadn’t ever had an excuse to get people to call him that as a nickname.
"But now everyone I ever knew is dead!" he said cheerfully. "So I can be whoever I want."
Some people, like Martin, didn’t adapt very well to opening their eyes one morning and finding out they’d survived when most everybody else hadn’t. Martin worked at a nuclear power plant in New Mexico and stubbornly shaved every morning and drove himself through howling ash storms so he could single-handedly try to stop the plant from going into meltdown. He still gets up and shaves every morning, even with the sores, and he likes it when Jesse brings him newspapers.
And other people adapted very well. Emma flourished, and barters her services on good will. Carey and Marcus came out of a high-security prison in Illinois for bank robbery (they said) and somewhere along the way, they collected a whole brood of orphan foundlings and now they’re on their way to assembling their own von Trapp family of post-apocalyptic singers, because if there’s one way to work through things, it’s to sing about it, apparently.
They live in a cabin in a reserve up north, and when Andrew and Jesse first chanced upon them, theyʻd just started sheltering birds. Eventually, all the larger animals will die out, humans included, but there’s a chance the smaller creatures will make it. They did last time.
"We could have stayed with them," Andrew pointed out when they moved on, fastening his mask over his face before facing the dawn. "They would have appreciated the extra help.”
"I am a horrible tenor," Jesse responded solemnly.
They found the house on the outskirts of someplace that might have been a major city before it was buried; the first and only time he caught a glimpse of the city, he stood on the hilltop overlooking the rubble and wondered if some alien species would excavate it someday, and what they would find: would it be like Pompeii, with shadows of obliterated people etched into stone, bones curled protectively around each other? Or would there be no remnants of civilization left by that point?
It’s a horrible cookie-cutter suburban home, a three-story with grey siding and beige carpet and white wallpaper in every boxy room, no style and no character to it at all. It might have been a model home, judging by the cheap, impersonal decor, but it’s downhill of running water and shielded from the wind by hilltops and most importantly, it has a greenhouse, tucked in the back where some homes might have had a deck and a grill. It’s the first time they’ve seen that much unbroken glass since the impact. Without stopping to discuss it, Andrew and Jesse made an ark of it: saving and growing clippings of whatever green thing they could still find standing, potting them in plastic juice bottles and pickle jars when they ran out of pots.
"What’s this?" he wants to know, after they’ve unpacked the duffel Andrew brought back from scouting, stowing cans away in the pantry and dusty bags of soil in the greenhouse.
Andrew keeps touching things, silly things, like the seam of the sofa cushion and the hem of Jesse’s jacket whenever they press close enough together, as if he’s forgotten the feeling of them under his fingertips.
"Stuff," he says evasively.
Jesse nods. "We don’t have any more frames," he says, and hands the duffel over without looking.
Andrew looks surprised, but only for a beat. "That’s okay," he goes, with one of those smiles that goes all the way to his eyes, the ones that make Jesse’s chest ache formlessly, that he misses when Andrew’s gone. "We’ll think of something, we always do."
He never asked exactly how Andrew came to be the only surviving person he knew, and neither did Andrew, because that’s a story Jesse wants to tell on the 32nd of Februnever, but when Jesse first found him there by the side of the road, he had nothing to his name except a clutch purse like the kind Jesse’s sisters took to prom, full of photographs. Wherever they went, wherever they stopped, Jesse saw Andrew picking surreptitiously through drawers, ferreting through folders, trying to find more to add to that collection.
They’re not photographs of anybody in particular. At least, not anybody Jesse remembers. They’re just people, ghosts caught in paper frames.
The model home had some picture frames with the price stickers still on sitting around, so they used those, and back when Jesse still felt comfortable stepping outside, he’d always try to bring back a new one, feeling a lot like the way cats will bring home dead mice for approval.
They’ve got pages of beaming sports teams ripped from yearbooks, pages from clothing catalogs of teenage girls kicking up sand at a beach in summer-white dresses. They’ve got Christmas party photographs and bar mitzvahs, grainy with the flash too bright, strangers caught with their eyes closed. They’ve got artistic shots with names like "flemmeche #46," their edges bent; a close-up of a girl’s jawline, and one of delicate hands cradling a coffee mug, cigarette balanced between knuckles. A child eagerly reaching up for a ginger cat that’s much too big for it to hold. A couple ice-skating, caught and framed by the sharp color of snow, scarves tangled around their necks and their noses obviously running. A naked woman with a yellow-paged book folded over her breasts, looking right at the camera in such a frank way that it makes Jesse politely avert his gaze every time. An advertisement for teeth whitening, with a walnut-faced old man beaming out at the world.
Andrew collects them all the way some people collect scripture.
It’s a big house, with too many bedrooms and space that echoes when Jesse’s here alone, once clearly meant as a starter home for the middle-class family who’d mark up the walls with crayon drawings and height measurements, and sometimes he wonders if it’s a little creepy to turn it into a cemetery of sorts, but there’s no one left to judge and he likes the reverence on Andrew’s face when they finish hanging another row of photographs, and really, that’s all that matters.
"Do we have any tea left?" he hears Andrew call from the kitchen. The kettle clatters onto the stove.
They do, in a tin with the New Jersey state logo on it that’s in the same cupboard as the candles, for reasons Jesse can’t fathom, but he says, "let me check," and goes into the kitchen to pretend to look, because he kind of wants another hug.
The overhead clock says it’s eleven minutes past eight in the morning in this time zone, and Jesse feels scratchy all over, like static, and itʻs too bright and busy inside the terminal to sleep but he doesnʻt have the concentration to stay awake, either. It takes him at least a solid minute to realize thatʻs Andrew Garfield, standing in line at the Crane opposite his gate, talking simultaneously to the barista and to the woman at his side.
Jesse blinks, and then blinks again for good measure, but Andrew refuses to vanish or otherwise coalesce into a stranger who looks remarkably familiar, the way it always happens in airports.
He sits upright, peering through the moving bodies. Heʻs got a clearer view of the woman; from this angle, all he can see is the back of her head, an intricate French knot of black hair twisted like a seashell and pinned in place. Thereʻs a sleep pillow around the handle of her roll-on suitcase and sheʻs got yellow plastic flip flops on her feet; the disposable kind they sell for $5 in bags at Hudsonʻs.
While heʻs still deciding what to do, Andrew picks up two cups of coffee as the barista sets them down and lifts one in toast to his companion, and at that moment, a hoard of intimidatingly enthusiastic backpackers swarm in front of Jesse. When they clear, itʻs just the woman, shaking sugar packets with a smile on her face.
Jesse blinks, looking to and fro, and when he realizes heʻs lost Andrew, just like that, the crush of despair is sudden and hard.
Itʻs an echo of a lonely feeling, the desolation of anybody who worked up the courage to say hello a moment too late. Knowing their respective schedules, itʻll probably be another two years before he chances across him again and can say, I saw you once in an airport in Detroit. I almost didnʻt recognize you without a red carpet under your feet, just to hear Andrewʻs delighted laugh.
And then Andrew -- Andrew Garfield, the same Andrew who once fashioned himself a pair of cat ears out of expensive black electrical tape and wore them around set all day just so he could use every cat-related pun in his repertoire, wrestling Jesse into a hug and demanding, “say! Where have you been all my lives?” -- plonks down in the seat next to him and hands him the spare coffee.
“Come on,” he goes at Jesseʻs startled look. “I know what you look like when youʻre trying to survive on catnaps. Thereʻs a homing beacon in my brain permanently attuned to it. Here, black as your soul, drink up.”
Heʻs wearing a scoop-neck sweater Jesseʻs pretty sure came straight from a Deliaʻs catalog. Itʻs the same strange blueish color everybody always thinks mint is, with big impact-font that says “Hugs Are In Fashion!” Smiling despite himself, Jesse pops the lid off the coffee and inhales: the scent of fresh roast goes straight to his brain.
“The smell of coffee is a stimulant in and of itself,” he tells Andrew, who immediately shows teeth.
“I know, youʻve told me,” he says, and swings his satchel down to the floor. He crooks his long legs up around him, somehow managing to compact all six feet of him into the space of a single seat, and stretches his arm across the back of Jesseʻs.
He sips at his own coffee, and before Jesse can ask any of the hundred questions swarming his brain, the woman from Crane passes by, spares them a smile and a salute with her cup, and settles a row over.
“Thatʻs Marian,” Andrew volunteers happily, and Jesse spares a moment of incredulity that he even has the energy to strike up conversations with people he doesnʻt know in airports. “Sheʻs a justice of the peace from Prince Edward Island. Sheʻs on my flight.”
“Which is …”
Andrew jerks his chin at the airline display panel behind them. “This one. Why are you sitting at my gate, bro?”
“Thereʻs an outlet for me to charge my phone,” Jesse answers, automatic, and even though he already knows, he checks his boarding pass again just for the thrill that races through him. “Hold up, what are you doing at my gate … bro?” he finishes awkwardly, and Andrew laughs at him, drawing him into a sideways hug.
And this, this is Andrew, the one person heʻs never gotten tired of.
The conversation carries them all the way through to boarding, and thereʻs a moment after they shuffle with everyone else onto the plane where Jesse doesnʻt know what to say -- “see you when we land?” -- but it takes forty-five seconds of disarming conversation before Andrew has Jesseʻs seating partner convinced that the only thing heʻs ever wanted to do is switch seats so that Andrew can sit next to Jesse, all before the guy can even find space in the overhead bin.
“Youʻre a sorcerer,” Jesse says, disbelieving.
Andrew grins. “No, Iʻm the youngest child. I always get what I want.”
The odds on this kind of thing happening have to be astronomical -- that out of anywhere they could be, he and Andrew are on the same flight out of the same airport at the same time. He has enough trouble with people even when dates and times are specified, he has no idea what to do when he meets them coincidentally, and some adolescent part of him is gleeful when the captain comes over the loudspeaker just before takeoff to announce an estimated nine-hour flight time across the Atlantic, because thatʻs nine extra hours of Andrew he never expected to get.
Eventually, without much coaching, they start talking about lives outside of what they do for a camera.
“I just want to go home,” Jesse confesses, voice dropped to almost nothing, though of course thereʻs no such thing as a private conversation on an airplane. “Except, the longer I spend,“ he waves a hand, expansive. “Everywhere else --“
“Our homes become anywhere and nowhere at once,” Andrew finishes for him, nodding. “I noticed that, too. I have to live where I work, so everywhere feels like home to me when Iʻm there.”
“Thatʻs because you love everything,” Jesse retorts, but gently.
“Not true! For instance, I love Oreo cookiesʻ creme filling considerably more than I do most things. Including my mother.” He tries to say it solemnly, but then immediately ruins it by looking guilty.
Jesse smiles, but the wheels of his brain are already turning and he canʻt get them to stop. “A home should be separate from work, at least in the ways that count, and I feel like it isnʻt, in our case. I have to make a home wherever Iʻm working, and I donʻt like that,” he fidgets.
“You know what the solution is, donʻt you?” Andrew says with complete confidence. “Get married.”
Jesse lifts an eyebrow.
“Get married,” Andrew repeats. “That way, youʻll, like, make a home base that isnʻt related to your job! Someplace thatʻs worth coming back to, if that makes sense.” He picks at his bottom lip. “Besides! I heard being married is nice. At the very least, itʻs a convenient excuse not to have to answer that lovely ʻwho are you taking as your dateʻ question.”
Something happens to his voice half-way through, something as wistful as the secondʻs pause between heartbeats, that tells Jesse that Andrewʻs thought about this before. And often.
“Right,” he goes, because sarcasm is his only defense when Andrew does something unexpectedly soft-bellied like that. “Iʻll just start a bid on eBay then, shall I?”
“Iʻd bid for you,” Andrew answers instantly, and then something strobelit happens to his eyes. “Oh, thereʻs an idea! You could marry me!”
“Yes,” Jesse says dryly. “Because thatʻs legal.”
He lifts his eyebrows, innocent. “Hey, weʻre not in Michigan anymore! Weʻre over Canada,” he taps the little screen on the seatback in front of him, which does, in fact, show their current progression over Quebec. “Land of the free and no-wait same-sex wedding certificates.”
“Well, in some provinces. At least, thatʻs what Marian said.”
“Right. Canadian justice of the peace, she would know.”
“Man, Jesse, think of the tax benefits! Oh my god --“ his hand snaps out, closing around Jesseʻs forearm in his excitement. “We could have a home and Columbia Pictures wouldnʻt even have to pay for it, how cool would that be?”
“Andrew,” Jesse cuts in gently. “Iʻm horrifically old-fashioned and impractical. The only reason Iʻd marry you -- or anyone!” he corrects himself, because that had sounded mean, even to him. “Would be if I loved you more than anything else, even tax benefits.”
And because this is Andrew, and he doesnʻt know when to stop until he has Jesse peeled apart, bone and every tender organ on display under glass for anyoneʻs inspection, takes his hand off Jesseʻs arm and catches one of his curls instead, tugs it, and says, quietly, “Do you?” and Jesseʻs heart nearly stops right there.
“Well,” he manages after a surprised beat. “Oreoʻs creme filling, though…”
Andrew barks laughter, bright and joyful, and Jesse doesnʻt have time to do more than admire that look on him before itʻs as if his very skin is acting without him, leaning him across the seat and pressing a kiss to the corner of Andrewʻs dry mouth. His heart makes its second valiant attempt at failing.
When Andrew pulls back, it leaves just the phantom sensation of pressure tingling on Jesseʻs lip. He says, “You, Jesse Eisenberg, are the most delightful person I know.”
Itʻs a simple, stunning, almost silent thought, slotting into place like itʻs always been there: this could be yours.
And itʻs the single bravest second of Jesseʻs life, that beat it takes to believe that, really really believe it, and affection is so impossibly, insurmountably difficult until suddenly itʻs not difficult at all, and Jesse reaches out, catching Andrew with a grip thatʻs half-hair and half-ear, and pulls him back in to kiss him again.
Against his mouth, he says, “Marry me,” and feels rather than sees Andrewʻs body jolt with surprise.
Thereʻs enough space between their mouths now to talk, and Jesse hears himself say, “Andrew, please, tell me youʻre one of those magical people that can make anything happen -- and -- and happen fast, before weʻve got time to realize this is the kind of spontaneous decision people tell you not to leap into, and doubt ourselves, and --“
“Iʻd never doubt,” Andrew says instantly, and the breathless way he says it, like thereʻs something in his chest thatʻs expanding and crushing everything inside of him all at once, makes Jesseʻs ribs contract in answer. “Iʻve never doubted,” and he kisses Jesseʻs upper lip and says, “excuse me for a minute,” before unclipping his seat buckle and shoving himself to his feet.
The seat belt sign is still illuminated, and Jesse, who feels like heʻs run a marathon to get to this spot, his heart pounding in his chest and cold sweat in his armpits, spares a second to be worried the flight attendantʻs going to yell at him, but he just crosses a few rows up and says, “Marian?”
And the Canadian civil officialʻs voice answers, “Yes?”
And suddenly a lot of things start happening at once.
When Andrew returns, he takes Jesseʻs hand the instant itʻs offered, curling their fingers together like itʻs more natural than anything, saying, “Sheʻs the one who got me thinking about marriage in the first place. She can get the forms for us, if you want to fill them out later. It is a long flight.”
“Are we seriously getting married in Canadian airspace?”
“Yes, we are,” Andrew almost trills with the thrill of it, and Jesseʻs seen him happy about lots of things before, but itʻs different, because thereʻs an echo of it in him, too.
And then Marian is standing over them, tugging fistfuls of her robe so it settles across her shoulders, the creases from being folded in her luggage showing. Sheʻs still wearing the paper flip flops. Thereʻs a flight attendant at her elbow, and Marian looks at them, affection crinkling in the corners of her eyes in such an Andrew-like way that Jesseʻs suddenly very, very glad they struck up a conversation in a coffee shop.
“Weʻve got an hour before weʻre out from over Quebec,” she says briskly. “I can do this, or the captain can do this --“
“He says congratulations, by the way,” interjects the flight attendant. She is completely ignoring their abuse of the seat belt sign.
“But youʻve got that long to change your minds.”
“No, thank you,” Andrew and Jesse say simultaneously.
Marianʻs smile widens. “Good. Weʻll need witnesses --“
The hands of the passengers directly in front of them shoot into the air, as so do several others, because nothing stays private on a plane. Andrew laughs with delight, and Jesse isnʻt thinking of the paperwork, or when theyʻll get back to Quebec next to even file it officially, or where theyʻll live, or how heʻs going to tell his mother that between her phone call last night and his flight landing in Europe, he got married. Instead, heʻs thinking about the warmth between his and Andrewʻs palms, the touch of their shoulders, and the way Andrew said, we make our homes wherever we go, and adds, silently, and whoever weʻre with.
“-- good, thank you, and weʻll need rings --“
“-- and a glass to stomp on!” Andrew finishes, with a joy so concentrated itʻs as if it comes out of him pure as prism light.