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Not a Coincidence, but Fate

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The thing about Justin Timberlake, Andrew muses, is that he is a perplexingly contradictory human being with different facets and, quite shockingly—hidden depths. He's the stereotypically charming guy who occasionally tells a tasteless joke that everyone will laugh at anyway, because by then he's managed to coerce the entire school into thinking he sets the standard for wit and humor. He flirts with anyone and everyone indiscriminately like he was born to gift the world with his effortless pick-up lines and practiced wink, and not only does he have the numbers of nearly every cheerleader in his phone (which is supposedly the high school unit of measurement for importance), but the serious and assiduous students fumble and blush when he waves at them as well. Hell, even the metalheads and the self-proclaimed goths inexplicably duck their heads and grin slightly if he jokingly throws them a saucy wink or two.

It's incredibly unsurprising that Justin Timberlake fits the mold of the clichéd popular guy, coming across as mostly shallow and superficial. Or, at least, that was what Andrew thought before Justin's astonishingly profound performance at the annual talent show.

Justin had strolled onto the stage with his usual confidence, grabbing the microphone from the flustered announcer with a grin and a thanks and casually announcing that he was going to do a poetry reading. The audience laughed like he just told a joke, but he grinned and insisted, "No, really. I'm serious," while waving the pieces of paper he was clutching to demonstrate his apparent sincerity. The onlookers stared at him in amusement and disbelief. Obviously, everyone, Andrew included, had expected him to do a hip-hop song cover like he'd done each year before, but this—this was different.

And then he'd proceeded to inexplicably blow everyone away with his performance.

Andrew, in particular, had been completely shocked by the depth and intensity of the poem. He never expected Justin to be capable of producing the kind of elegant and artfully written work that he did. It was a poem addressed to an unnamed person—some cryptic recipient of his reverent regard and affections. It was written in a heart-wrenchingly sincere and honest way, filled with a sense of self-awareness and sharp intelligence that Andrew would never expect most high school students, let alone Justin, to possess. There were expressions of unrequited admiration, tinged with desperation and a sort of self-condescension that was almost painful to listen to.

And it was because of this poem that Andrew, along with maybe half the audience that wasn't already infatuated with the man, developed a massive crush.

Which is why he's walking determinedly down the empty hallway towards Justin's locker with a short note he’d written last night grasped in his hand. He slips the piece of paper surreptitiously in the other boy's locker. It’s a simple message that says:

 

Hi!

I'm sure you get an abundance of these notes, but I just want to let you know that I think you're incredibly brilliant, talented, and (obviously) attractive, and I was hoping you would give me the chance to get to know you as a person. If you're interested, we could grab dinner sometime?

-Andrew G.

 

Satisfied, Andrew walks away grinning lightly. He's not particularly anxious or concerned. Hey, if it happens, it happens. If not, he won't be too heartbroken about it. He knows he won’t get shit for it because Justin is a really decent guy despite appearances and wouldn't try to embarrass him or anything. Besides, even if people did find out about his ridiculous crush, no one would really be bothered by it. Andrew isn't exactly lacking in popularity himself, so he's confident enough to not be worried. No harm in trying, right? After all, what's the worst that could go wrong?

 

-

 

Jesse hates everything. He absolutely does. Not only is he already late to school, but he also can't even sprint to class since the reason he's late in the first place is because he tripped over one of his cats while running down the stairs, bruised his hip, and then had to defeatedly roll around on the ground for a while to recover.

He limps over to his locker to grab his books, and as soon as he opens it, a little slip of paper falls out onto the floor. He distractedly slips the note in his pocket to read later, preoccupied by nervous thoughts of an inevitable angry lecture from his History teacher for being late. Mr. Whitman can be dangerously cantankerous depending on the amount of caffeine he'd ingested that morning (his level of happiness is directly proportional to the number of coffee cups littering his desk, and students sometimes make it a game to place bets on his mood at the beginning of the lesson), and Jesse isn't looking forward to being ripped apart for his perceived transgressions.

It's only after school ends, when Jesse settles down to read The Great Gatbsy for English class that he feels a crunch in his pocket and remembers that he still has the paper. He's completely baffled by the idea of anyone sending him notes of any kind—malicious or complimentary—since he's probably the least noteworthy member of the entire student body. Curiously, he smoothes out the wrinkles and reads it, brows furrowing in confusion as he reads on. He almost stumbles out of his chair when he notices who it's signed by.

For a split second, he thinks it's one of Justin's pranks, but soon realizes it's not really his style. Plus, he knows that Jesse is still pissed at him for the poetry incident, so he's been treading carefully on light ground and therefore won’t risk upsetting him again so soon. If Jesse hadn't been stuck with Justin since they were two, he would have been long free of him since they're such dissimilar people, but Justin had latched onto him like he was his favorite teddy bear before they'd even finished growing their first set of teeth (and Jesse at that time was not cognitively advanced enough to protest like he ought to have) and refused to let go, even until now. So, as it is, Justin is still his douchetastic best friend, even despite the fact that he'd found Jesse's awful, embarrassing poem about Andrew a month ago, teased him mercilessly about it for a week, and then went ahead and read it out loud for the entire school's entertainment.

For a while after that, Jesse would've offered monthly payments to anyone willing to take up the mantle of being Justin Timberlake's long-suffering best friend, although there probably wouldn't have been any lack of volunteers because Justin is inexplicably popular. Jesse, for the life of him, cannot comprehend why, but he's not really complaining because Justin's influence is probably the only thing preventing him from being pushed into lockers regularly and allows him to remain in his safe, comfortable sphere of inconspicuous anonymity.

If it wasn’t Justin though, then he has no idea who sent it. It couldn’t possibly be Andrew, right? Andrew, who is frustratingly nice and perfect and smart and also definitely doesn't know Jesse exists. Except—it really is Andrew's signature and handwriting. He recognizes it because it's also on the numerous posters plastered all over the hallways promoting Andrew's unabashedly hipster photography club.

Feeling completely lost and conflicted, he decides he needs to convene with his cats for their love, support, and feline wisdom. He plucks them from their various hiding spots in the house and arranges them around him on the couch for a meeting. Two of them lick their paws and blink at him expectantly, while one decides she has more important things to do than indulge Jesse's teenage angst and flees to the other side of the room to see if she can fit more than just her head into an empty cereal box. The new tabby kitten they got last month rolls over on her back and yawns, paws outstretched. Jesse nearly dies from the cute and scoops her up onto his lap, after which she cuddles up to him and promptly falls asleep. Well, that's two audience members down and he hasn't even started yet.

He then updates them on some important Andrew-related news. "What do I do?" he says mournfully. "What if it's really a prank? Of course Andrew's definitely too nice to do something like that, but what if someone figured out I had this big, pathetic, dumb crush on him and then suddenly decided their primary objective in life was to make me feel like an idiot?" He sniffs. "Oh god, I can just see it. I’ll ask Andrew about it and he'll tell me it was all just a mistake and he'll be the nicest human being in the world about it and it will hurt in the worst way imaginable and I won't be able to go back to school for a week and when I get back I will see an emphatically capitalized "dork" spray-painted on my locker by one of Andrew's more, er, dedicated admirers."

One of his two remaining audience members has clearly given up paying attention to him during his monologue in favor of decimating the carpet, while the other just gives him a vaguely condescending look, as if to say, "Man up, Jesse. You did make that New Year's resolution to start living (a tiny bit) outside your comfort zone."

"That's not fair," he sighs. "In my defense, that was about growing the nerve to buy stuff at the new supermarket down the street instead of walking an extra ten blocks to grab milk just because I don't like unfamiliar places. Not about taking ridiculous Andrew-related initiatives. That's a resolution for, I don’t know, the next decade or so, when I won't even have to abide by it because I'll never see him again after high school and he still won't know I exist by then."

His cat just continues to give him the most unimpressed look ever, although that's probably the default expression of all his cats—or all cats, like, ever. There are probably cave paintings of wild cats with sassy, unimpressed expressions.

Jesse just falls back on his couch and continues to hate his life.

 

-

 

There's a boy following Andrew down the empty hallway. Every time Andrew stops and turns around, the boy stops as well, ducking his head somewhat unsubtly and pretending to text on his phone.

Andrew decides to have a little fun. He whips out his own phone and pretends to text someone as well, turning around and walking in the opposite direction he was going before, towards the curly-haired boy. When the other boy looks up, Andrew deliberately makes eye contact and the boy realizes he's being mocked, which causes him to stiffen slightly, eyes widening rather adorably as he turns around and darts down the hallway, disappearing around the corner like a scared mouse.

Oh no, that's not what Andrew wanted at all. "Hey!" he calls down the hallway, running to catch up to the other boy and grabbing him by the arm.

"Were you looking for me?" he says, because "are you stalking me" seems a bit harsh and the kid seems intimidated enough.

"I just wanted to—um, actually I was on my way to—heading towards—that is. Fuck." The boy takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. "Okay, what I was actually trying to say before chickening out in a spectacularly incoherent way was that—yes, dinner would be...nice, I guess?" He alternates between worrying his lip and nibbling nervously on his hoodie strings (which look worn and regularly abused), big blue eyes still widened in alarm. His feet are planted strangely, like he's ready to flee again at any moment. Andrew feels his protective instincts go into overdrive, like he kind of just wants to take this boy home and wrap him up in a lot of blankets and maybe feed him some hot chocolate. Or maybe nibble his spectacularly red lip for him—he's not really sure yet. He feels conflicted and a little helpless, which is why he's almost too distracted to remember that the boy just spoke some words at him. Words typically require responses.

Rewinding a bit to recall what was said just leaves Andrew feeling a bit lost and confused. Dinner? What? "What?" he asks dumbly, echoing his thoughts.

The boy dangles a piece of paper between them awkwardly with two fingers, and Andrew immediately recognizes it as the note he thought he'd slipped into Justin's locker a few days ago. "I, um...received your note. If it is yours, I guess. But I'm presuming it is because it kind of has your name on it so unless you wrote it with comedic intentions or it was meant for somebody el-"

"No!" Andrew interjects loudly, startling them both and making the other boy jump slightly in shock.

"Uh. No, yeah that was—um, so...would you be free tonight?" he manages to get out, and the boy slowly starts to smile, revealing hints of dimples on both cheeks.

 

-

 

Andrew walks out of that conversation exhilarated and a bit dazed. So that just happened. And apparently he has a date now. There's just one slight problem: he has no idea who he's even going on a date with. Since it might be slightly problematic if he doesn't know the name of the boy he's accidentally asked out, he decides to text Emma because she seems to be acquainted with just about everyone.

do u happen to know any cute & perpetually nervous curly haired kids? kinda short w/ blue eyes?

do i look like a dating service to u garfield?

pls emma its important DDD:

lots of ppl fit that description & its not like i know every1

:(((((((((((((((((

ugh shut your emoticon. ill ask justin for u, he probs does actually know everyone

He gets another text several minutes later.

J says either josh heder, gavin ortiz, jesse eisenberg, or dan thompson. he wants to know mystery boy's hair color

emma, dan thompson is our history teacher...
& brown hair

hey justin isnt judgmental. he says ur looking for jesse & also he added like thirty exclamation pts at the end

emma you are perf! ilu!

go get 'em ;)

 

-

 

A few hours later, Andrew starts freaking out a little because it looks like he's going to be late for dinner with Jesse. He'd agreed to babysit his nephew today while his brother was at some work-related event, but his brother was supposed to be back an hour ago and he still hasn't showed up yet. He's been frantically texting and trying to call Jesse for the past thirty minutes, but he hasn't gotten a reply and he's afraid that Jesse will be waiting at the restaurant worrying about no one showing up. In a slight fit of desperation, he digs out the school's directory and tries calling Jesse's home phone.

"Hello?" a younger-sounding girl on the other end says.

"Hi, is Jesse home right now?" he asks.

"Uh, he left about fifteen minutes ago, why?" she says.

"Oh no, I've been trying to call him for the past half hour to tell him I might be late for dinner, but he's not picking up his cell. If he decides to leave before I get there, which I wouldn't blame him for because I'm a terrible, terrible human being for being late, could you let him know I'm truly, desperately sorry and I'll make it up to him in any way possible?"

"Dinner? Oooh Jesse's getting dinner with someone? That's what he was being all cagey about!" she exclaims delightedly, in a slightly sadistic tone that promises teasing in the future.

"Uh, I guess?" he says, at a loss for what else to say.

"Just out of curiosity, does your name happen to be Andrew?" she asks out of the blue, which is completely perplexing because Jesse evidently hasn't told her anything about his plans.

"I- yes. How did you know?" he asks, which just makes her cackle loudly.

"Nothing, don't worry about it. Good luck!" she says cheerfully, then hangs up without waiting for a reply.

Well, that was strange. He's frowning slightly at his phone in confusion when the doorbell rings. He dashes to the door and opens it, exhaling in relief when he sees his brother. "Your kid is asleep upstairs, gotta go, bye!" he says hastily.

"Whoa, what are you in such a hurry for?"

"Late for dinner, see you!" he shouts as he grabs his jacket and rushes out the door. He hopes Jesse forgives him for his terrible first date etiquette. He looks at his watch and calculates that he'll only be about fifteen minutes late—ten minutes if the E train decides to play nice. That's not too bad, right?

Except the trains aren't as accommodating as he would have liked, and he ends up getting there twenty minutes and forty seconds late. The sky has darkened slightly in the interim between his entering the subway station and leaving it, which just makes Andrew feel worse about the whole thing. He'd suggested they meet in front of a tiny Italian restaurant downtown—nothing fancy, but he'd been there once or twice and the food was delicious. To his immense relief, he sees a head of curly hair on a boy leaning against a parking meter when he gets there. Jesse is hunched over a bit, hands buried in his hoodie pockets and he's biting his hoodie strings again. Andrew feels an irrationally visceral swell of affection for this person that he barely knows.

"Listen, Jesse, I am so, so incredibly sorry. Please forgive me for being late! I was babysitting my nephew and my brother got home later than he'd expected. I tried texting and calling you, but you weren't replying…"

"Sorry, sorry! I was kind of a jittery mess earlier and I couldn't remember how to function as a human being let alone charge my phone."

"God, Jesse, why are you apologizing? It's my fault," Andrew says as they make their way into the restaurant. They end up seated at a nice, relatively quiet corner near the back, and Jesse immediately buries his face behind the menu, reddening slightly for no apparent reason.

As they start chatting, Andrew begins to find that he genuinely really enjoys Jesse's company. He's witty, hilarious and surprisingly sardonic, and once Jesse starts to get over his initial nervousness, he starts talking more openly about himself. Andrew learns about everything from his cats, to the script he's currently working on writing, to his traumatic childhood experiences at summer camp. In turn, he tells Jesse about things like what it was like moving to America and talks about his conflicting interests in business and theatre.

"So what kind of stuff do you do around the city?" Andrew asks.

"Oh, um. I never know how to answer that. I'm pretty boring, actually. I guess when I decide to stop hiding in my room, I go to theatres to watch a play or a musical. I like architecture, so sometimes if I find a fascinating building I just sit for hours, sketching it. Um, I also enjoy going to tiny obscure book stores, or looking in antique shops for old maps—and wow, I sound like an eighty year old. My favorite pastime is actually wheeling my walker out to the front porch and throwing rocks at small children, yelling at them to get off my lawn."

Andrew grins. "I don't know, Jesse. That stuff sounds pretty appealing to me. Where do I sign up to be an octogenarian?"

Jesse smiles back. "Well, I do also enjoy watching basketball and cycling around the city. That's a normal thing that teenagers can get behind, right?"

"I actually don't know how to bike," Andrew admits. "You could teach me?" he adds helpfully.

"I'm not sure I'd be qualified to do that. I didn't exactly have the most instructive learning experience. My mom basically put training wheels on a bike and pushed me down a hill with high hopes and fingers crossed. That was basically one of the only instances of tough love in my childhood, though. She mostly coddled me a lot, which actually probably explains a lot about the way I am," he says.

"I like the way you are," Andrew says sincerely.

"How are you even a real person?" Jesse asks, like he genuinely can't believe someone like Andrew exists.

Dinner passes by remarkably quickly, and Andrew is reluctant to part with Jesse so he suggests they go to the highline afterwards. “I hear it’s where all the hip young things go for dates,” he adds.

“I only fit two out of the three criteria—young and thing.”

“Well, we’ve already established you’re an old man so that actually leaves you in just one category, but I’m sure we’ll manage. It’ll be fun. It’s the park built above the streets on an abandoned railroad track.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jesse admits. “I’ve been there once. It’s basically a really long patch of elevated grass,” he says, sounding vaguely unimpressed.

“But have you ever been there at night?” Andrew presses. Jesse shakes his head.

“It’s really beautiful! You need to see it. Come with me? Pretty please?” Jesse smiles helplessly and nods his acquiescence, and they grab the check before heading out the restaurant.

Night has blanketed the city by the time they take the steps up to the old railroad, and they walk along the softly illuminated path, looking out at the expansive glow of urban lights and endless traffic.

“It’s nice,” Jesse concedes softly. The dim lighting casts shadows across the hollows of his cheek bones, making his face appear sharp and angled yet somehow soft at the same time. Andrew can’t help staring. Perfect scenes like this are what he owns a camera for, but he doesn’t have it with him today, so instead he tries desperately to store the image in his memory.

As they walk on, Andrew spots a food vendor selling ice pops along the trail and drags Jesse over, ordering one for the both of them. They continue walking down the trail sharing a mango flavored popsicle, stopping at some point to lean against the rails and stare out across the river.

Jesse starts gnawing absentmindedly on the remnants of the popsicle stick, and Andrew curiously wonders if he’ll chew on anything conveniently placed near his mouth. While Jesse is gazing mesmerized at a trail of ships, Andrew slyly sticks one finger up to his mouth, and Jesse starts to tentatively nibble on it before jerking back quickly and throwing Andrew a betrayed look. Andrew returns the look with an innocent, wide-eyed smile.

Jesse scowls adorably and grabs at Andrew hands so that he can’t do anything else mischievous with them, but Andrew just takes this opportunity twist their fingers so that they’re holding hands instead.

They keep their hands linked down the rest of the trail and all the way to the subway platform, up until Andrew has to hop onto the train across from Jesse's.

 

-

 

Jesse gets home to find Justin lounging on his floor doing homework of all things, lenseless glasses perched on his face.

"Justin, I hate to break it to you, but I think your glasses might be missing a critical component that actually allows them to function in any sort of meaningful way."

Justin looks up from his book. "Jesse, you're back! These glasses make me feel smart and therefore productive when I have to do work," he explains a bit petulantly.

"But why are you doing work here?" Jesse asks, a bit baffled.

"I was trying to call you with important news but you weren't picking up, so I decided to come over. You'll never guess who was asking for you today!" he says excitedly.

"Who?" Jesse says blankly.

"Andrew fucking Garfield, man. He texted Emma today with, and I quote, 'Do you happen to know any cute and perpetually nervous curly-haired kids? Kinda short with blue eyes?'"

"Wait, what?"

"Yeah, I know, man."

"What? But that doesn't make any sense." Because that kind of implies that Andrew had no idea who he was before today, which doesn't particularly make sense in the context of him putting that note in Jesse's locker.

Unless—unless Jesse’s initial apprehensions weren't unfounded at all, and the note really was intended for someone else, which…would make a lot of sense actually. Andrew did originally seem pretty confused during the encounter up until he'd brandished the note. Oh god, Andrew probably didn't correct the misunderstanding because Jesse was acting like a human train wreck and sounded overly desperate, and Andrew was too nice to shatter his hopes or something. That's definitely the sort of thing Andrew would do. Andrew—who is generally usually the nicest human being in a 10 mile radius—probably didn't want to reject the awkward kid who started stammering confusing things about dinner in order to avoid upsetting him.

Was that what that was? A pity date? Andrew had probably sat through the entire dinner in painful frustration, too nice to tell Jesse to shut up about domesticated felines and his weird map obsession.

An unpleasant thought then hits him suddenly like a swift kick to the stomach. Justin had convinced Jesse to switch lockers with him in the beginning of the term so that he could have the locker next to some girl he was crushing on at the time—Mindy? Miley?—Jesse can't remember. Which means…maybe the message was meant for Justin, he thinks in horrified realization.

Wordlessly, he grabs his phone off his bed and plugs it into the charger.

"Hey, Jesse? Jess, what's wrong?" Justin asks.

Jesse ignores him temporarily, turning his phone on and typing out a quick message to Andrew. He really needs to know.

was that note originally meant for justin?

He feels his phone buzz three times in rapid succession.

!!!!
um…initially yeah
but it doesnt matter!!

With those words, Jesse’s fears are confirmed. He closes his eyes and quickly shuts off his phone again, not wanting to read any future messages in which Andrew inevitably apologizes profusely and confirms that it was all just a mistake—that he doesn't and never did want Jesse's attention in the first place. He feels foolish and horribly embarrassed. It's his own fault he was so overenthusiastic about the prospect of Andrew liking him back that he didn't consider the situation realistically at all.

Justin nudges him tentatively with his foot. "Jess, are you okay?"

He groans and rubs his face with his hands. "Everything is terrible and nothing will ever be okay ever again," he admits before spilling everything to Justin. He tells him everything—about the note in his locker, the awkward meeting, the date. He feels a slight pang in his chest as he tells Justin about how the message was actually intended for him originally.

"It's not that big of a deal though, right?" Justin says. "I mean, it's not like he actually knows me, and you guys got along great, so why does it matter?"

Jesse just frowns and throws himself morosely onto the bed and burying his face into a pillow. He hopes that when he wakes up tomorrow, his entire life will all have been a terrible, terrible nightmare and he'll remember that he's actually this cool, socially competent individual in real life who's never even heard of any person named Andrew Garwhatshisface.

 

-

 

Since life just doesn't work like that, everything is still similarly shitty come morning. Jesse spends the entire school day going to desperate measures to avoid any sort of encounter with Andrew, since he's not sure he's prepared to deal with his embarrassment yet. It's not that hard, since he doesn't actually have any classes with the other boy, and Jesse has been spending his entire life cultivating an exceptional talent for remaining unseen anyway. During lunch, he ditches his friends to go hide behind a stack of books in the corner of the school library, and he goes home immediately after classes are over without lingering or using his locker to minimize any chances of running into Andrew.

This system goes on for a few days, and Jesse congratulates himself for employing such an effective strategy. All good avoidance schemes must apparently come to an end though, because he comes home one day to find Andrew waiting in front of his door with his hands in his pockets, nervously kicking his sneaker lightly back and forth against the concrete.

Jesse wonders if there's any way to sneak into his own house through one of the windows without falling and breaking his neck. Before Jesse can finish contemplating never returning home and sending a long apology letter to his mother, Andrew looks up and notices him.

"Jesse, can we talk?" he says softly and placatingly, like he’s trying to avoid scaring a cornered animal.

"Do we have to?" Jesse says a little desperately. "I'm not sure I'll ever be emotionally equipped to handle you letting me down gently, so can we just skip this entire conversation and pretend nothing ever happened?"

"Let you dow—why would I do that?" Andrew sounds genuinely perplexed, like he can't figure out why anyone would ever want to let Jesse down, which in turn makes Jesse equally confused.

"I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with you continuing to agree to pity dates with me just because you're too considerate to turn me down. Not that I wouldn't enjoy any time spent with you—pity dates or not—but that's unfair to you, and if you're interested in Justin I'd rather not be a deterrence," he says frankly.

For some reason this makes Andrew look incredibly sad, which is a terrible thing to watch because his face does some droopy thing that makes people feel like they've kicked an entire litter of puppies one by one in succession.

"Jesse," he says, frowning. "Is that what you thought that was? A pity date? I don't think you get it. I went along with it when you accepted my mislaid invitation because I thought you were really endearing, and I still do. Not because I felt sorry for you, or any sort of self-deprecating rationale you might come up with. And if you let me go on a date with you again, which I really, really hope you'll let me do, I won't be there out of any misplaced sense of obligation or kindness, but for purely selfish motives because I think you're intelligent and funny and gorgeous and ado-"

"Andrew, if you continue to list any more positive attributes, I will literally run inside my house and never come back out," he promises, feeling embarrassed.

Andrew smiles. "Jesse, do you believe me? I'm not leaving until you say you believe me."

"Okay, okay. I believe you. And I'm not just saying that because it's the most convenient way of getting you off my porch, either."

"Good, that's—good. I'm glad. Because I really do think you're fascinating and I'd love to meet your cats and go watch plays with you and sit with you as you write and—just please, please give me a chance? Because yes, that note was originally written for Justin, but that was just a superficial crush if anything. I didn't even really know him. I just thought he was talented and that his poetry was beautiful, which really doesn't mean as much to me as the fact that I think you're one of the most brilliant and wonderful people I've met."

"You thought Justin's poetry was beautiful," Jesse repeats blankly. "Andrew, Justin only writes poems about bringing sexy back and writes odes to various types of formal wear," he says incredulously. "I would know, because he insists on quoting them at me every other day—but to each their own, I guess."

Andrew blinks. "Oh, um. I don't know, there was the one he read during the talent show. I thought it was pretty remarkable, even if it seemed slightly out of character."

Jesse groans and tries not to die from embarrassment on the spot, which seems to be a general theme in his life lately. "Someday, I'm going to have to tell you a funny story about that poem, but today is not that day, because I don't think I can handle any more emotions right now."

"As long as there are more days," Andrew says in that frustratingly genuine way of his, grinning, and Jesse nudges him lightly, ducking his head and returning the smile.

 

-

 

Seven Years Later

 

Jesse Eisenberg is not a brave man. This is a fact that comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. However, he doesn’t realize the true extent of his cowardice until he finds himself sitting (hiding) in the bathroom waiting for Andrew to come home and find the engagement ring he left on the coffee table.

In his defense, he did plan several different attempts to propose to Andrew while they were actually, you know, in the same room, but something always went wrong or he ended up chickening out last minute.

The first time he finally dug up the nerve to propose, he literally just forgot the ring at home. He’d left it in the pockets of his other pants and didn’t realize it until they were actually at the restaurant. “Shit. I forgot the- my wallet! I forgot my wallet,” he said, panicking, even though his wallet was in his back pocket.

“Let me just—let me run back and get it,” he added frantically, while Andrew just gave him a strange look, probably because he was insisting on traveling an extra forty minutes even though Andrew was perfectly capable of paying.

“It’s okay, Jesse, really. I’ve got mine,” he said, pulling out his own wallet and waving it for emphasis.

Jesse just planted his face into his hands and nearly wept.

The second attempt involved too much alcohol, lack of actual coherency on Jesse’s part, and Andrew being infinitely patient as he wrestled Jesse into bed amidst drunken protests and rambling declarations.

The third time—actually, the third time happened yesterday afternoon and he’d really, really prefer not to think about it. The third time did not happen. It just didn’t.

So since being cool and suave is apparently beyond his capabilities, he decides to aim for something sweet instead. He digs in his boxes for hours until he finds a handwritten draft of the stupid poem he wrote about Andrew in high school, filled with scribbles and crossed out lines. Then he grabs a pen from the desk and scrawls “To Andrew” at the top of the poem, before rolling it up into a tight scroll and slipping the ring around it. Gingerly, he places it inside Andrew’s empty mug, hoping none of his cats decide to knock it over.

Then he proceeds to lock himself inside the bathroom and worry excessively.

A while later, he hears the sound of the door opening and closing, signaling Andrew’s return from filming his current movie.

Time passes by terribly slowly, and then…"Jesse!” He hears a startled call from the living room, and he takes several deep breaths before reluctantly emerging from his hiding place and tentatively heading towards Andrew.

“Um, hi,” he says stupidly as he drags his feet into the room, staring at Andrew who’s just standing there staring at him with slight tears in his eyes.

“Is this- is this what I think it is?” Andrew asks tentatively, slipping the ring off the scroll of papers and holding it out in his palm. Jesse nods a bit timidly, nervously waiting for Andrew’s response.

Andrew unrolls the papers and immediately lights up when he reads the first few lines. “Oh, it’s that thing you wrote for me in high school,” he says, grinning widely.

Jesse frowns in confusion. “I never told you that,” he protests. “How did you find out?”

Andrew rolls his eyes. “We’ve been together for years. Do you really think I wouldn’t recognize your writing by now?”

“But how did you know it was about you?” he asks, still perplexed.

“I asked Justin about it once when I figured out you were the one who wrote it, and he spent a good ten minutes rolling on the floor laughing before telling me the whole story.” Andrew explains. “This is for me, yeah?” he adds, grinning foolishly while fiddling with the ring in his palm. “No take backs,” he warns jokingly as he wraps both arms tightly around Jesse’s waist.

Jesse has no idea why he was nervous in the first place. Andrew is clearly a ridiculous human being.

“No take backs.” Jesse promises, tugging Andrew down by the neck for a kiss.