epic cliffnotes and major credit list here. ps the Justin here is Bartha not Timberlake. CRAZY MULTIMEDIA FIC. all mistakes are mine. this is written for the tsn_kinkmeme (IKR) and the prompt can be found here. summary: Jesse and Andrew meet online and hit it off. Then they decide to meet in real life.
mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map part 1/2
Jesse likes to draw.
He doesn't do still life or draw Legend of Zelda fanart or anything worthy of artistic merit, he thinks, but he does like to doodle nonsense on the margins of his notebook and that’s, well, that’s something at least.
It starts out as a hobby at first - just something to pass the time with while he waits for his mom to get home from work and fix him dinner - but as he got older, and consequently, better, he realized he was actually pretty decent.
It isn't until sophomore year when Justin finds Jesse's drawings shoved under the bed, under piles of old shoes and forgotten homework, parsing through them with rapidly growing interest, that Jesse contemplates posting them online.
"Seriously, Jess. These are good! When did you learn how to draw?"
Jesse shrugs. Between middle school and the time you and Ashley started dating he doesn't say. He snatches the drawing pad from Justin and swivels his seat.
It's a Saturday night and he just had a peanut butter sandwich and his computer is open in front of him. Justin dropped by the house to return a DVD that he borrowed (Revenge of the Sith) and he's dressed for a party in a stylish leather jacket and blue jeans.
His hair, the kind of dark brown that would be black if it were matte, is styled in an artful pompadour.
"Party tonight?" Jesse asks even though he knows full well what the answer is.
Justin just grins sheepishly and shrugs one shoulder. "Yeah. I uh, if you have nothing planned tonight you should go too," he says halfheartedly. "Be fun."
Jesse waves the suggestion off. "I'm too cool for high school parties which is why I stay home during the weekends and troll the internet. There is more fun to be had that way." He forces a smile to his lips and Justin laughs. Of course he does.
Jesse stares at him for a long moment. Justin used to get so freaked out whenever he did that, his long, unflinching stare, but now he just looks at Jesse sort of awkwardly like he's partly wishing Jesse won't say yes.
"Yeah. Yeah I'm sure," Jesse tells him finally, turning his back on him and putting his feet up the computer desk. He hears Justin sigh behind him - in relief? - and tell him "later" before taking the stairs.
Justin calls out a goodbye to Jesse's mom who's in the kitchen making dinner - Jesse can smell it now all the way up in his room, the warm spicy scents unique to her cooking.
Justin's out on the street less than five minutes later, honking his horn and driving away and coughing up exhaust fumes behind him.
Jesse stands by the window and watches him go, leaves gathering momentum in the wind as Justin's car - his mother's trusty old Renault, lemon yellow and older than he is - zips down the road.
Bored, Jesse parks himself in front of his computer. He opens a browser and looks for something to do.
Diode is an online zine accepting original poetry, short stories and art. The finished product is published quarterly and will be sent to you for a dollar fifty - not including shipping - if you subscribe to the mailing list and pay the ten dollar membership fee.
It's run mostly by college kids from around the world - art students with vividly dyed hair and caffeine addictions and clothes from the dollar shop.
Jesse thinks it's a little pretentious, a complete farce (their motto is an Anne Tucker quote: All art requires courage) but that doesn't stop him from browsing the website anyway. Some of the poetry is good, written by self-proclaimed professionals who go under names like maxamillion (all lowercase) and samiamsam.
At least the art section isn't as bad.
Jesse scrolls through the profile page of Diode's founding members. Anyone who isn't using an alias is either tattooed or a lesbian. He clicks on a random username: Sandpiper. That seems unassuming enough as opposed to the myriad of French pseudonyms that seem to be littering the site.
Of course, Sandpiper's bio photo has to be in black and white but at least he's the most normal looking. Jesse wouldn't be surprised if he had an a tattoo of a dragon on his ankle or something equally "quirky".
Under Sandpiper's list of works are a few poems featured on the website. One called "This is Just To Say" is about how Sandpiper ate somebody else's iced plums for breakfast. "You are Rain" is an ode to a girl at school. Jesse's favorite piece is called "Childhood" which he reads several times over and writes down on a piece of paper, even though he’s not a fan of poetry. Maybe it’s the kind of mood he’s in.
He tips his chair back and taps his fingers against his knee, half circles that drum secret beats to a song. It's one in the morning and he wants a drink of water but he doesn't want to run into his mother's boyfriend Alan downstairs. Alan probably isn't even up at this hour but Jesse doesn't want to risk it. It's not like he hates the guy. He just doesn't know how to act around him when he's trying so hard to be Jesse's dad.
He turns back to his computer. The screen saver is back on so he wiggles the mouse a few times until the window reappears. Locating Sandpiper's e-mail is easy enough.
Jesse composes a message - brief and to the point, if not a little smarmy - praising Sandpiper for his writing skills. He signs it J. Eisenberg, hits backspace and thinks of a cool nom de plume, something hip but not too hip lest he’s called out on his bluff and called pretentious. Jesse looks around the room for inspiration. Nothing is remotely riveting, the walls of his room are covered in posters of his favourite musicals and his bedspread is peeled back all the way down to the floor. Jesse paces his room for five minutes, swatting the cat away from the fishbowl before flopping down on his bed.
It comes to him ten minutes later after he sprinkles fish food into the bowl. Parrotfish.
When he was a kid, his dad told him about these fish that change color as they got older, that were born female but then morphed into males after a certain time period, like they just decided, to hell with it. It’s not representative of Jesse at all but he thinks maybe it could be a metaphor for his fickle nature, how he can be broody one minute and then bored the next and how sometimes he wishes he had the courage to do something that scares him.
This is crazy, Jesse thinks to himself, shaking his head as he types in his new alias. He hits the send button quickly before he loses the nerve.
He isn't expecting a reply but Sandpiper's e-mail arrives two days later and Jesse very nearly yelps, bolting upright in his seat. He scans the e-mail quickly, reading it twice to make sure he doesn't miss anything.
Sandpiper sounds like an okay guy, which makes him feel almost guilty for thinking he was another one of those effete assholes when he's really just sincere about what he does. Jesse types in a quick reply and presses send without really thinking. He's surprised when his computer lets out a ding! fifteen minutes later. His glasses slip down the bridge of his nose. He pushes it back up.
Jesse stops responding after Sandpiper sends him a sadfaced emoticon. He doesn't know what to say for once so he lets the e-mail sit in his inbox for a couple more days, forgetting all about it until he checks his e-mail again on a Friday.
He pulls up Diode’s webpage on the screen. He doesn’t know what comes over him but he scans one of his drawings, resizes it, and sends it to Sandpiper as an attachment. He asks Sandpiper what he thinks, joking irreverently about putting him putting Jesse’s work on the site.
Jesse holds his breath for a long moment and clicks blindly on the send button, his palms sweating in nervousness. He wipes them across the leg of his jeans and sits chewing on his thumbnail for five minutes before taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes.
High school accounts for only four years of your life. Mathematically, that's just a tiny percentage but high school tends to be the longest, most tedious four years of your life. Jesse knows this firsthand. He can't wait for high school to be over, to move out of the house and finally, after ten years of fantasizing, go to college and meet more people like himself. People who dislike most people? They probably exist.
He can't be the only one lying in his bed at night, having all these imaginary conversations with people he will never meet, interesting people, the type he would like to be friends with, who wear nice clothes and look beautiful with make-up and excel both socially and academically.
Sometimes Jesse stays up all night thinking about this, what were people in school up to when he is here lying friendless and yearning and alone in his bed. Were they staring up at their ceilings thinking about other people too, or were they all congregated somewhere, in a secret location, having the time of their lives at a party Jesse wasn't specifically invited to?
Jesse's mom tells him he thinks too much, that he's too clever for his own good. He doesn't even know what that means or if it's supposed to count as a good thing. Knowing her and her tendency to oversimplify things, she probably thinks he’s a nutcase.
Another week passes before Sandpiper graces Jesse’s inbox with a reply. Jesse doesn't even realize it's been a week, only that he's been checking his e-mail for the longest time, clicking around websites mechanically and reading whatever political article catches his eye.
He jolts in his seat at the familiar ding of a new message, scaring the cat off his lap and making her leap for the bed. Sandpiper's reply is short and is in need of spell-check but Jesse hardly cares and greedily devours every word on the screen.
Jesse spends half an hour deliberating. He doesn't usually do this - what is he doing exactly? is there a point to all this? he's bored but not too bored - but finds himself compelled somehow, by an unseen force. The invisible hand, he thinks wryly.
With that as an excuse, he scans a couple more of his drawings from the week before, some he's done during lectures in class when he should be paying attention instead. They're nonsensical and stupid but so is this entire online correspondence.
Does it even matter at this point? This is the internet and even if Sandpiper (or wardengard or whatever his name is) doesn't truly believe Jesse's drawings are any good, at least he can't make fun of them to his face. There's comfort in anonymity. It makes people feel bolder. It also makes them dumb and dangerous.
Which is probably why Jesse signs his e-mail J.E. and tells Sandpiper a little bit how his week went, making sure to leave out as many personal details as possible (like the fact he's still in high school and living in middle class suburbia. They aren't exactly things he can boast about.) Besides, no one likes it when people over-share.
Jesse sits back, sends the e-mail, and refreshes the page every fifteen minutes.
Tomorrow is a Saturday, another yawningly boring weekend. Whoop-de-doo.
Jesse isn't exactly the epitome of social. He is the type to never have anything planned for the weekend. (What is there to do in this dinky little town anyway? Ride his bike up and down the street and from sun up to sundown?) Still, it would be nice if he got to hang out with Justin once in a while even if it were just to people-watch by the pier.
Justin hardly comes over anymore, always hip to hip with his girlfriend these days it's a miracle they haven't swapped faces yet.
It makes Jesse miss middle school a lot. Things used to be a lot simpler then, no girls to complicate friendships, no popularity contests. Justin started running track last summer and now he’s friends with all kinds of people, spending all his money on clothes and car repairs. He has a reputation to uphold, Jesse knows, because he isn’t a nobody anymore. He has a girl and he and his buddies from track do stupid stuff like drive out of town during the weekends and get drunk and have casual hook ups - Justin’s friends at least, Justin is far too smitten with Ashley to even glance at another girl - even though three years ago, Justin had worse skin than Jesse and weighed two hundred pounds and he only had one friend in the world since childhood and that was Jesse.
Jesse refreshes the page again.
Sandpiper sends him a link.
Jesse doesn't believe it at first. He refreshes the page nine times and only then does it sink in: Sandpiper wrote a post about him and posted one of his sketches online.
Jesse’s initial action is to scoff - who gave him permission to post Jesse’s stuff anyway? - but then he reads Sandpiper’s post and his cheeks burn and he laughs, embarrassed, hiding his face in his hands as if he were shying away from a roomful of people. Jesse rests his forehead against the edge of the desk, closing his eyes. The surface smells sickly sweet like spilled soda. He doesn't remember the last time he ever felt this happy. Happy doesn’t even begin to describe the erratic skip of his pulse. Pleased isn’t the word he’s looking for either. Jesse thinks for a moment, folding his hands in his lap. Giddy, he thinks. He’s giddy with sudden glee.
There it is, Jesse thinks. And then: Oh shit. My drawings are on the fucking internet. My drawings are on the fucking internet! It scares Jesse a little bit, because he's not sure he can take the criticism, especially from the more seasoned members of the internet populace most of whom have probably already seen better material. Then again no one can put a face to the name Parrotfish. "An altogether different species of fish" Sandpiper calls him and this makes Jesse roll his eyes but laugh too, in spite of himself.
The excitement he is feeling is like a head rush of the whole body. He stares at his screen for another long moment, chewing his lip and jiggling his leg. The response he sends Sandpiper is telling. He says thank you and asks about Sandpiper's poetry (is there more than the one he posts online?) He really genuinely admires Sandpiper's work, even though he didn’t mean it at first.
Jesse closes his message with a happy smile. Then he sits back and waits, slouching lowly in his seat so that his eyes are level with the desk. This is the hardest part, the waiting.
The bus has yet to arrive.
Cars are going by on the road, vans full of little kids and mustard orange SUVs, a Mustang full of screaming seniors blaring loud, foot-stomping music. Jesse stares after them enviously, adjusting the straps of his backpack on his shoulders. He doesn't have a license yet and Justin would probably start bleeding from the ears were Jesse to ask him for a ride every morning even though he lives just a few blocks away. Justin is cool now, has other friends. Jesse depends on him for the entirety of his social life and can't name any one in his Trig class to save his life.
School is arduous as usual. He and Justin have lunch together and talk about homework while Ashley polishes off her food daintily the way she does other things like daintily write her name on the bed of Justin’s palm.
Justin and Ashley are sitting side by side, too close for comfort, Jesse thinks, and in a way that makes it hard for him not to stare. They act like they're married even though Ashley is a freshman and probably doesn't even know the true meaning of commitment. Neither of them does. Ashley looks way too young for Justin (too blonde) but Justin is too smitten with her to even realize this.
Bored, Jesse takes out his drawing pad and flips through pages and pages of his doodles. He slides his printed copy of "You are a Pharmacy" and "You are the Rain" onto the table, and reads each line twice until he's sure he has the piece memorized.
"Hey - what're you reading there? Homework?"
Jesse quickly stuffs it under his drawing pad. His cheeks feel warm. He doesn't know why he's feeling embarrassed when really, he was just reading poetry that just happen to be written by Sandpiper.
Justin laughs at him, raising an eyebrow. "You hiding something there Jesse? Is it a love letter?" He bats his eyes coyly.
"Don't be a dick," Ashley scolds him, elbowing him in the stomach. Justin just laughs and flicks a French fry in Jesse's direction which Jesse successfully evades by ducking. Before Jesse can stop him, Justin grabs the drawing pad and pulls out the poems.
He makes a surprised noise and then a huff, like he’s not sure what he’s reading, exactly. "I didn't know you wrote poetry, Jess."
"I don't," Jesse tells him coolly, snatching back back the poems. "It's just something I printed off the internet."
"You read poetry now?"
"I do a lot of things that you're hardly ever aware of," Jesse says. Which is a complete and utter lie. Justin looks stunned, hurt even, but he recovers swiftly a second later and wiggles his fingers in Jesse's face.
"Ooh elusive are we," Justin says but Jesse doesn't laugh. It’s not funny.
They gather their things from the table when the bell rings five minutes later, signaling the end of lunch.
The first thing Sandpiper asks him is his location. He's not a pervert, he assures Jesse, and this makes Jesse laugh at his computer screen for a good ten seconds. His cat starts at the sound of it and looks at him in irritation, probably thinking: who is this crazy guy sitting in my person's chair, where did he come from, I don't recognize him.
- His cat wouldn't be the only one.
Jesse feels entirely like a different person ever since this whole thing began two months ago. There's not even a name for it. He checks his e-mail as soon as he gets home from school and when he's there, thinks about checking his e-mail. He has e-mail OCD.
Jesse wonders about Sandpiper constantly. Is he the same age? Where does he live? People tend to create online personas representative of people they wish they were that are not altogether consistent with their real selves.
He studies Sandpiper's bio photo again.
Sometimes, when Jesse gets lost in thoughts, he imagines Sandpiper sitting in front of his computer, checking his e-mail at the end of a long day and grinning tiredly at his screen. Jesse imagines him writing poems in class in a worn, leather moleskin, or under a tree with his long, lean legs spread across the grass. Sandpiper is probably the type of person who writes inside the margins.
Ugh, Jesse thinks, shaking the thoughts from his head.
It's late so he probably should turn his computer off. If he's contemplating printing Sandpiper's picture and putting it in his wallet... he blushes violently and shakes his head again.
Whatever, he thinks, and closes Diode's bio page but leaves the window of his inbox open.
He leans back in his seat and refreshes it one last time. You know, just in case.
The problem with school is that it is another affair altogether. Jesse feels like a different person there, his mind blank and Sandpiper all that fills his head. Justin thinks he's spending way too much time at home and not enough time around people but what he doesn't understand is that Jesse has a life too, separate from high school, from him. His weekends aren't as boringly trouble-free as they used to be.
"You're scaring me, man," Justin tells him one day, nudging him with a foot. He's in Jesse's bedroom on a school night, balancing a basketball on one finger. It's pretty impressive because he is able to keep the ball poised on his finger for at least five seconds before dropping it. Jesse wonders when he learned how to do that.
"It's like I don't know you anymore," Justin continues. "What's up, Jess? Are you still writing those poems?"
Jesse shrugs. "I don't write poems."
"I know," Justin says. "I was kidding."
Justin leaves half an hour later, slapping a hand against the wall before taking the stairs two at a time. Jesse doesn't call out a goodbye, his mind prone now to wander. He hears Justin driving off, the scratch of rubber against asphalt outside as Jesse props his feet on his desk, crossing his ankles.
He clicks around Diode's webpage, stares at Sandpiper's bio photo, wishing, not for the first time, that he were Jesse's friend instead.
It starts out innocent enough - questions that never hit close to home - until one night Sandpiper tells him his real name is, of all names to be had, Andrew.
Jesse has never pegged Sandpiper for an Andrew. It's a little weird, knowing that the person on the other end, Sandpiper, who Jesse constantly thinks of as poet and "artist" with all the fanfare the title entails, has a normal and unassuming name like Andrew.
You're thinking it aren't you
you think my name is boring
Jesse bites his lip to keep himself from grinning. It scares him how much Sandpiper - Andrew - knows him. There's a sense of belonging there, of history, of a togetherness that Jesse can't quite pin down and doesn't usually have with others. It's like Jesse knew him in another life. Andrew knows what he's going to say even before he says it. It is possible they were twins separated at birth. They both have the same weird sense of humor.
It takes Jesse a lot longer than he would like to type in his name, but when he finishes, slouching in his seat and chewing on the end of a licorice stick, he feels this thing ease through his skin like a livewire.
Jesse hits enter and the rewarding smile two seconds later makes him snort out a laugh, massaging his eyes underneath his glasses. He should be asleep. It's morning already and he still has school tomorrow. But then Sandpiper - Andrew, Jesse corrects himself. Who’s going to keep him company when he’s all alone in his flat?
Fuck it, Jesse thinks and starts typing.
The problem, of course, is that his mom notices.
"Darling, you have bags under your eyes," she observes on the rare occasion she's home early and Alan is nowhere to be seen within five miles of the house.
Thank god, Jesse thinks.
"Are you on drugs?" She ruffles his hair, leaning down to kiss him and rub his back.
Jesse protests against her touches, ducking well beyond her reach and making for the door. "I'm not on drugs, mom. I'm just tired all the time." He makes a vague gesture with his hand and shrugs his shoulders. "It's just school. Not drugs. School."
- A lie because he hasn't been sleeping much these days, if at all. He wonders if the same were true for Andrew. Then again, considering the time difference, probably not. Jesse is the one with the crazy hours, gesticulating wildly in front of his computer, sweaty and bug-eyed in his Transformers t-shirt, laughing to himself whenever Andrew says something particularly funny in a message. He's grateful his mom has never walked in on him, staring in front of a glowing computer screen with the stupidest look on his face.
"Are you sure?" She looks concerned and Jesse thinks she really doesn't have any right to be when she's been a negligent parent half her life. She still has her hospital ID pinned to the pocket of her blouse. Her make-up is smeared across her face, shiny with sweat, cracks of foundation caking in the corners of her mouth. Jesse doesn't remember her looking this old.
"Of course I'm sure mom," he tells her and looks away when she tries to reach out to him for a hug. He leaves the kitchen, but not before stealing a bag of potato chips from the kitchen counter and a pack of skittles from the top of the fridge, and making a dramatic exit.
"You know you can talk to me about anything honey!" his mom tells him, following him to the foot of the stairs. She sounds genuinely worried, tired, both. Jesse just shrugs again and shuts the door behind him with a swift kick.
If she knew him, she'd know: he wasn't on drugs. He hardly leaves the house unless for school and it's not like he needs the drugs for anything. Although, he thinks belatedly, he could do with sleeping less.
Jesse parks himself in front of his computer, arranging his food around him in a wide berth. He moves his mouse to get rid of the screen saver and pops a skittle into his mouth.
It's midnight right now in London Jesse worries his bottom lip with his teeth and waits for Andrew to log on.
He has to write a poem for English class. Oh the irony, Jesse thinks.
Words don't come easily to him, not on paper. He can talk all rapid-fire and stream of consciousness thought, verbal vomit, but can't bring himself to organize his thoughts or stick to an emotion he can explore in print. Feelings happen to him simultaneously, in a rush of breath, gone before he can grasp them and disappearing quickly.
Often times, Justin accuses him of being frigid which is not at all true because Jesse used to be bullied in summer camp and used to cry all afternoon in his bunk, wanting nothing more than to hide his face in his mom's neck, feel her tired, thin arms around him.
The word processor stares back at him, still blank, the cursor blinking, reflecting the bony angles of his seventeen year old face in its dusty palm-marked screen.
Jesse wonders how Andrew is able to come up with material that is equal parts relatable and heartfelt but not overly sentimental. This is the hardest thing he's ever done in his life. Jesse takes off his glasses and picks the cat up from his feet.
Two hours later, he finishes something trite, a piece he calls "My Poems". He sends it to Andrew for perusal and leaves his computer on all night.
"My Poems" sits in his bag all day until Jesse has to hand it out in class. The good feeling in his chest lasts long. He takes the bus home, humming show tunes under his breath.
Andrew asks for his number on a Saturday night. Jesse has no homework, no tests, no obligations but those he has to himself. It's ten thirty and he's exactly where he should be: perched in front of his computer in ratty pajamas and a college sweatshirt he got from a thrift store.
He needs a haircut.
Jesse's never felt more unattractive in his entire life, his hair thick with a nest of curls and his skinny legs crossed at the ankles, propped on the desk. Then again, Jesse can't remember a time in his life when he actually felt comfortable in his own skin. He isn't like Justin who lost all of his baby fat in middle school and suddenly learned how to talk to girls.
"I'm bored," Andrew types. "And I want to rack up my phone bill. You won't send me a picture so, I don't know, can I give you a ring then or something?"
"Why does it matter to you what I sound like?" Jesse asks. And then: "Or something."
"Haha," Andrew says, and Jesse imagines him saying this flatly.
His fingers fly over the keys. "I sound terrible on the phone," he adds.
"Doubt it. Don't you trust me? I told you I'm not a creeper! We've been over this plenty of times before!"
Jesse laughs. It’s not that, not really. His mind balloons in nervous fear as he sends Andrew his cellphone number after five minutes of deliberating whether or not this is a good idea - all signs point to it being a spectacularly bad idea but a traitorous part of him keeps urging him on.
Doesn't matter now, he thinks, drumming his fingers restlessly against his leg. He waits for Andrew's response. What happens instead is that his phone rings, skittering across the desk and moving a few feet.
Jesse stares at his cellphone for a few seconds. He glances at the monitor again, peering at Andrew's hastily typed message in all caps: PICK IT UP!
Jesse blinks, licks his lips, and with a rapidly thudding heart, flips his phone open and brings it to his ear.
This isn't happening, he thinks but then Andrew's voice is right in his ear, lower than he's ever allowed himself to imagine, soft, strangely familiar, if a little hoarse. Jesse's pulse starts to quicken and he bolts from his seat.
"Uh, uh, H-hi," he says, hating how it comes out in a stutter, all in one long drag of breath. He doesn't want Andrew to think he's a loser, which he isn't, and Jesse's never worried about that kind of thing before, people's perception of him, but somehow Andrew's impression of him matters more so than the acceptance of his peers.
"Hi." Andrew' laughs again. It makes Jesse shiver, ecstatic, hearing that laugh so close to his ear.
"I've never done this before," he confesses shyly.
"Neither have I," Andrew says. They both pause, unsure of what to say next. All the online conversations in the world could not have prepared Jesse for this moment. He leans his forehead against the wall, closes his eyes. Always, Andrew comes to his mind in fragments - that picture of him on the Diode website in his flannel shirt with his hands dug inside the pockets of his jeans, his long arms, the slender curve of his neck.
There's a five hour difference so it's probably early morning over there. Andrew's always described living in London akin to "living inside a tupperware" with the weather sullen and damp and gray. Jesse wonders if this were true even now and if Andrew's heart is racing just as fast as his own.
"We're not about to have phone sex are we? You sound out of breath," Andrew tells him goodnaturedly in another laugh that makes Jesse feel suddenly nervous, self-conscious. He takes off his glasses, massaging the bridge of his nose. The wall smells like dust. Everything in his room smells the same.
Jesse's voice hiccups when he says, "Do you want to have sex?" and of course he is joking. And Andrew who is always game, picks up on it and hums in amusement.
"Of course I do," Andrew says. "That was my intention all along, to gain your trust so I could have my way with you - over the phone. I enjoy talking dirty to people. I used to want to be a phone sex operator as a young child."
"I always knew you were a pervert," Jesse says.
This time he doesn't stammer and Andrew laughs and he laughs along with him.
Sunday morning, Jesse wakes up from a long strange sleep of bad dreams. The house is empty. He drinks a giant glass of orange juice in the kitchen and sits around in the living room in his boxers. He pads upstairs and listens to Ween on his computer, crossing his ankles against the wall and bouncing a tennis ball against it.
When his phone rings at lunch, he makes a dive for it as it vibrates on the floor. Jesse slips, catching himself on his hands and knees before he can fall.
"Hey," Jesse says.
"It's raining here and I'm cold and I don't want to leave the house. Ever. Not on a Sunday afternoon," Andrew tells him miserably, moaning for emphasis.
"Then don't," Jesse says. There's a flurry of movement on the other end and Jesse tries hard to isolate the sound, focus on the low cadence of Andrew's voice. He's decided, long ago, some time between the first and sixth phone call, that he likes listening to Andrew speak; he's picked up on the distinct rhythms of his speech and the nervous way Andrew laughs after telling a joke.
There's always this pause afterward, not too long and certainly not uncomfortable, as if Andrew were waiting for him to respond, to laugh and carry on where he left off.
"What are you doing right now?" Andrew asks him.
Jesse shrugs, feeling silly for doing so because it's not like Andrew can see him.
"I'm just at home, really. Working on uh, some personal projects, you know."
"Home on a weekend?"
"Mm-mm." Jesse sits in front of his computer, moving files around. "You?"
"About to leave for lunch, actually. I promised a friend - lelula93 - she's on the website, that I'd meet her for breakfast to discuss a few things about the zine. The problem is that she lives an hour away from here and I have to meet another friend in forty minutes and I don't have anything clean to wear. Not even pants. And it has to rain too to add to my misery."
"So, essentially, you called me to complain about all that?"
"That's what friends do in addition to borrowing money they can never pay back."
Jesse laughs. "So we're friends, then," he mumbles, chewing on the inside of his cheek. He catches his reflection in the mirror and decides he looks crazy enough, hair sticking out, a manic grin plastered across his face.
"I can't find my wallet either," Andrew says, making a despairing noise. He sounds like he's running up a flight of stairs.
"God, this is all too much. I hope I didn't lose it. My life is becoming unbearable by the second. It never gets better!"
"Life is not easy," Jesse tells him, "Life is not cake."
Andrew makes a noise of agreement, laughs too. "It would be delicious if it were though."
"And made of soy," Jesse adds.
The phone call ends around ten minutes later. Jesse is making lunch when his phone rings in his pocket. He's making oatmeal for himself, not the instant kind, but the stuff his mom buys in bulk from the local health food store. He loads up the bowl with a chopped banana while the oatmeal cooks, peeling one for himself before picking up the call and cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear.
"I thought you were just leaving?"
Andrew laughs sheepishly. "I did. I left. But I went back to grab my umbrella. Well, it's more of a lace parasol, really, which I um, I kind of stole from a friend. The only umbrella I own was in a suitcase that I lost in Surrey last summer. My tax papers were there too. Which means someone has my umbrella and my financial problems."
"I'm eating lunch," Jesse tells him, out of a lack of a better thing to say. He flushes wine red, banging his forehead against the fridge none too gently and groaning.
Why did he say that, he thinks despairingly. Now what will Andrew think of him?
But Andrew just laughs his breathy laughs and says goodbye, all cool and casual like it doesn't even matter. He promises to call again.
Jesse sits at the kitchen table, stirring his lukewarm lunch with a spoon. He flushes when he recalls their earlier conversation and halfheartedly digs into his bowl of food. Then he looks outside the window and thinks about the rain pattering gently down Andrew's umbrella, silver and shimmering like tinsel at Christmas.
It's early one Monday night when Justin comes over and tosses his bag on the living room floor. His face looks like death. "Are you all right?" Jesse asks him. It doesn't look good.
Jesse's in the kitchen, poking around the fridge for some edibles because his mom won't be home until late. There's nothing salvageable in the fridge but some bananas and leftover powdered orange juice which he can barely stretch with fizzy water.
"We broke up."
Jesse stands there, speechless and chilled.
"What do you mean you broke up? You and Ashley-"
"She says I'm too serious for her. That I'm not fun anymore, that I act like I want to marry her sometimes and that scares her. She says she wants to see other people."
Justin shrugs, like it's no skin off his back, but his voice hitches and he grabs fistfuls of his hair and Jesse is terrified for one fleeting moment that this tall goof of a person may actually start to cry in front of him. He doesn't think he's emotionally prepared to handle that, doesn't think he ever will be.
Jesse pulls out a chair and sits across from him. The silence that ensues is strange and awkward. Jesse can hear the pot of vegetable soup whistling on the stove and the soft rasp of Justin's chair against the floor.
"So what happens now?" Jesse asks him. He almost never knows what to say without sounding callous.
Justin's eyes look a little red. "I don't know. I guess we'll start seeing other people."
"You have anyone in mind?"
Justin shoots him a look. "No, I don't have anyone in mind, Jesse. God, you're terrible at this. Why did I even come here?"
"Exactly!" Justin says. "You're doing a lousy job, you know." He slouches in his seat and shakes his head, breathing noisily through his mouth and ignoring Jesse's presence in the room, which, Jesse thinks, is probably for the best. "I honestly thought we'd last longer than this," Justin continues. His thoughts are back to Ashley again.
Jesse sighs. He remembers meeting Ashley for the first time, three summers ago. She looked so small standing next to Justin, her arms thin and bare and freckled, her blonde hair falling in clouds around her shoulders. They used to be so happy together, he thinks, so in love. Then again this is high school and nothing is set in stone.
Jesse gets up from his seat to turn the stove off. The soup looks frothy, inedible - nothing like the stuff his mom makes. He grimaces. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Justin rest his forehead against the edge of the table.
"You can stay for dinner," Jesse tells Justin not unkindly. "I'm having crackers and soup."
"Oh goodie," Justin says, head shooting up, and he looks awful, his eyes bloodshot, the corners of his mouth turned down. "Crackers and soup! My favorite!"
It's a school night and Jesse's in his boxers, cut outs of comic books and magazines in front of him on the floor, spread in a half-circle. Ween is playing softly in the background like a soundtrack to his bizarre online correspondence with Andrew although he supposes, in hindsight, that it is rather fitting. Better Ween than musical theater.
Jesse is attempting to make a mix CD. It's simple, it's cheap, and Andrew who is not exactly a connoisseur of music more than Jesse is the epitome of a high school sophomore, would probably get a kick out of it.
Jesse doesn't listen to a lot of bands but those he does know and enjoy in passing are the same bands Justin seeks out in music stores and downloads online, often illegally. Jesse pens a list of songs, narrowing down the list to a specific even number - he likes a good, round number - before slipping a blank CD into his computer and waiting for the CD burner to work its magic.
Andrew sent him a shirt last week, with Jesse's drawing screenprinted on the front. A gift, he'd joked, for his number one fan, but despite all efforts to make it seem irreverent, Andrew paused, waiting expectantly on the phone for Jesse's response.
Jesse didn't say he loved it, even though he did, a lot, but he did say thank you and let me make you something in return.
A postcard came with the shirt, which Jesse thumbtacked to an old, sprawling map of Lisbon on his wall - a gift from his dad back when Jesse's dad used to live at home and Jesse wanted to be a cartographer more than anything because he thought it would take him away from here, to places he never even thought existed. Jesse grew out of it eventually, the way his dad grew out of his mom.
"Hey, I got my poem back," Jesse tells Andrew conversationally, stooped so low on the floor, over his drawing pad, that he felt a soft ache in his spine. "I got a B."
"A B? Fuck that! Obviously your instructor can't recognize a literary genius when she - or he - sees one."
Jesse snorts. "Obviously." He starts doodling the front cover of the CD.
"Hey - let's celebrate."
"My getting a B? It's hardly cause for celebration."
"I know, I know." Andrew sighs, pretending to sound put-out. "I just have all this beer with me and no one to share it with."
"You do know there are at least three thousand miles separating us."
"Three thousand three hundred and ninety two point four hundred and fifty three miles to be exact."
"Well - not until this very moment, no. Did you figure that out all by yourself?"
"I checked on Google maps," Jesse tells him.
Andrew laughs. "You're creepy. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"Every day of my life."
There's a pause. Pauses always sound longer on the phone, more suspenseful. Andrew heaves a deep sigh and Jesse feels it reverberate inside his chest, like a low hum whose source he can't seem to identify.
"You should be here." With you? Jesse doesn't ask. "Sharing this piss poor excuse of a beer with me," Andrew continues.
Jesse agrees. He puts the mix CD away for a moment, walking towards the other end of the room where his dusty five feet long map of Lisbon is taped poorly to the wall. He taps his fingers against Andrew's postcard, the right hand corner is creased and smudged with thumbprint.
The postcard doesn't smell like anything. Jesse breathes in its scent and breathes out dust and the distinct powdery leaf smell that he often associates with paper. He takes the postcard from the wall and maps lines of ink with his fingers -places Andrew may have touched, even left traces of himself on.
Andrew's voice on the phone sounds like it's coming from another world altogether and in a way, maybe it is.
"I want to see you," Andrew says.
"Me too," Jesse tells him hurriedly. His feet drag across the carpet when he flops down on his bed, draping himself across the covers. Ween is still playing on his computer, crooning about things falling apart at the seams. Jesse wants to laugh. He loves this band.
"You're the best person I've ever met in my life," Andrew confesses, "And I haven't even met you yet."
Jesse lies on his side, closing his eyes. He isn't one to say dangerous and inappropriate things, least of all on the phone and to a person he has not even seen face to face so he settles for making a noncommittal noise in his throat.
"Sure," he says, "Same here." But he means it, truly. They fall into conversations as easy as old clothes. Andrew is not like Justin who gives Jesse bewildered looks whenever Jesse cracks a particularly risque joke. Andrew thinks he's funny and he makes Jesse feel so infinitely wise and mature.
Jesse wonders if Andrew is lying in his bed too, and if he is, is he on the right side or the left side? Jesse's head is cloudy with thoughts because it's late and he hasn't eaten anything but the tomato sandwich he had for lunch in school.
"Hey, Jess. It's raining again. Can you hear it?"
There's static and then Andrew's amused laughter, and then sure enough the soft pitter patter of rain against glass. Jesse imagines it sliding down the surface, streaking the window and sparkling in the streetlight.
They talk for hours and forget the time; they talk despite it and Jesse falls asleep easily that night, face slack against the coarseness of week-old bed sheets. He dreams about wading through puddles of rain, his shoes caked with mud and rapidly filling with water.
In the dream, he is chasing after something he can hardly identify, and whose shape he recognizes only in familiar fragments: lean legs, a slender neck, deep, dark eyes.
He wakes up late for school.