Spencer refuses to believe that Brendon could be this annoying accidentally, or incidentally, or just because he’s drunk. He nurses his beer and watches Brendon’s embarrassing attempts at chatting people up until it’s not even slightly funny anymore, quashes an impulse to text Ryan about it (suppressing any thoughts of Ryan while he’s at it) and then sets the empty bottle on the bar.
It’s the last time he goes out during Fashion Week in New York. That’s all Spencer can think of to make this night bearable, so he repeats it to himself decisively and looks around for someone slightly sane, or at least alone, to pass the time until he can call Zack to drag Brendon away from whatever unimpressed audience he’s bouncing off of.
Everyone looks busy and imbedded in a clique, except for a girl who’s leaning against a wall in the darkest corner. Spencer only sees her because her hair is beacon-bright. She’s already watching him, so he nods at her casually, pretty confident about the low odds of her being a Panic fan.
She nods back, so he walks over.
She’s a boy. And up close, he’s the most striking person Spencer ever saw in real life. His name’s Andrej.
He’s a model.
They end up talking about politics. Spencer’s had a lot of spare time lately, so he can hold his own about current events. Andrej smiles childishly and shoots his arguments down one by one until Spencer buys them both fresh drinks and changes the subject.
Spencer has Andrej’s number. He’s not entirely sure how this happened, but it’s a moot point, because it’s been two weeks and Spencer still can’t think of anything to talk about that would justify a call.
Andrej calls first.
Spencer’s at the beach with Brendon. He almost drops the phone when he sees the name on the screen, but he picks up. Relived, nervous, something that makes him grateful that Brendon’s paddling away from the shore, but he picks up anyway.
“Andrej, hi. How are, umm, things?”
He wants to smack himself, but Andrej doesn’t seem to need anything more than a listening ear. He talks about the boring photoshoot he just had, the way the photographer didn’t really get anything out of him, and Spencer can relate to that, at least. Andrej’s accent shifts with the turns of his phrases, Australian vowels and some rougher consonants woven through, nothing Spencer can immediately place.
It’s more interesting than it should be, considering he doesn’t care about the intricacies of fashion modeling.
“I’m sorry,” Spencer says when Andrej winds to a close. “It’s hard to work with people who have fixed ideas. Especially when you’re the subject.”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“My first photoshoot traumatized me. My best friend—my childhood friend, that is—loved it.”
“Were you working together?”
Oh, Spencer thinks, oh. Andrej really has no idea who Spencer is. He takes a deep breath and truncates the story. He hasn’t been good about telling it to himself since this summer, but he brought it up first, so he makes himself speak like a normal person.
“He was in my band.”
“You’re a musician?”
“It’s all I ever wanted to be,” Spencer says. Then he stops and thinks about it, and it rings true and new, put this way for someone who never saw him when he was hiding baby fat behind a drum set.
“I never wanted to be a model,” Andrej says casually. “What’s your band called?”
“Panic at the Disco.” His band, his and Brendon’s now. Funny how things change.
“I heard about it. You had that song, what was it, the one about boys hiding in estrogen?”
Spencer bursts into laughter.
“Did I mishear the lyrics?” Andrej asks hesitantly. “I heard it on the radio, I wasn’t really paying attention. I wasn’t into music back home.”
“No,” Spencer says, voice cracking. He clears his throat and tries again. “No, it’s just. I thought you were a girl when I saw you, no offence. And that’s the song that stuck with you?”
“No offence taken, it’s on purpose.” Spencer can hear someone talking in the background, and then Andrej says, “I have to go. But do you want to go out later? I’m in Brooklyn.”
“I’m in California, I live here.”
“Oh, ok. I don’t even live in America. If I text you my email address, will you send me the song?”
Ryan wrote it when he was at his worst, when he was closest to Spencer. They recorded it too fast but Spencer’s still proud of it. It was their shot and they took it with both hands, gave it their all. He played it so many times that he wakes up with phantom aches in his wrist joints some days. He hasn’t been playing the drums as much as he wants to since he stopped talking to Ryan.
“Yeah,” he says. “Free of charge.”
“Friends in high places,” Andrej says wryly, and hangs up.
Spencer’s still laughing when Brendon runs towards his towel, dripping water and kicking sand everywhere.
He sends Andrej the song and a link to the lyrics.
Spencer looks for pictures of Andrej online.
He’s completely out of Spencer’s league, so he decides to read some of the books Andrej mentioned in New York instead. At least this way, Spencer will have something intelligent to say.
He also finds out that Andrej is seventeen. Spencer is used to being the adult, but he’s surprised at how young Andrej actually is. When he was seventeen, though, Spencer was getting famous too, so he won’t treat Andrej like he’s a kid, because he isn’t.
Andrej wears suits and dresses. He’s always behind on his sleep and it never shows. He wears lip gloss and foundation and sometimes he has dark tans that he washes off in bathtubs with Spencer on the line, talking about Medicare and classic liberalism. He has imperfect teeth and his hair color is fake. He likes sushi and music with synths, and he drinks and smokes too much when he goes out. He buys postcards from every city he goes to and sends a few to Spencer, nothing but Spencer’s address and a signature on the back.
Spencer puts them in the box with his tour keepsakes. He doesn’t save any of the photos on his hard drive.
He wonders if Andrej ever bothered to look for photos of Panic, or if he really lives in the present as much as Spencer thinks he does.
Their conversations are always spur-of-the-moment. One of them picks up the phone and ten minutes or half an hour later, Andrej gets distracted by something else, something Spencer can’t see but he might hear about later, and they email each other when they find the time.
They don’t talk about their careers much. But they have careers that are also lifestyles, so they just avoid specifics by unspoken consensus.
Spencer makes oblique references to the way the album is coming along. Andrej mentions designers he met lately, how they saw him, but what Spencer listens for are the personal things that trickle through. He learns about Andrej’s struggle with English when he first moved to Australia and about his big brother, about boys from school treating Andrej like a girl and how he never did anything to choose either way.
Andrej takes things as they come and he has a wicked sense of humor, especially when it comes to himself and public image in general. He shuts down one of Spencer’s maudlin comparisons about what the two of them looked like growing up with a meandering speech about uniqueness. Spencer doesn’t bring it up again. He’s not that person anymore.
They don’t meet again until almost a year later, by which point Spencer considers Andrej a friend, his only friend that never needs anything specific from Spencer.
Andrej’s flight is cancelled and he’s stuck on LAX. Spencer goes to keep him company. He replays the only other time they saw each other on the drive over, but it doesn’t prepare him for the sight of Andrej, jetlagged and bedraggled, smiling at him like he’s already making things better.
“Any updates?” Spencer asks, sitting down next to him.
Andrej shrugs, smile fading slowly. He looks great, better than he has any right to, and Spencer makes himself look away with an effort.
“Could be two hours or I could be stuck until tomorrow. Sorry I dragged you out of bed.”
“I offered,” Spencer points out.
Andrej turns in the plastic seat and hugs Spencer, briefly but not weakly. Spencer catches a whiff of Andrej’s perfume or shampoo that he knows will be stuck in his head, like the way Andrej’s long hair feels under his fingers.
“Thank you,” Andrej says, pulling back.
Spencer lets him go and follows him outside when Andrej wants to smoke, every thirty minutes on the dot.
They drink nine coffees between them and talk for hours before Andrej boards the plane. He turns eighteen flying over the ocean.
Spencer would be lying to himself if he pretended not to notice the way Andrej is suddenly everywhere.
Brendon is flipping through a magazine that Sarah left on their coffee table. He stops at a page and holds it up, elbowing Spencer and raising his eyebrows.
“Isn’t this your model? He’s rocking this dress, I gotta say.”
Spencer frowns at him instead of looking at the photo. Brendon waits for a few seconds, then rolls his eyes and goes back to reading the horoscope.
“He’s not my model,” Spencer says belatedly.
“Maybe he should be.”
Trust Brendon to bring it up, Spencer thinks. “Maybe,” he allows, and that’s the last time Brendon talks about it first.
Maybe. But not if Spencer doesn’t do something about it.
They’d all known that Pete and Ashlee’s marriage was on the rocks. When it falls apart, Spencer ends up in New York again, the designated Decaydance delegate to see how Pete’s handling it.
Andrej is also in New York. Spencer can tell that he’s worried about something when he calls after Paris Fashion Week, so he picks him up from the airport the next day and takes him to the apartment one of the interns recently vacated. Andrej falls asleep as soon as he’s on the couch, so Spencer goes to the kitchen to consider his options.
What they have, this friendship, got Spencer over himself in a lot of ways. He thought he was mature before he met Andrej, but now he knows how lucky he is. The things he had to deal with weren’t pleasant, but he never had to brave a new country with nothing but the clothes on his back. He never had to think twice about what he wanted to do with his life, and things fell into place, right band at the right time.
Andrej is self-contained, but Spencer got in somehow.
And it isn’t enough. Not if he’s honest.
He stays in New York for three days after Pete goes back to LA, waiting for Andrej to finish work so they can hit a club or watch movies on the crappy TV set. They make their way through the snow and the crowds, ignoring stares and invitations to places where people would ask for their time. They have their photo taken for a fashion blog on the first night, Andrej coy in his fur coat, leaning against Spencer heavily.
Andrej has work in LA next. Spencer goes with him.
“Your single, the Mona Lisa one,” Andrej says over coffee, “is vicious. Pay to see her frown?”
Spencer sent him the album last year, trusting him not to leak it, but he never expected an opinion about it, just a place on Andrej’s iPhone next to his European electronica.
“Vicious? I guess so.”
“I like it. A taste of what you paid for.” He savors the words, washing them down with espresso and looking absently at the passing cars. “I’m like that when I don’t watch myself.”
“You’re not,” Spencer protests automatically. “You’re nothing like that, you’re just playing.”
“Not lately, but maybe at the beginning. I marketed myself more ruthlessly than the agents.”
“So did we when we first started.”
Andrej smiles like they reached an understanding and stretches his legs under the table, crossing them at the ankle.
Spencer looks at Andrej’s bony knees, pale skin poking through the tears in his jeans, and wonders if that’s what he saw without realizing two years ago. The Andrej sitting across from him, cosmopolitan and self-sufficient, is still growing.
Spencer takes him home and undresses him carefully, mapping him so he doesn’t miss anything else.
And he lets him go to Tokyo when Panic is on tour, then on to Europe, anywhere Andrej needs to be before he finds his place. Ryan says it’s healthy. Brendon and Zack tease him sometimes, but they don’t really get it. They don’t have to.
“Sleep,” Spencer tells Andrej.
It’s one in the morning in Milan. Spencer stays on the line until Andrej passes out in a wet spot on expensive cotton sheets. The image carries Spencer through the show, and the one after that.