Jesse’s mom walks him to the front door and helps him slide on his backpack, heavy with his schoolwork as well as all his favorite books he can’t be without. He feels her unzip the bag slightly as she does every school day in order to place a brown paper lunch bag on top of all his things.
“Have a good day at school, Jesse,” she says before pressing a firm kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be waiting right here for you when you get home. Me, Hallie Kate, and—” She pauses dramatically, “What’s the kitten’s name again, dear?”
“His name’s Szczecin,” Jesse replies unable to hold back a small grin. “You know that.”
“Ah, yes,” she says grandly and Jesse knows her surprise is fake. “This is what happens when I tell you about Poland, isn’t it? Will your next kitten be named Kraków? Or perhaps Warszawa, hm?”
“No,” Jesse tells her. “She’ll be called Cosette.”
“Oh, of course she will,” Jesse’s mom says brightly. “I should’ve expected that after playing you that album.”
Jesse steps away from the door, hoping to distract her from the coming of the bus. He has to work hard not to wrap his arms around her neck and refuse to let go.
“I like the songs,” he says. “When are we going to go see it? Can we go now?”
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, Jesse Adam Eisenberg. I do believe that Les Mis will have to wait for now,” she tells him, kneeling down to stroke his cheek softly. “You have school today, after all.”
Jesse frowns, feeling his eyes start to well up.
“Dear,” his mom says, pulling him into her arms. “You know I’ll be right here at home waiting for you.”
Then she stands up and opens the door. Jesse grips the straps of his backpack, trying to keep his hands from shaking. His mom and dad tell him he’s a brave little boy—braver than the toaster even—after all. Even if Jesse doesn’t feel it himself.
Jesse takes a deep breath and starts his walk out to the curb. He peers over his shoulder every few steps to look at his mom standing at the door, waving.
When he’s halfway down the driveway, his mom gives a final wave and says goodbye and firmly shuts the door.
By the time he reaches the end of his driveway, the yellow school bus is turning around the corner and onto far end of his street. He can already hear the kids on the bus already chanting, “Don’t cry, Jesse!” loudly out the open windows even though they’re still blocks away.
Even though he hears them, Jesse can’t help but sniffle into his fists, covered up by the too-long sleeves of his favorite cat jumper that his grandma had knitted for his sixth birthday.
The sound of their voices doesn’t help this Friday.
Jesse spins around to go running back to his house, safe with his mom and baby sister, and his new kitten, when he feels a hand tightly clasp his own, intertwining their fingers.
He turns and has to look up to see the face of the tall and skinny boy standing next to him. He’s wearing a t-shirt that says Blue Peter in bright letters on the front and has a Spider-man backpack at his feet.
Jesse recognizes him as the new kid whose family had just moved in a few houses down. Still, he feels his hand get sweaty and clammy.
He’s always been nervous around new people—something his school’s Stranger Danger lessons hadn’t helped with either. After a panicked trip to the local park and playground, his mom had to calm him because of his ‘anxious disposition’. She told him that he had to remember that not everyone he met was bad and trying to kidnap him.
Jesse recalls her words as the new kid squeezes his hand.
The boy just smiles—big and wide and unbelievably friendly—though. “Hi, I’m Andrew!” he says, grinning brightly. “And you’re Jesse, right?”
Jesse nods, head tucked down shyly.
Andrew’s grin becomes even wider which Jesse didn’t think was possible. “It’s okay to cry, you know. I do too sometimes!” he tells Jesse earnestly. “But I wish you wouldn’t. You’re too pretty to cry.”
He swings their hands between them.
Jesse’s so surprised he doesn’t know what to say for a second. “I—I’m not pretty,” he finally stutters out.
Andrew frowns at him. “Of course you are!” he says, looking at Jesse’s face intently.
Jesse has to resist the urge to tug his hand away from Andrew’s hold in order to cover his cheeks, knowing that they’re turning bright red.
“I have something just for you,” Andrew tells him after a long moment. He bends down to rustle through his backpack.
Jesse sees a few binders and notebooks, papers sticking messily out the sides, unlike Jesse’s own bag.
He doesn’t know how Andrew plans on finding anything in there.
It’s only a little while before Andrew jumps up excitedly though, pulling out a Ring Pop from the bottom of his bag and quickly opening the package.
“Red’s my favorite. I hope you like it too,” he tells Jesse as he reaches for Jesse’s hand and slides it on his fourth finger.
“Yeah,” Jesse whispers, wiggling his fingers and staring at the candy jewel. He looks up at Andrew and down to the Ring Pop again.
He taps the candy jewel lightly, making sure that it’s real.
Andrew leans over and presses his lips against Jesse’s cheek in a loud, smacking kiss. “Smile, Jesse,” he says and Jesse can’t help but obey. Andrew squeals a bit when he sees Jesse’s dimples.
He traces one with a fingertip but Jesse finds that he somehow doesn’t mind this once.
“It’s—I mean, um,” Andrew stutters a bit, his cheeks tinging red. He picks up Jesse’s hand, the one with the Ring Pop. “You know, um, my mum—and well, films and things say this means we’re gonna get married.”
“Really?” Jesse squeaks, jerking his hand in Andrew’s grip in surprise.
Andrew lets go with a frown. His eyes become big like Bambi’s—which Jesse started to watch with his parents once although they’d had to turn it off in the middle—and he rambles nervously, words running together quickly. Jesse has to struggle a bit to understand what he’s saying. “I mean, we don’t have to get married. I didn’t even ask properly or anything. Dad says he got on his knees and things when he asked my mum.”
Jesse’s chest feels a bit funny when he sees how sad Andrew looks at the thought that Jesse didn’t want to get married to him, or like him or something. Andrew is all nice and happy and how could he think that anyone wouldn’t like him? Jesse’s only known him a minute and he already does.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t mind,” Jesse says, lifting his hand nervously before finally settling it on Andrew’s arm and patting awkwardly. “It’s just, my mom said that she and my dad got married because they were in love and that I should marry someone I love. And I don’t know you much.”
Andrew smiles happily. “Oh, that’s not a problem. My dad said he married my mum because she’s his best friend; and I can already tell we’re going to be the best of friends.”
“Really?” Jesse can’t help but ask. “You want to be friends? Best friends?”
“Who wouldn’t? You’re nice,” Andrew says, simple.
Jesse shrugs slightly when Andrew keeps watching him, obviously waiting for an answer. He tucks his chin into his chest, blushing. “I’d like to be your best friend,” he finally whispers.
“Great!” Andrew says excitedly. “We’re gonna be best friends and I’m gonna marry you one day, Jesse,” Andrew tells him, sounding very sure, intertwining their hands again. “I’ll ask you all proper and everything one day. I’ll get you a prettier ring and like a gazillion Ring Pops. And there’s going to be a wedding and we’ll have so much candy and oh, maybe a bouncy castle. We’ll ride horses away like in The Princess Bride. It’s gonna be the best day ever!”
The bus pulls up to the curb and Andrew helps Jesse up the steps, talking about their future wedding all the way.