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“Hi, you reached Eddie. I can’t answer my phone right now, but please leave a message after the beep.”

“Hi, Eddie. I guess you’re already at that concert. Hope it’s good. I - just wanted to hear your voice. Hear something familiar. Looks like that’ll have to wait. It’s okay, it’s not like we planned this. I’ll just listen to the recording you did of “Walk the Line.” Maybe making a YouTube channel would be a good idea, for your final project too and all that.

Anyway, I’m rambling. I don’t really have anything to talk about. I’m a little tired, probably because I haven’t had dinner yet. I’m still waiting for Lip to get back from class, so.

Can’t believe it’s already been two weeks. Even with all the newness it’s hard not to miss you. Sometimes. A lot of the time. I turn to my side and you’re - not there. Not where I expect you to be. Is this how you felt when I was out with my sprained ankle? Must be, though you had me off the field at least.

Sorry, don’t want to be a downer. Guess I better hang up. I really hope you’re having a good time. And I’ll see you or hear from you soon, I’m sure.

Love you. Good night.”

 

:

 

“Hi, this is Andy Haldane. Please leave a message after the beep so I can get back to you as soon as possible.”

“Hey, Andy. I guess you went to bed already. I’m glad I’m still an early bird; 8am classes must be really hard on you. So you’ll get this in the morning. Good morning.

Sorry I missed you, I would’ve loved to talk, even though I definitely have more to say now. The concert was really good. Two guitarists, one keyboard, one banjo and one viola. Interesting combination, really, but it was real good. They’re starting this concert series, with student concerts every Wednesday night, so I’ll probably go to a few.

I - yeah. Time flies, in weird ways. It kinda is like when you were out because of your ankle. Same for me, I’m looking to my side and you’re not there. It’s - it doesn’t feel that far apart to me, not always, but - it’s different, not seeing you every day. Not getting to touch you, showing you what you mean to me instead of having to fumble my way through saying it. I’m too used to it, but five years will do that to you, huh? Just gotta work on my way with words until fall break. That’s the good thing about living in this century, in this decade. Least I still get to hear your voice, see your face over FaceTime, travel fast by train and car. Feels pretty lucky.

I feel like I’m the downer now. In my defense, I’m looking out the window, at the stars. They’re real bright tonight. Remind me of the stars on your ceiling. And, oh yeah, I put that one you gave me up on my own ceiling. It’s bright, but a little lonely, to tell the truth.

I should hang up. I don’t know what else to say, and I don’t want to fill up your inbox with silences. We’ll talk soon, okay? Fit in a couple minutes of seeing each other’s faces.

Love you too. Hope you sleep well, Andy. Good night.”

 

:

 

“Hi, you reached Eddie. I can’t answer my phone right now, but please leave a message after the beep.”

“God, I’m so jealous, I wish I was still asleep, too. It’s cloudy today, so the sun isn’t even really up yet. How are morning classes even allowed. I just got coffee, waiting for it to kick in. Let’s hope it’s soon. I am dying, Eddie.

I’m glad the concert was good, you should definitely go to more if they sound interesting! I’m planning to go to the school’s soccer game this week, against Amherst. Jake, the guy across the hall, is best friends with some of the guys on the team so he’s basically making the whole floor go.

I - oh yeah, no problem.

Sorry, I’m walking to class right now, held the door open for a couple of people. I have to go, but I’m holding you to that video call. I can’t wait to see you, Eddie.

Good morning, sunshine.”

 

:

 

“Hi, this is Andy Haldane. Please leave a message after the beep so I can get back to you as soon as possible.”

“I can’t believe you’re that person who turns off their phone during class. Sure, sounds like you. But, Jesus, Andy. Guess that’s why they wanted you so badly to come to their school. Not that I don’t understand it.

Also, you’re fuckin’ dramatic, Haldane. You’re not going to die from an eight am. Not even without coffee. Are you missing Leckie and Snafu so badly that you have to imitate them?

Emma and Tommy really, really wanted pancakes this morning. I was worried we’d burn down the house, accidentally, but they turned out really well. Put some blueberries and bananas in them, can’t complain. Gettin’ better and better at this cooking thing and it can only come in handy later.

Going to a soccer game sounds nice. I miss playing. I’m trying to find something either at home or in Westfield. The one hour commute doesn’t bother me that much. If traffic’s good, I can make it in a little under 50 minutes. I think I saw a note somewhere about pick-up games, I should check that out.

Okay, I have to get going. I got time tonight, so if you’re up for talking then . . . Text me, I guess.

Love you. Bye.”

 

 

: : :

 

 

Andy (4:34pm)

by the way there is an edward on my soccer team

Eddie (4:41pm)

oh no, will I have to drive up and fight him in an honest soccer battle to establish my superiority?

Andy (4:42pm)

you just might!

worry not, your superiority is well-established in my book ;)

Eddie (4:46pm)

get that winky face outta my house haldane

Andy (4:47pm)

;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;)

Eddie (4:48pm)

well thank god I have class

Andy (4:49pm)

you are very classy, I remember you drooling all over my shirt that time we watched a disney movie with my family. beauty and the beast if I remember correctly

Eddie (4:50pm)

not as classy as you wanting to help my mom do the dishes and dropping a plate

Andy (4:51pm)

that reminder was uncalled for

fine, you win, mr. classy

go be a studious edward

Eddie (4:52pm)

why do you have to say it like that

Andy (4:53pm)

;)

Andy (4:54pm)

to make other people wonder why you’re smiling eight minutes before learning things about music history

Eddie (4:55pm)

bold of you to assume i’m smiling

Andy (4:56pm)

bold of you to assume I don’t know what makes you smile

Eddie (4:57pm)

touche

Andy (4:58pm)

;)

Eddie (4:59pm)

gross

Andy (5:00pm)

I wish I could say “your face is gross” but that that would be a lie and you’d know it

the fact that you have class now and can’t talk to me is gross

Eddie (5:02pm)

put your phone away and work on your paper mr. your face is not so bad either

Andy (5:03pm)

you say the sweetest things

 

 

: : :

 

 

Eddie barely takes the time to throw his bag in the corner of his room before he throws himself on his bed, opening FaceTime mid-fall and hitting “call” as he lands. While “Connecting . . .” lights up on the screen, Eddie reaches for his pillow and shoves it under his head to lie more comfortably. Not that he can lie like this for a long time; his arms are going to give out if he has to hold his phone up the entire time. But after the two back-to-back classes he’s just had, his back needs a fucking break.

Andy’s face appears on the screen, a little blurry and out of focus while Andy jiggles his phone to find a good position.

Out of the corner of his eye, Eddie watches his own expression grow soft in the corner of his screen.

“Hey,” he says.

The picture finally stops moving, and Andy smiles back at him. “Hey yourself,” he says, voice slightly muffled.

Eddie frowns. “Did you turn yourself into a blanket burrito?”

It’s redundant to ask when he can see it for himself. The light green of Andy’s comforter covers half of Andy’s head like the hood of a hoodie that has slipped a little. With one hand, Andy holds the edges of the comforter together under his chin, the other disappears out of sight where it holds the phone. He must have squeezed himself into the corner of his bed, leaning against the wall; Eddie can see the edge of the team photo they took this summer and turned into a small poster that he knows hangs over Andy’s pillow.

Andy juts out his chin. “So what if I did?”

Eddie’s frown deepens. He rolls over and up into a sitting position. This clearly requires him upright and fully awake. He’s intensely glad he’s not wearing his headphones, otherwise he might’ve near-strangled himself like that time two weeks ago.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, still frowning.

Andy’s eyes flit to the side, then back to the camera. It’s always difficult to make eye contact over video, but the way he’s looking downwards, not at Eddie, feels intentional.

“Why would anything be wrong?” Andy asks.

Eddie rolls his eyes. When he speaks, his voice is gentle. “Come on, Haldane.”

Exhaling loudly, Andy tilts his head and looks at the ceiling. It doesn’t take long before he says, “Maybe . . . I’m feeling a little homesick today.” He rests his head against the wall behind him. Directing his gaze back to Eddie, he shrugs under his comforter cape. “Nothing to be done about it.”

On instinct, Eddie raises his left hand. As if he could reach through the screen, touch Andy’s shoulder, his cheek, run his fingers through Andy’s hair and tell him it’s okay without needing words. The fact that he can’t is a sharp sting in his chest. All he can do is take a breath and try to allow the prickling want-need-comfort-touch to wash over him without letting it overwhelm him.

“I’m sorry, Andy,” he says, frustrated by how inadequate it is.

Andy smiles weakly. “Not your fault.”

It’s Eddie’s turn to shrug. “I know. Still sucks though.”

“It does.” Andy tightens the blanket around his shoulders, like that can replace comforting touch and the warmth of another person’s hand. Gotta make do.

Since emotional comfort through touch is out of the question, the pragmatic part of Eddie’s brain kicks back in. “You tried distracting yourself? Call your family?” He shifts an inch to the right, and his spine thanks him for it. “Or would that make it worse?”

Andy looks at him, something soft and calm in his eyes, even over the distance and through the screen.

“I’m going to call my mom tonight when she gets off work,” he says. “I’ve just been watching random YouTube videos for the past hour. I don’t know.” He squints. “Just can’t really concentrate today, and I think at this point I’ve stopped trying. It’s almost five.”

“You did go to class, at least,” comes a voice from somewhere off-screen, and Andy’s gaze shifts to the source of it, expression unimpressed.

“Thanks, Lip.”

Eddie’s eyebrows climb to new heights.

“Oh,” Andy says when he sees it, “Sorry, I should’ve probably mentioned that I’m not alone by myself.”

“Maybe,” Eddie says, dry, and hears the word echoed by the other voice in Andy’s room.

Of course does he know about Andy’s roommate. It’s been four weeks. He’s heard a couple of stories about the boy Andy calls Lip, knows that he’s quiet but funny and easy to live with. Knows that he studies something with business so he can help his family. Knows that he has a seven-to-nine class on Thursday nights because that’s when Andy usually calls him,[Unknown A1]  because up until now they’ve only ever talked when Andy has the room to himself or when he’s sitting outside on the lawn in front of their residence, where the trees form green-golden canopies over the benches and picnic tables.

“Sorry,” Andy repeats, sheepish.

Eddie shrugs. “Next time.” It was bound to happen at some point. He doesn’t have the energy to be upset about something like this, not when their conversation wasn’t veering into embarrassing territory.

“You, uh,” Andy looks from Eddie to the side and back to Eddie, “you guys want an official introduction?”

The thought of making introductions feels weirdly grown-up to Eddie. Like he’s been doing in his classes, introduce yourself with your name and what you’re studying , except this isn’t initiated by a teacher. The last time he met peers in high school was when Jay and Sledge and their friends joined the soccer team. That had warranted a special kind of introduction. This - official introduction - feels like being at a dinner party and shaking hands with someone who’s trying to grow into their suit.

Growing up is weird.

“Sure,” the disembodied voice says off-screen.

Andy looks at Eddie.

Eddie shrugs. “Might as well.”

Andy smiles, small, a spark of excitement in his eyes. “Alright, I’m gonna flip you around, Jones. Please look presentable, Lip, and roll your chair over here. Don’t roll your eyes at me.”

The screen flips around and into view comes a boy in an olive knit sweater sitting on the edge of his chair. The small smile on his face is soft as his dark blond hair falling over his forehead in thin strands.

He waves. “Hi Eddie, I’m Carwood. Everyone calls me Lip. It’s nice to meet you.”

There’s a calmness in his voice, a quiet confidence. It’s the voice of someone you’d go to for a soothing word and for practical advice. He reminds Eddie of one of the old oak trees by the river.

“Good to meet you too,” Eddie says, and he means it.

Lip grins. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Warmth rushes through Eddie, turns up his lips and settles on his cheeks. “Really?”

Lip grins at a point above the screen, then looks back at Eddie. “Of course. Only good things, naturally.”

Andy snorts off-camera. “That’s not even true, Eddie, don’t listen to him. I complain about your obnoxious early-birdness all the time.”

Eddie raises one eyebrow at Lip in an ‘oh, is that so?’ gesture.

Thoughtlessly Lip pulls at the collar of his sweater, loosening it around his neck. “There have been some not-so-nice words uttered in the hours of an early morning, I suppose. It’s definitely not the norm, though, that’s for sure. Usually it’s a variation of ‘Eddie said this’ and ‘back in high school, Eddie and I.’” Lip smiles lopsided. “Or I find him laughing at his phone.”

Eddie laughs silently, the mental image of that forming in his mind like a good memory he’s never made himself.

“Okay,” Andy steps in, “I think that’s enough embarrassing me for the day.”

“Eh,” Eddie says, a little disappointed he can’t see Andy right now, “ain’t that embarrassing.”

“It’s kinda sweet,” Lip agrees.

“Oh, Jesus,” Andy mutters.

“He’s blushing,” Lip informs Eddie.

“Alright,” Andy says loudly, “you two say goodbye while I get my headphones so Eddie and I can speak in semi-private and I can keep my dignity intact.”

The screen shakes as Andy hands his phone to Lip. He barely leaves them any time to exchange words of encouragement for their academic endeavors and express the shared assumption that they’ll be hearing more from each other as time progresses.

“I like him,” Eddie says, when Andy is back on the screen, white headphone cords dangling from his ears. The comforter covers Andy’s shoulders loosely.

Andy looks at a point off-screen where Eddie suspects Lip’s desk. “Yeah,” Andy says, “I do too.”

They’re quiet for a moment, just looking at each other and past each other and back at each other.

Eventually, Eddie says, “How’s the homesickness?”

Andy shrugs. “Still there, but feels a little better.” His face is relaxed now, head no longer leaning back against the wall. Less of a burden to carry. “Thank you,” he adds, softly.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Eddie says, and finds that he believes it too. Has to, really, because the thought of Andy not being okay twists uncomfortably in his stomach. “It’s not long until break.” And I’ll see you again.

“I know,” Andy says. “And in the meantime there’s a lot of schoolwork to do and family to call and intramural soccer games to win.”

“Oh, right.” Eddie shifts his leg to sit more comfortably. “How’s that going?” he asks, and enjoys the way Andy’s face lights up.  

 

 

: : :

 

 

It’s one thing to whisper “I’ll come visit you” into someone’s ear the day they’re leaving for college. It’s another thing entirely to follow through, no matter how much you want it.

A regular weekend is too short to really justify the drive up north, especially when they’re both having academic and social commitments to fulfill.

 

:

 

Eddie’s mom comes down with a vicious cold when September changes into October. For two weeks Eddie practically lives in his car, bringing his siblings to friends and afternoon activities, himself to class and work and the grocery store, and his mom to the doctor.

Plans to meet Andy that had been tentative at best anyways have to be canceled via text between heating up soup on the stove and yelling to Eveline in the living room to make sure she can take care of things while Eddie is at his Friday evening class.

mom is still sick and dad can’t come home this weekend, meaning i can’t come see you. i’m so sorry Andy

Bowls and cutlery clatter loudly in the living room where Eveline is setting the table. Eddie closes his eyes, wills the beginnings of a headache away.

 

It’s fine Eddie is Andy’s response.

It’s Saturday morning, 1am, when Eddie reads it.

Don’t worry about it, just focus on yourself and the situation at hand. I’ll be here, not going anywhere. Please make sure that while you look after everyone else you look after yourself too.

There’s a piece of paper sticking to his cheek and his neck hurts from the weird position he’s been in for the past he doesn’t know how many hours. Falling asleep at his desk probably doesn’t count as looking after himself.

I’m trying he sends back, left-handed while he’s brushing his teeth with his right hand.

And thank you, love you when he falls into bed with barely the presence of mind to set an alarm.

 

:

 

“I’m really glad your mom is better,” Andy says, looking at Eddie through the camera on his laptop. His face on the screen of Eddie’s phone is sincere.

Eddie smiles, adjusting the pillow under his head. “I’ll let her know. She’s gonna be happy you said that.”

Andy snorts, moving away from his desk but not out of view. “She’s gonna be happy she’s not throwing up anymore and can do more than decompose on the couch.” He moves to his bed, unbuttoning his jeans and pulling them down to his ankles. With his right foot he kicks them up on his bed, avoiding the effort of having to lean down.

On his small phone screen, Eddie watches. The tan-line above Andy’s knees from wearing soccer shorts all summer. Strong muscles shifting under skin as Andy comes back to the desk, covering the curve of his ass and sturdy legs with the blue shorts he wears for his intramural games.

“Yes, true,” Eddie says, belatedly. “She’s not the type of person who can lie on the couch for so long. Too much energy.”

Andy leans down, amused grin and raised eyebrow coming into view.

“Got distracted there, Jones?”

“Shut up,” Eddie says without hesitation.

Andy tugs at the collar of his shirt “You gonna be okay when I take this off or should I hide my dazzling pectorals on Lip’s currently vacated side and out of your view?”

Eddie laughs, turning his face away from the camera. “If you refer to yourself as having ‘dazzling pectorals’ again I’m gonna hang up and you can change for your game -”

“- without having to worry about fainting audience members?”

Eddie raises his eyebrows. “- without you being full of yourself.” He tilts his head. “Though I guess it is justified to a certain extent.”

“Uh huh.” Andy grabs the back of his shirt and pulls it over his head. “You ‘guess’. To a ‘certain extent.’ You tell yourself that.” The fabric muffles his voice but Eddie still understands each word.

Over the teasing he can almost forget how this conversation started. I can’t come visit, we’re doing this group project and this weekend was the only time we could all agree on, I’m sorry Eddie.

Eddie shakes his head once. Catches a glimpse of the familiar pattern of moles on Andy’s shoulder blade.

“Sexy farmer’s tan you got going there, Haldane,” he says dryly.

Andy laughs, laughter that shows in his throat and bare chest. Small earthquake, survivors: one Eddie Jones. Barely.

Andy turns from side to side, showcasing the color gradient on his upper arms. “Thanks, I hope I can use it as a secret weapon in today’s game.”

Eddie hums. “You’ll be putting the living fear in your opponents.”

Andy flexes. “I sure hope so.”

Rolling his eyes, Eddie snorts. “Put your shirt on and go win a soccer game.”

 

:

 

Andy (11:34pm)

I can’t can’t wait to see and kiss and touch you and not talk through a phone to you

Eddie (11:35pm)

I know

same here

 

:

 

Their fall vacations fall on the same week in October, with Eddie having six days off and Andy five. Eddie doesn’t know how or why sometimes the forces of the universe are kind to him, but they must’ve done some good in their previous lives after all.

They’d been planning to meet up in Boston for a couple of days before making use of Andy’s Lip-free dorm room since August, but with the way their luck has been going Eddie has refused to believe it’s going to work out until he’s sitting in his car. Once The Proclaimers proclaim that they would walk 500 miles and 500 more through his speakers, however, he finds himself smiling at the blue sky and the trees he’s passing by and a sticker on a red Ford saying ‘We love our dog.’

Love does weird things to you. Eddie is not complaining.

Just outside of Boston Eddie makes a pit stop and calls Andy.

“Traffic’s supposed to be gruesome but I’m gonna make it to the station before your train gets there. I’ll wait there for you.”

Andy hums over the rattling of the train, louder in the corridor connecting one car to the next than where passengers sit. “Sounds perfect,” he says. And yawns audibly.

“How’s the train treatin’ ya?” Eddie asks, stretching his left arm up towards the still blue sky. His shoulder cracks.

“Better than any bus ever could,” Andy says. “It’s ‘War and Peace’ that’s making me a little foggy.” He yawns again. “And tired.”

Eddie stretches his legs, ignoring the cracking in his hip and knees. “Good thing we don’t have much planned and you can catch up on sleep tonight.”

“After cuddling?”

Smiling, Eddie says, “Yes, after cuddling.”

“Good.” Pause. “I should probably get back to my seat sometime soon,” Andy says. “I doubt Melissa could defend my bags even if she tried her best. She’s in her sixties and shorter than Bill. Her mind’s sharp enough to slice someone in half but she looked a little tired too when I got up. I’m not sure how well my things are protected right now.”

“Oh yeah, best not leave it up to luck,” Eddie agrees.

Andy hums again. “Although I have been very, very lucky in my life. Especially on this day.”

Eddie grins, knows Andy’s going to hear it through the phone. “Go back to your seat and read your book, Andy.”

“As you wish.” A crackle, muffled voices. Then Andy’s voice clear again. “Sorry, apparently people got me confused with someone who needs the bathroom. I’m going to hang up. But,” he pauses, voice taking on a quiet sincerity, “I can’t wait to see you.”

Eddie finds himself smiling at the sky again. “Me too.”

“Love you, bye. Drive safe.”

“Will do,” Eddie says. “Look forward to seeing you.”

The call disconnects and Eddie has to take a deep breath. Replays Andy’s voice in his head, chest fluttering. His fingertips tingle where he’s still holding his phone.

He turns around to open his car but doesn’t quite get that far.

“Hope you brought flowers for her.”

A car-length from where he’s parked, a young man is leaning against his silver BMW, giving Eddie a sleazy look. Gelled hair trying to look rebelliously uncombed yet expensive. Gym muscles, fake tan, and shiny bleach-white teeth.

Rich White Guy blows smoke through the corner of his mouth, the cigarette in his hand glowing against the white of his designer polo shirt. “Flowers or some nice underwear. Sounds like there’s gonna be reunion tonight.” The cigarette is crushed under the heel of a pristine sneaker, a brand that tells Eddie his entire closet could’ve been paid for with those shoes.

He has to give his jaw the explicit command to relax. Same for the hand around his phone. He doesn’t have the money to buy a new one if he squeezes it too hard out of misdirected anger.

“No,” he says, calm. Crushing ocean waves have nothing against a solid rock. He thinks about the guitar in his backseat. About the new songs he’s learned for Andy. “Got something better.” Pause. Swallow down the fear, the hiding. “For him.”

He gets into his car without wasting another glance on the man. The guy’s not worth it, not on a day like this when Eddie can allow his heart to be filled with love.

His knuckles are white and he has to actively relax his hands around the steering wheel. He leaves the parking lot slowly, knows he’s still distracted. One day his heart won’t catch in his throat when he says “him.” One day he’s going to say “he” without having to take deep breaths after. It’s a process.

Joining the mass of cars on their way to downtown Boston, Eddie turns up the volume of his car radio. The playlist Runner’s made him keeps him sane while he inches his way through traffic, finds his way to the train station; to Andy.

 

:

 

It is worth it, in the end. Not surprising, really.

It’s worth it for the way Andy drops his bag on the platform.

For the way Andy takes one final step and wraps his arms around Eddie’s middle. How he buries his face in the crook of Eddie’s neck while Eddie lifts his arms around Andy’s shoulders, his cheek against the side of Andy’s head.

Eddie takes a deep breath, feels his chest expand against Andy’s. Andy’s shoulders that have grown wider, stronger and firmer. Hair tickling Eddie’s nose, hair in need of a haircut, but Andy still smells the same, even after two hours on a train, even in the chilly Boston air.

Fingers brush the back of his neck, Andy’s hand having wandered up and finding purchase in the collar of Eddie’s flannel. Holding Eddie, holding himself. Holding on.

“Hi,” Eddie says without moving, Andy’s hair brushing against his skin.

Andy’s chest stills. Moves again.

“Hi,” Andy says, a little breathless. He leans back, brings enough space between them that he can rest his warm palms on Eddie’s cheeks, traces the hill of Eddie’s cheekbone with his right thumb. “It’s so good to see you.”

On the tip of his tongue Eddie tastes, Welcome home .

 

:

 

Eddie’s mom packed him up with enough food that they don’t need to buy anything, just drop what they have off in the kitchen at their hostel, everything labeled in Andy’s semi-neat writing. They’ll be saving money on transportation, too. Most of what they want to see is in walking distance, or close enough that walking, taking a break, and continuing to walk will work out well. Not like two nights, barely three days, is that long of a time. But they’ll make do.

They park Eddie’s car in the nearest garage and drop off their things in their room. None of the three bunk beds has been claimed yet. They get the one by the window. The hope that they’ll have the room to themselves, at least for the first night, goes unspoken.

It’s a fast walk to the Public Library after that, both of them having sat for so long that they feel the need to move their legs and wanting to get there with plenty of time before the library closes.

Andy takes Eddie’s hand as they walk along Boylston Street, past shops and people and the John Hancock Tower rising high and ugly towards the blue sky. The feeling of Andy’s hand in his is not yet as familiar as the neck of his guitar lying in his palm. But there’s something free about it, here in this foreign city where no one knows them, something that makes Eddie squeeze Andy’s hand for a second.

“What?” he asks when out of the corner of his eye he catches Andy looking at him.

Andy smiles. “Nothing. Just really happy to see you. It’s been a while.”

Once they’ve navigated around a family of three, Eddie raises an eyebrow. “It’s been two months, and you saw me on your phone way more times than I expected.”

“I know,” Andy says, swinging their interlocked hands a little. “But it’s not the same.” He looks at Eddie again, and it seems like the smile on his face is going to be permanent. “Definitely not the same.”

Eddie doesn’t know what to do with himself, with the small warm feeling in his chest. So he jostles Andy’s shoulder with his. “I’d say take a picture, it’ll last longer, but I guess that’s not what you want.”

“No, it’s not,” Andy agrees, cheerfully, and bumps his shoulder right back into Eddie’s. “Sorry Jones, get used to it. This is what it’s going to be like this week.” He taps his fingers against the back of Eddie’s hand, maybe the closest thing to a kiss on Eddie’s temple he dares to do while they’re in the middle of a busy sidewalk.

Eddie shakes his head, a smile in the corner of his mouth.

“Suppose I will survive,” he says. “There are far worse things.”

 

:

 

“Despite everything,” Andy says, “I think we’re very lucky.” He lifts their intertwined hands from his chest to his mouth. Kisses the back of Eddie’s hand in the darkness of their room, traces his thumb over the sensitive skin of Eddie’s wrist.

“Why?” Eddie presses himself closer to Andy’s side, finds space for his leg between Andy’s. “Because we got the room to ourselves tonight? Because I let you have the top bunk?”

It’s different from when Andy sleeps over at home, or Eddie sleeps over at the Haldanes. More traffic noises here. No birds or crickets, or Andy’s parents laughing quietly while going to bed, or Eddie’s mom playing guitar softly in the living room while Andy and Eddie watch Eddie’s ceiling fan spin in circles that Andy traces on Eddie’s skin before he rolls off the bed onto the mattress because Eddie gets claustrophobic if they sleep together in his too small twin bed sometimes.

Andy’s chest rises and falls under Eddie’s arm with a laugh.

“No,” Andy says. “Although that too.” The muscles of his right arm under Eddie’s neck move as he touches Eddie’s shoulder,        fingers running over shirt and then skin and back again. “I was thinking about us meeting. Feeling the same for each other. Being able to bridge the distance.” He turns his head a little, his lips almost meeting the curls over Eddie’s forehead. “I feel like I met you in a previous life and I’d miss you if we didn’t meet in this universe.”

Eddie moves his arm, places his hand over Andy’s heart. Andy’s shirt is washed out and soft. Somewhere down the corridor a door bangs. Someone giggles, then it’s quiet again. Under his palm, Eddie feels Andy’s heartbeat. Steady, steady.

He tilts his head up a bit, looks at Andy’s face. Unflattering angle but he doesn’t care. Makes out the familiar lines of Andy’s lips, nose, cheekbone, jawline, chin. Andy blinking, gaze on Eddie.

“I think I would find you in every universe,” Eddie says. “In some way. At some point.”

Andy’s hand touching his cheek gently is the sun setting over the hills, warm and golden and quiet in a way that makes the earth stand still.

“I’m glad you found me in this one,” Andy says, leaving his hand on Eddie’s cheek for another while.

Against Andy’s shoulder, Eddie smiles.

 

:

 

On Sunday the weather warms up once more.

It’s a beautiful day for October. The sun shines warm on their skin as they walk to the park, a blanket and snacks in Eddie’s backpack, and books and water bottles in Andy’s. Half of the trees stand in shades of red and orange and brown. Every now and then fallen leaves crunch under the soles of their sneakers.

While it’s still early in the day it’s not quite warm enough to take off their sweaters, but it’s supposed to get there over the course of the day. They got nothing else planned. Maybe try the historic walking tour if they feel like it. Otherwise rest up before their drive to Brunswick the next day. Take stock of their food maybe.

Eddie’s palm is warm against Andy’s.

“Looks like we aren’t the only ones who want to enjoy the day out here,” Andy says, taking in the people scattered throughout park’s grass patches. A man in a loose gray shirt doing what looks like Tai Chi by the pond shore. Two elderly women sitting on the benches by the pond, a couple of swans right next to them in eerie symmetry. A small family of four on a blanket next to a stroller, laughter and cheerful yelps of a toddler ringing out. Groups of varying sizes here and there, some of them teenagers, others way past the age of 50.

Eddie pulls Andy to the side of the walkway by his shirt to make way for an ambitious jogger.

“We know how to share,” says Eddie. “It’ll be fine as long as no one tries to run us over.”

“Well,” Andy says, smoothing down his shirt, “here’s to hoping.”

They walk around a little more around the designated lawn areas until they come to a relatively unoccupied space with two large chestnut trees in the middle.

“This look good to you?” Andy asks. He and Eddie both pause.

“Shade and sunlight? No screaming children?” Eddie nods. “Seems perfect.”

Andy starts walking again, leading them onto the grass. “Can’t say for sure about the children, but it’s the best for now.”

They spread out the blanket, putting their backpacks on the edges that threaten to lift with the breeze. Once that’s done, Andy immediately kicks off his shoes and lies down on his back, arms folded under his head.

“If you keep your eyes on the blue sky, the clouds and the birds . . . almost feels like being back home by the river,” he says, thoughtfully.

Eddie kneels down by the edge of the blanket. If he blocks out the human noises and imagines the water instead . . . maybe. But the river is home in a way that can’t be replicated. The familiarity of it, the way he knows how it behaves in the change of the seasons. The goldfinches. The way he knows what the sunset looks like, water shimmering gold.

“Do you miss it?” Eddie asks, quietly.

Andy’s still looking skywards. A pigeon coos. The leaves of the trees rustle softly in the breeze.

“I miss it a little,” Andy says eventually. “I think it’s okay to miss that which you’ve known for so long, what feels like home to you. But,” he turns his head, looks at Eddie, “my happiness isn’t tied to a place. And I miss you too while I’m here. So will you please get your bony ass on the blanket next to me?” He pats the place next to himself.

Eddie huffs. “I should make you ask more nicely.”

“You’re already taking off your shoes,” Andy says, confident smile replacing the somber expression from before. “You can’t resist me.”

“Don’t be so sure of that,” Eddie says, but it’s a weak threat. Andy reaches out for him and Eddie follows it like the last two notes of a chord, seeking completion and harmony and finding it in the arms around his shoulders, the steady rise and fall of a chest against his, in warm kisses and sharing comfort and time and space.

 

:

 

On the drive to Bowdoin, Andy sings badly and berates Eddie for driving too fast with what he calls “fragile cargo in the passenger seat.”

Eddie takes a reflexive glance at Andy’s bicep peaking out under the sleeve of Andy’s T-Shirt and mumbles, “Fragile my ass.”

He does make an effort to take turns a little slower and pass cars with more room between them.

 

:

 

“Usually there are a lot more people around but most of them have gone home after Homecoming on Friday,” Andy explains, guiding the both of them through the halls of his dorm. “It’s going to be nice, a little peace and quiet and no waiting in the bathroom. Which is here, by the way.” He points at a door. Eddie nods, can only spare the door a quick glance because Andy’s already moving on.

They stop at a door with a neat white paper sign saying ‘Carwood’ in perfectly even-sized block letters. The light-green one next to it says ‘Andrew,’ the d too high and the w visibly smaller. Nerdy glasses are drawn over the A, a soccer ball is glued to the top right corner and the Roman coliseum in the bottom left corner, glossy magazine cut-outs, both of them.

“Vicky made it,” Andy says.

“Ah,” Eddie makes. “That explains it.”

Andy reaches for the door handle. “At least she didn’t put glitter on it.”

“Don’t be afraid of being fancy,” Eddie says.

Andy gives him a look. “I’m not, I’m afraid of finding glitter in inconvenient places. That stuff gets everywhere.” He pushes the door open. “Welcome to our little kingdom.” He steps into the room. His outstretched arm encompasses two twin beds pushed to opposite sides of the room, two desks in front of the windows, small dressers by the foot of the beds.

Eddie follows Andy into the room, looking around. Right side is Andy’s. If he didn’t know it already, the soccer team poster over the bed would give it away. Or the smaller picture of Andy and himself laughing at the last team cookout in July that is taped to the bedpost.

World map over Andy’s bed. Family pictures surrounding Lip’s side of the room. Empty chips bag and an array of pens and pencils on Lip’s desk, stack of books beside Andy’s bed.

“I know,” Andy says, picking up a pair of boxer shorts and socks from the floor in front of his bed. “Impressively generic, isn’t it?” The shorts and socks land in a close-to-overflowing hamper.

Eddie drops his bag by Andy’s desk and turns around himself. “I don’t know.” He points at the poster over Andy’s bed, his old teammates and himself muddy and laughing at each other on their field. “I think that’s pretty special.”

Next to him, Andy shakes his head. “You’d think, but Dan, our defense guy who lives in 215, has one of those two. Our coach is not the only one with photographic talent.” He turns around to Eddie, spark of a grin in his eyes. “It’s pretty special to me though, I’ll give you that. You know, since there’s a person on there who’s very special to me.”

The corner of Eddie’s mouth twitches. “I always knew you secretly wanted to adopt Sledge and have him as your little brother.”

“Shut up,” Andy says, raising his hand to punch Eddie lightly in the shoulder, “you know what I mea-” Motion change. He takes Eddie’s hand, lifting Eddie’s arm closer to his face. Frown. “You have goosebumps,” Andy says, the way someone announces bad test results.

A glance at his own arm confirms to Eddie that Andy’s observational skills can be pretty good as long as they don’t concern prolonged pining.

Eddie shrugs. “I didn’t think it would get this cold.”

Andy’s face says ‘babe, you’re in the North now, what did you think would happen here.’ What he says out loud is, “Hold on.”

Eddie sits on the edge of Andy’s desk, watches Andy rummage around in his dresser until he surfaces with a gray sweater. When Andy throws it at him and he holds it in his hands, Eddie  realizes it’s the Haldane family sweater. Andy’s dad made them when Joanne organized a fundraiser run and had her entire family run laps for a good cause with her. It says ‘Haldane’ on the back; Eddie remembers it very well from the few times he looked at it when Andy actually managed to overtake him for no longer than a few strides.

He pulls it over his head, smelling the familiar laundry detergent. The fabric is soft and warm against his skin. No more goosebumps.

Andy regards him from his place by the dresser. “Looks good on you.”

“It’s a gray sweater,” Eddie points out, unimpressed.

Andy grins, stepping closer.

Eddie makes room between his feet for him without thinking about it.

“My bad,” Andy says. “Apparently I’ve let you forget that to me you look good in everything. Especially,” his arms find their way around Eddie’s waist, “in my things.” He leans forward, forehead almost touching Eddie’s.

The sweet relief of finally touching again. They’ve been overdoing it, just a little, got a little more clingy because time, or lack thereof, necessitates that they fit all the touches they can into six days. It could be so easy to lose the tether to reality. Wouldn’t be the first time that Eddie wakes up from a sweet dream involving Andy,

It could be so easy, if Andy weren’t the realest thing he’s ever held in his hands. It’s not pain alone that can remind of living in reality; the good things can root you in the present just the same.

Eddie bumps his nose against Andy’s. “You’re impossible,” he says, wrapping his arm around Andy’s shoulder to pull him close, kiss him warm and wet. Because he wants to. Because he can.

 

:

 

He doesn’t take off Andy’s sweater all day. Walks with it all over campus, wherever Andy takes him, pulling him by the hand because “Everyone here who knows me already knows who you are.”

They pull Lip’s mattress onto the floor next to Andy’s bed in case the small twin bed gets too crowded. Eddie takes the fresh sheet Andy offers him and pretends he’s a ghost just to get a laugh out of Andy. The sound is warm like the sweater he’s still wearing.

They eat dinner in the dining hall, mediocre pizza with not enough cheese and too much crust. Eddie picks off the pineapple and gives it to Andy, disgusted. Still wearing ‘Haldane’ across his back.

He wears the sweater until he’s lying on Andy’s bed and Andy takes it by the hem and pulls it over Eddie’s arms and head, ungraceful but slow and careful, the way his teeth and tongue trail along Eddie’s neck, to his collarbone, back to Eddie’s mouth. Andy’s hand is warm on Eddie’s waist, his body warm on Eddie’s when Eddie presses Andy against him. His hand on Andy’s back, Andy’s hand against his cheek. Warmth; motion; same room, same time; the feeling of it, the feel and the feel.

Andy’s sweater lies somewhere between the wall and the edge of the bed. With Andy over him, next to him, around him, and the blanket covering them both, Eddie doesn’t need it.

He still has Andy’s name written all over him.

 

:

 

Eddie looks up and tries not to see notes and pause symbols and weirdly placed F-sharps floating around in the air.

They’re spread out on a blanket in the yard underneath the trees that Eddie’s finally seeing in all their beauty, not just on pictures. It’s chilly enough that Eddie’s borrowing Andy’s sweater again, but warm enough to sit outside with laptops and books and do some of the homework they have to get done over the break.

Or should be getting done. Eddie is technically analyzing sheet music for his theory class but out of the corner of his eyes he can see Andy dicking around on YouTube. Something involving cooking, meaning Andy is literally just watching to avoid homework; there’s no way he’d try to make something like that. Too spoiled by mama’s cooking. At least he’s not watching one of Eddie’s guitar playing videos.

They took their shoes off so Eddie has no qualms tapping Andy’s thigh with his socked foot.

Andy scrambles to get his headphones off. “Gross.”

There’s a hole in Eddie’s sock. Maybe he should mooch socks off of Andy too.

“I didn’t know you had to watch,” Eddie leans closer to get a better view of Andy’s screen, “’How To Make the Most Difficult Omelet’ for your Athenian society class.”

Andy sniffs. “It’s important research.”

“Important research my ass,” Eddie huffs. “Do not,” he says when Andy leans back, “look at my ass and tell me you’d rather be researching that.”

Andy raises his eyebrows. “Maybe I’m writing my paper about how the Athenians would’ve thought your ass too bony and would never have made sculptures of it, or if they did, they would’ve had to photoshop it ancient-times-style. Photographic evidence would be needed. Would you really be so cruel as to obstruct the progress of academia?”

Eddie raises his eyebrows right back. “How does the world’s most difficult omelet fit into that?”

Lips pursed, Andy says, “If you ate more protein, your ass would be more up to Athenian standards?”

Eddie laughs. “Nice try, Haldane.” He taps the headphones dangling around Andy’s neck. “When did that happen by the way?”

Before he can lower his hand again, Andy catches it. Kisses the back of it. Releases it slowly. He points at the sheet music in front of Eddie. “You’re humming when you’re trying to figure out why composers with unpronounceable names wrote music the way they did. It’s distracting.”

Eddie cocks his head to the side. “And omelets aren’t?”

“Leave me be, Jones,” Andy says, demonstratively putting his headphones back on and clicking on ‘Best Five Course Meal for the Vegetarian Family of Your Spouse.’ He’s grinning.

 

:

 

“And you’re sure no one’s gonna be bothered by this?” Eddie asks, again, as he settles on Andy’s bed cross-legged, guitar on his thigh. “We’re not gonna get thrown out of the dorm for  being too loud?”

Andy throws him a look and locks the door. “Multiple people on this floor and the people above this floor are not exactly quiet during their various...activities. There are two Xboxes, a clarinet, and several bluetooth speakers on this floor.” He grabs his sweater from the back of Lip’s chair and walks over to his bed. “There are beds and horny teenagers that are no longer under the thumb of their parents on this floor.” He kisses Eddie’s nose quickly before sitting down next to him. “Your concern is cute but not necessary.”

Eddie feels a smile in the corner of his mouth. “If you say so.”

His arms in his sweater, Andy says, “I do say so.” He pulls the sweater over. His voice is muffled by fabric. “When it comes to lack of privacy I would say college dorms are about as bad,” his head makes it out of the sweater, “as the military.”

His hair’s a mess, sticking up in weird places. No one’s there to stop him, so Eddie reaches out and runs his hand through it. Doesn’t make it better, but sure feels nice.

“If you say so,” he says.

Eyes closed and leaning into the touch, Andy replies, “I do say so.”

Andy pulls his knees to his chest and leans against the wall, away from Eddie’s hand but still close enough to touch. Still closer than he’s been the past two months, just a few inches of air between them, not half a country. He opens his eyes. Softly he says, “Now play me a song.”

Eddie smiles, looking down at his guitar, already getting his fingers in the right position. “As you wish.”

He plays “More Than Words” and they get lost in the soft slow melody of it, every strung chord like a steady heartbeat. Andy listens with his eyes closed, leaning against the wall and smiling. Reaches out and puts a hand on Eddie’s knee, wanting to be close but not distracting. It’s still there when Eddie lets the last chord fade out.

There are no sounds from outside the room besides a couple birds. It’s almost completely dark outside but the yellow lampshade dims and softens the light enough to make it feel like sunset. Or close enough at least.

“Thank you,” Andy says, rubbing Eddie’s knee with his thumb. “This was – I don’t know how to describe it, ‘great’ doesn’t even cut it.”

Eddie lays his palm over Andy’s. “I just sang a whole damn song about how words fail us sometimes. It’s fine. I got another one.”

He waits until Andy’s leaned over to kiss Eddie’s left forearm, the easiest place he can access. Then he plays the first few bars of his second song.

Andy laughs. “Oh my god, you didn’t.”

“Well, you done done me and you bet I felt it,” Eddie just sings, grinning, “I tried to be chill but you’re so hot that I melted. I fell right through the cracks.” Andy does something that with a lot of imagination could be described as dancing while sitting and Eddie misses a couple notes here and there because he’s grinning so damn much.

By the time they hit the part where words are replaced by sounds Eddie’s had a hard time making anyway, they’re laughing so much that he tries and fails to play that part three times before giving up and just skipping ahead to the last verse.

As soon as it’s over Andy leans over, cups Eddie’s cheek and kisses him, quickly and with too much teeth because he’s smiling too widely but Eddie really doesn’t give a fuck about perfect technique in this moment.

“You’re gonna put that on YouTube too so I can listen to it whenever I feel like it?” Andy asks,  almost a little out of breath like he was the one trying to sing.

Eddie rests his arms on his guitar. “I’m putting it on YouTube to harvest some extra credit from Mrs. Marcus, but feel free to profit from it.”

“Oh, I will.” Andy kisses his cheek. Hovers close by, brightness in his eyes clear as day for Eddie to see. “Play more, please.”

Helpless against it, Eddie does.

 

:

 

Bag safely stashed away, Eddie slams the trunk of his car closed and turns around.

He turns right into Andy’s embrace.

“Hi,” he mumbles against Andy’s blue bomber jacket. Arms wrap around him tightly, warmth of Andy’s body seeping through his flannel that isn’t warm enough for the fall weather of Maine that has arrived so unforgivingly. But it will keep him warm for the drive back home. At least physically.

Andy turns his nose into Eddie’s hair.. “Hi,” he says, quietly. And then, “I don’t want you to go.”

Eddie takes a breath, tries not to think about how it’s going to take another two months before he gets to be with Andy again. Tries not to think about how much he misses him already, even though they’re still standing here together. Tries not to think about how busy the next months are going to get, how little time they’ll have, how it’s never going to be enough.

“That doesn’t help,” he says, slipping his hand under Andy’s jacket, feels the soft fabric of Andy’s button down underneath. More warmth. Closer. “I don’t want to leave.”

Andy kisses him behind the ear. “I know. I’m sorry.” Right arm comes to rest on Eddie’s shoulder, right hand combing through Eddie’s hair, once, twice, again. “I also know that if you stayed much longer we’d get on each others’ nerves. This isn’t an ideal living situation.”

Eddie hums, eyes closed, distracted by Andy’s hand in his hair. He knows Andy’s right.

“The two months will be over before we know it,” Andy continues.

“Time flies in weird ways,” Eddie agrees. He pries himself away just enough so he can look in Andy’s face. The soft eyes, the sun-kissed skin. Eddie leans his forehead against Andy’s. “Don’t forget about me when school starts up again and you’re all snowed in. And promise you won’t let yourself get wrecked by finals.”

Andy’s fingers rest over Eddie’s spine. His thumb traces the line where Eddie’s jaw and neck connect. “Can’t promise anything, but I sure will try my best.” He kisses Eddie, one short soft contact of lips. “I could never forget you.”

This time Eddie leans in and kisses him,. This time it isn’t so short, and not so soft either. As if he could savor everything if he just licked into Andy’s mouth one last time. They move until they get slower and slower and just breathe against each other. Somewhere in there, or maybe just within himself, Eddie finds the courage to pull away.

“We’ll be fine,” he says, and believes it like he believes in two plus two equals four or in the sound of his finely tuned guitar.

Andy smiles.

 

:

 

Eddie (8:13pm)

i’m home

Eddie (8:15pm)

found your sweater in my bag

thank you

 

 

: : :

 

 

“So you went to the game, right?” Andy asks. The crackling noise doesn’t come from a bad connection, that’s all Andy eating chips and not knowing how not to crinkle the bag.

“Yep,” Eddie replies, looking up from the T-Shirt he’s folding – Tommy’s, he thinks – to check Andy’s face on the small screen of his phone. He’s put it up next to the laundry basket on the dining room table, has leaned it against a half-filled glass of water so he can see Andy and Andy can see him. Although he will maintain that watching him fold laundry at 4pm on a Tuesday isn’t exactly a prime time activity.

“How was it?” Andy asks. It’s only because of years of practice that Eddie can understand the words through that muddle of chips and spit in Andy’s mouth.

“Have you heard,” Eddie says, putting the shirt on Tommy’s pile, “of chewing and swallowing before opening your mouth to talk?”

Andy raises a chip to his mouth, grinning. “You know I’m an expert at swallowing.”

Eddie raises his eyebrow to his hairline. “Seven out of ten, on a good day.” He watches Andy’s mouth drop open in indignation, snorts when Andy pops in the chip he was holding and chews, brows furrowed. “I stand by what I said,” he says.

Nose wrinkled, Andy concedes. “I guess there’s always room for improvement. We can work on that over Christmas break. Think you can make it another month?”

Eddie grins, shaking his head a little. “Yes. And yes, we can.” He grabs what he suspects are Eveline’s jeans. “You wanna hear about the game now or not?”

“Yes,” Andy says forcefully. “Cause all I heard was that they won and Sledge got a goal.”

“And a beautiful one too,” Eddie confirms. “And one of the new guys too. Hamm. Seems like a pretty good guy.”

Andy cracks a chip in his mouth. “Tell me all about it.”

 

 

: : :

 

 

Andy (6:54pm)

eddie you should see this turkey they made for those of us who are staying here for thanksgiving

Eddie (6:55pm)

did you know that you can send photos? this is the future, we have the technology

Andy (6:55pm)

wiseass

no photo can do this bird justice. wow this thing is HUGE

Eddie (6:56pm)

that’s what she said

welcome to america baby

Andy (6:57pm)

i can’t wait to eat myself into a food coma

 

 

: : :

 

 

Eddie (6:11pm)

i’m sorry i know we wanted to chat but today was crazy. i could really use some time to myself.

Andy (6:13pm)

of course!

if you change your mind or want to talk about it you know where to find me.

Eddie (6:13pm)

don’t feel like talking but I do know you’re there, thank you

Andy (6:13pm)

think we can reschedule for some time this week though? i uh. really miss you. and could use your soothing voice before exams start next week. only if it works out and you feel up to it of course

Eddie (6:14pm)

miss you too, and you know it’s nothing personal. just need to be by myself for a bit. find a new day tomorrow?

Andy (6:15pm)

yes, works with me. thank you, take care of yourself eddie

Eddie (6:16pm)

thank you, you too. love you

 

: : :

 

 

The screen shakes as Andy falls on his bed, groaning.

“Hmmm,” Eddie makes, in bed himself, buried under a blanket and notes and flashcards. “How’s it feel to be done with exams and papers?”

“So good,” Andy says, muffled into his pillow. His hair is a mess and there are circles under his eyes and with his mouth open he’s probably drooling on his pillow, and something in Eddie’s chest flutters.

“Glad you made it,” Eddie says softly.

Andy blinks his eyes open, turns his head so his mouth is no longer on the pillow. Says, “Me too.” Rubs a hand over his eyes before looking at Eddie again. “Just one more for you, right?”

Eddie holds up the stack of flashcards in his hands. “Good old Mr. Clarkson’s music theory. Tomorrow at noon. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

Andy hums. “What did Mrs. Morrison say to your YouTube project idea?”

Wave of excitement thrums through Eddie’s hands. He taps against the flashcards. “She said it’s a very good idea and that I can do it all throughout second year. Just need to collaborate with someone, either with the tech or with the actual playing, or both.”

“You know someone?” Andy asks, having turned on his stomach and propping up his upper body with his pillow.

“Maybe,” Eddie says. “I’ll be thinking about it during the break and then see who I can convince to make music with me for YouTube views and college profs.” He grins, lopsided. “Sounds weird, doesn’t it?”

Andy smiles warmly. “Maybe a little. Mostly sounds really good. I feel like you’ll have a lot of fun with that.”

Eddie smiles back. “I hope so.” His gaze falls on the clock by his bedside table. “Got five more minutes before I have to go back to studying and then pick up Eveline from your house.” He raises his eyebrows. “She and Vicky are making Christmas cookies, I’m sure you’ve heard all about it.”

Andy laughs a little. “I have indeed.”

The words fade out and silence takes their place. Quiet. No one’s at home with Eddie, and Carwood finished exams early and is already at home. It hasn’t snowed for Eddie, but he’s received several pictures of the snow in Maine, and that’s what it feels like while they’re looking at each other. Snow falling outside while they’re in warm sweaters indoors. Sounds muted by a blanket of white, even the ticking of the clock.

Voice quiet, Andy says, “I’m coming home this weekend.”

Hugging Andy on the front porch of the Haldane residence, cheeks red from the cold air and chilly fingers reaching out and finally, finally finding what they’ve been craving to find. On December 27th, they will sit in the Haldane living room, Eddie on the floor in front of Andy on the couch, with Eddie’s family all around them, eating cookies and Christmas dinner leftovers, Andy’s fingers in his hair, on his neck, his shoulder. Wrapping his arms around Andy when they’re about to fall asleep on Andy’s bed, no space between them, just warmth, two calm beating hearts; home.

Eddie smiles. “Yes,” he says. “I know.”

 

 

: : :

 

 

Eddie (4:24pm)

Andy

Why is there a package for me when Christmas was literally two months ago?

Andy (4:30pm)

don’t open it until I have time to call you!

does in two hours work for you?

Eddie (4:31pm)

yes

 

:

 

“Hi,” Andy beams at him right after Eddie picks up, and immediately follows with, “it’s nothing big, I promise. We were talking about it last year and during break, and I just remembered it too late.”

As he gets up from his bed, Eddie grins and shakes his head. “Your timing is quite something, Haldane.”

“Been told that before.” Andy spins around on his chair, leaning against the back of it, looking down at his phone, double chin and all. “Are you going to open it or do you want to wait until next year comes around?”

Eddie halts by his door to give Andy a look. “First I’m not allowed to open it, now you can’t wait one more minute? Make up your mind, babe.”

Smiling, Andy spins his chair around again. “I just wanted to be able to see your face when you open it. My mind’s made up, I say you should open it right now.”

It’s so good to hear his voice. Like drinking hot chocolate in front of a fire on cold dark February days like these. Doesn’t keep Eddie from rolling his eyes and muttering something about patience being a virtue. Doesn’t mean the corner of his mouth isn’t twitching upwards either, though.

He’s halfway down the stairs to get the package when he stops and turns to Andy’s face on the screen. “You wanna say hi to the family?”

Andy has to free his mouth from his hoodie that he’s pulled up all the way to his nose. He must be out of snacks. “If they have time and want to see me, yes,” he says eventually.

Eddie glances at him unimpressed. “When do they not want to see you.”

Andy waggles his eyebrows.

Eddie has regrets. “Jesus Christ.” He continues his descent down the stairs. “Nevermind.”

He forgets about those regrets once he grabs the package – almost rectangular, about as big as his fist – from the dining table and turns to the living room.

“Hey everyone,” he says to his younger siblings and his mom, who have congregated on the living room floor and are engaged in a typically lively game of UNO. “Say hi to Andy.”

In the time it takes him to flip his phone around so they can see Andy and Andy can see them a chorus of genuinely delighted ‘hello’s and ‘it’s so good to see you!’ fills the room. Feels a bit like when they had the Christmas tree still up and turned on all its little lights and sparkling decorations after the early sunsets.

 

:

 

With the little package - more of a box, really - in his hand, Eddie sits down on his bed. He arranges his phone so that Andy has a good view of both him and the box.

“You ready for this?” Eddie asks, only half-serious. He’s already got his hands on the brown packaging.

“Yes,” Andy says without hesitation.

The paper edge is sharp and the tape stubborn. “You sound sure of yourself,” Eddie says, tongue sticking slightly out of his mouth.

“I am pretty sure of myself,” Andy confirms. “You need a scissor for that?”

Paper rips and tape becomes irrelevant, and the noises downstairs fade away. Bright yellow writing on dark background of the box. Dots connected into the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Orion.

“Oh,” Eddie breathes. He takes the box in his hands, lifts it up, like he can see inside of it if he just has it closer to his eyes.

“I mean it’s...,” Andy says, quietly, “it’s nothing big, or anything. But you said the star on your ceiling was lonely. And you always talk about how much you love mine, and that you want to take me stargazing in the bed of your truck in the summer. Those are of course a bad imitation, just glow in the dark ones until we get the real thing, but they’re our own stars, and we’ll both be looking at them, no matter how far -“

“Shut up,” Eddie says. He tears his eyes from the box and to the small screen that brings Andy closer to him, as close as they can currently get, and he doesn’t know what to do with that feeling welling up inside of him, doesn’t know how to deal with supernovas happening in his chest, besides smiling at Andy and hoping that it’s true. That they are putting their own stars in the sky. “It’s perfect.”

Andy’s smile grows like the rising sun, gentle and golden and right in Eddie’s room.

The distance is an unforgiving fact. So are the small stars in Eddie’s hands. He can make something out of this. They can.