They’ve stayed in Brooklyn, close in and Ed’s a stickler for rules, really, so all James is having that morning is a flat white from the Atlantic Yards Doughnut Plant. That, then a square yeasted doughnut filled with coconut custard and absolutely dripping with flakes of coconut as well, the whole thing so sugary looking that it might as well be frosted. Ed's teeth ache to look at it. That's to be followed by a chocolate cake doughnut intense enough to warrant the name Blackout.
It's a hell of a way to start the morning.
Ed has a black coffee in a to-go cup. There are almonds in his pocket which he can have when he needs them.
James eats the first doughnut daintily, holding it between both hands, with his wooly mittens peeled back to expose the fingerless gloves beneath, entirely focussed on it; shy. He’s more aggressive with the second one, and it leaves some crumbs on his bottom lip, but Ed rubs his hand across his own chin, like he’s thinking about something, and James says oh and and smiles at Ed in a way that's making him reconsider the day still to come, and then sticks his index finger, caked with icing, into his fucking mouth.
This promises to be a long, long day.
“Are you getting me a pretzel at the station?” James swipes his tongue over his middle finger, and it takes all Ed’s poise not to haul him out of there by his coat collar and drag him straight back to the rental.
God help him, Ed might have already tipped his fucking hand the way he’s staring.
“It’s rude to eat on the subway.” Ed straightens his back. He clears his throat and, making certain to wait until they won’t be heard over the gurgle of the espresso machine says, “Now be a good boy and finish your coffee.”
James wraps both hands around the little paper cup, looks down at Ed, then past Ed, and with shaking hands lifts it up to his mouth.
“Good,” Ed says, finding the hard cartridge of his pen in his jeans pocket to grip, the better to conceal the fact that he’s shaking, too.
After he's finished, James removes the lid and inspects the inside of the cup for anything left behind. They've made it properly, so there's hardly any foam, but James swirls a finger in there and licks that clean, too.
It's too cold to venture very far uptown but that doesn't throw off Ed's plans. They get the Q to Chinatown and then enter into a restaurant where the air is sweaty with steam, noisy with the chatter of tourists and pensioners.
They wait a while for the dumplings, four crab, six pork. One of each for Ed, the rest for James, and hot, tasteless tea to drink alongside.
"Careful with your tongue," Ed says, as James bites into the top of his first dumpling. Ed watches him intensely. "Wouldn't want that," he continues, "today of all days."
James looks over at him. The tip of his nose is pink. "It's hard to be patient, though," he frowns down at the dumpling.
Ed takes a slug of his tea. Beneath the table, his feet press hard against the thin carpet.
"Better if you can manage it," he replies once he's collected himself enough to speak. Then, "is it cooled off enough yet?"
James dips his spoon in and takes a minuscule sip. "Hot." He blows on it. Steam streams up around his face. "But it's better."
Ed's own greed is heightened by James's evident pleasure. He could stare for ages, but he's hungry as well.
The warmth of the tea and hot soup keeps them fortified enough to wander around the tourist tat, ponder reflexology and acupuncture, but when the wind blows frigid against them as they're crossing Canal, Ed steers them in the direction of the hand-ripped cumin lamb noodles.
"Ooh," James rubs his hands together as they enter the storefront. "I remember this place."
The service this time is much quicker, not being table service, and the plate is ready within minutes. Ed retrieves it from the window while James holds their seats. He eats the noodles more slowly than he had the dumplings, with a plastic fork rather than chopsticks. His hair has gone all poofy from taking his hat off and replacing it constantly.
On their way towards Soho, where Ed wants to look at the shops, they deliberately pass by the matcha bar. Ed acts like he's surprised to see it there, and when they stop, James actually whimpers.
“Do you want the cone?” Ed asks, as he orders James the soft-serve swirl, himself the black sesame latte with no added sweetener.
James shrugs, his shoulders rounded forward like he can’t commit to an answer. His face is a blank.
Ed clears his throat, says to the cute girl with the terrible glasses, “Let’s have the chocolate cone.” Then he speaks only to James, over his shoulder. “Such a slut for chocolate, honestly.”
He waits for James’s eyes to widen before turning back to the shopgirl. “I’ll take a packet of these, as well,” Ed picks up some little plastic-wrapped cakes which don’t actually look all that appealing, but will be a nice thing to have for their walk.
They hand James his cone straightaway.
“Get a table,” he tells James, though the place is doll-sized, nor will they be staying long. “I’ll be back in a flash.”
“Ed,” James says, weakly. He turns around, and James indicates the ice cream with an outstretched hand. There’s a question on his face.
“I’ll only be a minute,” Ed answers, and makes for the toilets.
It’s a goddamned cliche to splash cold water on your face in an effort to pull yourself together, but Ed splashes cold water on his face in an effort to pull himself together. He mops his face dry with a paper towel, looks himself in the eye. “Steady on, mate,” he says to his reflection, and unlocks the door to fetch his drink from where it’s waiting for him on the counter.
James is sitting in a wire-backed white chair, one mitten on and the other one off, in case his cone melts. It hasn't, though, because the door to the street opens and shuts with surprising regularity.
The clanging door barely detracts from him watching, though, and for a wild moment Ed thinks they should end this here and now; maybe head a few blocks east and sit him down in front of a massive ice cream sundae, one he won't be able to finish this time —
“A salad?” James wrinkles his nose at the suggestion, then spreads his arms out as if to indicate the city all around them. “We’re in this place and you want me to get a salad?”
But he dutifully eats the one they get him from Whole Foods, full of delicious tidbits, and, when pressed, James admits that it's nice. Ed buys them a bag of artisan beef jerky to take with, and they set out again into the cold.
Their next stop is a chocolate shop where Ed chooses a box of dark milk chocolate bacon caramels decorated with little cutout pigs for James, and opens the rather sad-looking packet of mooncakes for himself.
By this point, James is looking a bit queasy, though he nevertheless makes noises of unthinking pleasure as he slips one chocolate after another into his mouth.
Ed knows they should stop now. They probably should have stopped ages ago, but he finds it impossible to help himself. If he pushes then James will simply carry on. He won't even raise the issue.
And yet when they walk out of the shop, Ed pulling his hat down more securely over his ears, James hiding his face behind his scarf to keep it out of the cold, it's James who walks them over to Allen Street, him who leads the way this time.
"We can be finished," Ed tells him as they cross against the light, his heart pounding with excitement.
"I know," James replies. "I think this can be the last place, probably."
"Okay," Ed agrees. Better make it count. “Do you want a bagel?” They’re right by Russ & Daughters, though there's nowhere to sit if they do that. But only a few blocks over from the cafe. Matzo ball soup, smoked fish, honey cake. The thought makes him lightheaded for a moment.
James looks across the street, back at the nearby shopfront then over to Ed. They should go to the cafe. Get a booth, sit down, get off their feet for a while. He’ll order for them both and he’ll watch James eat and fantasize about a time when he’ll be fuck-off well-off enough to splurge for the caviar plate, not because it was that great to have a bunch of squidgy fish eggs in your mouth necessarily, but because he wants to see the look on James’s face when he realizes that a little pot of squidgy fish eggs was costing them as much as a West End show. Someday, he promises himself, someday.
James’s eyes dart back over to across the other side of Orchard Street while his hand drifts down to fiddle with the buttons on his coat, skimming across his middle. God, Ed thinks, this is fucking agony.
“Line’s not too bad,” he says, looking over at Katz's. Really it’s not, stretching only partway down the building, and it’s moving, too, far as he can tell. It’s why they’re here in the off-season, and doing this little adventure on a Tuesday. A freezing cold Tuesday in the middle of sodding January, no less.
Ed’s throat tightens. “Do you—” he inhales the cold air; the sharp smell of petrol clashing with the aroma of warm bread coming from somewhere down the street, seeded rye, probably, challah, or everything bagels, or yeasty pizza dough. He wants to go round all the shops and collect one of each, bring them back to the rental and watch James chew his way through each, but no. No, they only do this weird thing from time to time, and they never do it without being in public. No bread back at the house.
Ed hasn’t lived a wild life, but he’s done enough. James? Hasn't.
So they do...this.
“Do you think you’ll be able to handle it?” he says, softly, just before a passing taxi driver lays on his horn, right beside them, and makes James jump from the noise. His fingers flex against the hem of his coat. Ed thinks, for a brief, mad moment, that he wants to tackle him.
James rubs his cold nose with the back of his mitten. “Think so,” he answers, sounding churlishly confident. “I can at least have a pickle. Think I could manage that.”
“Only a pickle?” Ed takes the time to act affronted, as if he hasn’t come all this way, thousands of miles, thousands of pounds, for James to refuse anything on offer, like the proprietors of that establishment will be personally affected by the loss of their patronage, like they’re responsible for that line outside.
They cross at the intersection, stepping over dirty slush. James misjudges the distance, but it’s only a little wobble and then he’s braced his hand on Ed’s forearm.
“Steady,” he says, and gets them safely out of the street and over to the line, James’s fingers curled, improbably, around his elbow as they push their way through the door, the waft of meat, and fat, sweaty onions and pickled brine, and the human smell, of an overheated tourist spot on a frozen afternoon, with lights overhead, bells dinging, a stout redheaded woman stood at the far side of the counter calling out order numbers in an accent that Ed can't quite place. He's spent months in America but it can still confound him at times.
“Are you finished?” Ed asks, heat spiking in his belly as he asks it.
James leans back against his chair and gives a forlorn sigh at the kosher dill that’s still left on his plate, the quarter of a sandwich growing soggy and cold.
Ed looks at the food like he’s disappointed, and James follows suit.
“It’s wasteful,” he murmurs. James coughs weakly. Ed presses his feet hard against the floor, his breathing shallow. “To leave all that behind.”
“‘M full,” James mumbles back to him. "Ed, really." And naturally he’s full. He must be full right up and Ed knows it’s too much but he wants very much to push past what’s sensible and make him take even more.
He looks James in the eye, clucks his tongue softly, and thrills to watch him blush ferociously. It wouldn’t have been so fierce had he done what Ed did and removed his coat rather than simply undoing it.
“That poor cow,” he says, in this awful soothing tone, and James blinks, heavily. Fuck, fuck. “Can you fit a little more in there? Just a little bit?”
James places his hands on the table, his thin wrists just visible beneath the sleeves.
“Without the bread, maybe?” he coaxes, and when James stays frozen in place, Ed reaches over and picks off the top slice, exposing the meat beneath.
“Ed,” James protests, but it's weak. He's done for at long last.
“Just a bite,” is what he says, manages to say over the blood thrumming in his ears, “one more bite and then we’ll go.”
“One,” James lifts the little open-faced sandwich up to his mouth and waits.
“Go on,” Ed says, his mood turning deadly solemn. “One little bite, yes?”
James closes his eyes, a pained expression crossing his face. Thankfully he avoids smearing mustard on himself.
“Good?” he asks, watching James chew, his head tip back, the way he inhales when he's mostly swallowed but hasn't fully yet, a mouthful still left behind.
"Mmph," James puts a hand in front of his mouth, open-handed palm to closed-off fist, and then, once he's taken what should be his last bite, stuffs the remaining crust in as well.
Ed can feel he's gawping. It's rude, isn't it, to stare, and yet he can't help himself. He tries to make a joke of it but it comes out more serious than he's intended. "Fuckin' hell," he hears himself rasp, "how do you still have room in there?"
James swallows. Ed's eyes track the movement down to the collar of his shirt, and back up again to just beneath his jaw.
He speaks first which is a good thing, seeing as how Ed has lost the ability to make words.
"Ed," he says, "Ed can we go home now?"
"One minute," he hears himself say, somehow finding it in him to still be firm. "And then we'll go home."