Andy is flat on his back with arms tucked behind his head watching Cheltenham have their arse handed to them by Portsmouth. A thin figure shuffles across the room toward the door, toward the window, back again, back again.
"Have you got to block the match whilst brushing your teeth?"
John pauses in his hygiene ritual and scrunches up his face to indicate apology—rather, to indicate that he was quite unaware of the pacing in the first place.
The hotel room is barely big enough for two, but somewhat larger than their budget would suggest. It's large enough for two twin beds, a small dining table, two worn-out chairs in floral print, and a static television situated against the far wall. The loo, well… the water flows out from all the places it should and none of the places it shouldn't, and they consider that a bonus, frankly.
John finishes his brushing, travel-size mouthwash and all, and meanders toward the table. He grabs the back of one of the chairs and leans forward a bit, weight on one foot, weight on the other, a pit in his stomach.
"I can hear you thinking," Andy says. He crosses his ankles, though his eyes never stray from the glowing screen. "Sleep already, yeah? You're making me edgy." After a beat, when John doesn't answer, "You're not going to pop my clogs in my sleep, are you? Have I been that annoying?"
He's almost joking.
For roughly three minutes (time he grants willingly, because he knows John, and John doesn't speak before he chooses just the right words) it is silent, aside from the low rumble and roar of the crowd at the match. They've had their fill of Thai takeaway, its remnants scattered amongst four or five empty beer bottles and an ill-advised mango pudding. There's nothing left but sleep.
Sleep, and tomorrow.
John's stomach churns.
"You haven't been annoying," he says, still clutching the back of the chair. All he can see is swirling patterns of roses, red faded to dirty salmon-pink, and for just a moment, his life feels so surreal that he can see the image of himself from above, bent and bowing his head. "You've been…"
Andy mutes the telly. He looks at John without moving a muscle, eyes roving over the sight of a man torn to pieces, and it bites at him that he can't help fix what he doesn't understand. That's what really bothers him: he knows John would tell him to shut the fuck up if he were being an annoying cunt. Nothing's ever stopped him before.
What startles them, then, isn't the lack of communication, but the red and blue lights playing over the popcorn ceiling accompanied by the sudden trill of sirens. The lights illuminate John's silhouette and cut slices through the room as he moves toward the empty space between their beds. When things are quiet and relatively dark once more, he stares at his pyjama bottoms and the way they don't quite reach his ankles. He stares at the hole in his left sock. He brings his eyes up to meet Andy's as he climbs slowly onto a narrow sliver of twin bed.
Without thought, simply on instinct, Andy moves aside to give John as much room as he can spare.
John curls onto his right side, the scent of yellow curry, mint, and stale alcohol mingling as Andy unfolds his arms from behind his head to settle onto his side as well. They face one another without really doing so; eyes don't meet, hearts don't beat erratically. They simply lie there, two nearly-foetal halves of a shape too crooked and long-limbed for a hotel twin bed.
Though he doesn't mean to sound so sombre, John can only manage a low, scratchy whisper. "Do you remember when you were in hospital for appendicitis and I came after visiting hours to read you the worst bits of the tabloids?"
"Yeah, of course."
Andy engages in the conversation as if it's the most normal thing in the world.
"You'd just had an organ ripped out and you made me laugh."
John does laugh a little, then, just enough to put a smile on Andy's face.
"Listen, we… we don't have to figure out… whatever this…"
"I got a call about the tape I sent over," John says hastily. "Didn't think I would. I really didn't."
Andy deflates just enough for John to feel it across the microcosm they've created. He brings his right hand to John's jawline and draws them closer, lips barely touching, and breathes. Breathes, in and out, steadily, until they allow themselves a kiss that begs more than it bargains.
They separate enough for John to lie flat.
"If you want me to tell you to stay, I won't."
It's out before John can stop himself. "Why?"
"Because you're going to be… brilliant."
John is definitely, most certainly not going to cry. The lump in his throat will stick there until the soft tendrils of sleep creep round him like the vines on those old brick buildings back home. He will cry exactly twice more in the next decade or so: once when his greatest hero lets him go, and once more when his biggest fan welcomes him back.
No, he can't know that yet. All he has is this, now.
"You don't know I'll be brilliant. That's utter shit. You don't know that."
John's scared. Of course he is, anybody would be. But that won't stop his best friend making him go.
"You don't know that," Andy says.
There's an edge to his voice that suggests an end to the discussion. What more can be said? They aren't going to say the things that would make leaving far more difficult, even if they want to. Even if they can't bear not saying them and bear it anyway. Even if it would change anything at all.
(In the morning, John will first call his agent, then Kitson, then watch Andy pick at a complimentary, though stale, chocolate croissant.)
"Can we watch football?" John offers more than asks, and tangles their sock feet.
The last thing he remembers before dozing off is a sturdy arm slung over his stomach and the sounds of men roaming about on a pitch far too green for that early in the year.
His eyes snap open when the match ends with an inadvertent yelp and whoop of excitement from the man beside him; before Andy can apologize, John reflexively shouts along in his half-woken state, something sounding like "sport! sport!" He doesn't remember Cheltenham or Portsmouth, or who won, but he remembers the sleep-warmed palm lying on a bare patch of stomach below his bunched white tee, and feeling as though the world could stop turning—how that would be quite alright.
It does turn; it turns at twenty-three degrees and puts nearly half as many years and an ocean between them.
It isn't until an amicable parting with HBO that Manhattan finally feels too small and too big all at once.
It isn't until a one-way flight to Heathrow and a sparsely populated baggage claim that he remembers the kind offer he received in a cramped hotel room when his chest felt full-to-bursting with an apology that he never quite managed to eke out.
"We don't have to figure it out," John says.
The Tannoy fills the tiled enclosure and their ears ring. Andy folds the plain white paper with the other man's name scrawled on it and tucks it into his pocket.
It's obvious the conversation hasn't been lost to time when Andy closes his eyes, rocks back on his heels, opens his eyes. Smiles.
They know. (They know they don't.)
There's a house built of brick in the west of Kent, small enough for two, but somewhat more posh than their demeanor would suggest. There are cups of tea on sunny mornings, and tins of chocolate biscuits on rainy afternoons. There's a sound studio in the basement for once-weekly recordings of a podcast never fully abandoned. There's a bed the Queen Mother wouldn't scoff at, which is quite something.
Andy doesn't object to the adoption of two (eventually three) shelter dogs, each a bit older than the last, and John ensures that all trainers, loafers, and garden clogs go relatively unchewed.
They've enough money and more to retire on, to which Andy can only reply, "Just haven't hit it big yet, John. Just haven't hit it big. Will do. Then we'll be raking it in, you wait and see."
There are quiet moments in a sun-drenched kitchen, mugs in hand, when Andy randomly pokes at John with an index finger and smiles. John rolls his eyes, though it's obvious he's stifling a smile of his own. There are loud moments in the studio when John's laughter highlights the lines at the corners of his eyes, and somehow, somewhere, someone still signs an email, "Fuck you, Chris."
There are moments when a match is on, and one of them nods off on the overstuffed sofa, nostalgic for that cramped twin bed.
("Hey John," Andy will say, as they dress in the morning, a familiar timbre to his voice.
"Why do peasants never manage to escape their social status?"
"Oh no, Andy."
"Because resistance is feudal. I said… I said feudal."
"...I heard you.")
Every once in a while, there is a moment when John appraises his life, and finds himself perfectly content.