John was looking forward to hanging out with Andrew. Usually they kicked back, had a beer, smoked a joint and then, if they felt like it, they would order a pizza and watch 20/20 together. They talked about women, and about hockey, and maybe sometimes about a weird interaction either of them had had with a stranger that had made them uncomfortable. It always made John feel good to know that he had a friend in Andrew.
John had a pizza waiting when Andrew arrived at 5:30. It was an Ultimate Extra Superior Supreme and it had artichokes and gouda on it. Andrew came in with a large messenger bag, went into the kitchen and got himself two slices of pizza. He flopped down on the sofa and John turned on 20/20.
"Hey man," said John, "that’s a nice bag."
"Thanks," said Andrew. "I’m kind of not used to carrying a bag."
"Yeah," said John, and then they watched a long program on the infant prostitution ring in Finkerstown.
"That shit’s pretty fucked up," remarked Andrew.
"Yeah," said John, "the world’s really fucked up."
Andrew helped himself to more pizza. John made them a pitcher of sangria.
"Sangria, my brother," said Andrew, "now we’re talking business."
"I threw in some diced watermelon," said John. "Why not?"
"Go crazy," replied Andrew.
"Right on," said John. They drank their sangria and talked about a date John had had that was not successful.
"I had no idea about the value of this certain kind of rare cashmere whatever," concluded John, "it’s not my world."
"That’s really fucked up," said Andrew. "I don’t even have a response other than it’s fucked up."
"I know, and now I’m humiliated."
"Yeah," said Andrew. The hour had grown late. The dogs that lived across the street from John had gone inside for the night. The streetlamps were flickering.
"Do you want like some coffee or something?" asked John.
"Nah, I’m cool," said Andrew.
"So," said John, "what’s up with tomorrow?"
"Ah, tomorrow," said Andrew. "Yeah."
"Yeah," said John. He went into the kitchen to make coffee anyway. He looked at the clock. It was 11:30. Andrew usually departed by nine. He made coffee, taking a long time and dimming the lights in the kitchen to indicate the deep, chocolatey night. He dropped spoons everywhere and picked them up slowly, one by one. He could hear Andrew texting with someone in the next room. He brought in the coffee service on a silver tray with little cocktail napkins decorated with trombones.
"In case you want some," said John. "I like to have a coffee right before I go to bed."
"I know that about you," said Andrew. John drank his coffee, then put the cup down on the coffee table with a firm clink.
"Wow," said John. "It must be late." He stretched and yawned.
"Yeah, I’ve become a real night owl," said Andrew. "Do you want to Netflix something?"
"Man, I don’t know if I can," responded John, "because I’m pretty beat and I have to get up tomorrow morning for work."
"Oh," said Andrew, "okay."
Andrew was a good and nice friend. Andrew had cleaned up dog vomit when John was dog-sitting for a friend and Andrew caught sight of it in the kitchen before John did. Andrew had bought rounds of drinks for his friends, friends whom Andrew hadn’t previously known. Andrew had gone along on a road trip to Vancouver with him and paid for gas.
"Do you want a bite of cheese?" asked John.
"Cheese I will take!" replied Andrew.
John went into the kitchen and put the cheese on a huge porcelain platter with an array of whimsically-shaped crackers and a cheese knife engraved with his initials. He opened a bottle of Pernod. He dusted off his fine crystal goblets. He tossed capers artfully around a smear of fig jam in the center of the platter. He started a Roxy Music playlist on his iPod at a barely audible volume. He lit a lavender candle and covered it with a red glass cloche.
"Here," whispered John, "is a tiny nibble of cheese."
"Shh," joked Andrew.
"Yes," said John.
Andrew and John lingered over their drinks and cheese for another two hours. John had reached the end of his wits. He had already fluffed the throw pillows, then removed them from the sofa and hidden them in the bathroom. He was acutely aware that he was deliberately messing with Andrew’s comfort levels in his house: elevating them to induce sleepiness, then depleting them to make Andrew crave his own bed in his own home. The plates had been cleared. Andrew went through his bag and retrieved his toothbrush.
"What’s that?" asked John.
"My toothbrush," said Andrew.
"Are you staying overnight?" asked John.
"Of course not!" said Andrew. "What kind of a question is that? I’m just brushing my teeth. Excuse me."
"Sorry, that’s cool," said John. Andrew disappeared for a long time. Sometimes the water was running, then it would shut off, then it would start running again.
Andrew emerged close to 2:30.
"I’m sorry dude," said John, "I’ve got to get to bed. Let’s do this again next week."
"Goodnight," said Andrew from the sofa.
"I think you should go," said John.
"That’s cool, I think I’m going to hang out for a bit longer," said Andrew. He smiled. His smile contained no malice.
"Okay," said John. "Do you want a blanket or something?"
"Nah," said Andrew. And John went to bed.
The next morning, John wasn’t feeling well. Maybe it was the Pernod. He went into the bathroom and saw that he had a considerable amount of gray hair on his head that hadn’t been there previously. He looked haggard. Andrew was in the kitchen, chipper, making scones from scratch.
"Sorry," said Andrew. "I used all your butter."
"That’s okay," said John. "God, I slept terribly."
"Not me!" said Andrew.
"Well, good," said John. "I have to go to work."
"Have fun," said Andrew.
"Andrew," said John, "This is awkward but I need to ask you to go now."
"Oh," said Andrew.
"Yeah, I’m sorry, it’s just that I really don’t like to leave with people in my house."
"I see," said Andrew. He stuffed some tissues and a water bottle into his bag. "Out the door," said Andrew.
"Thanks, bro," said John.
"Okay, ‘bro,’" said Andrew.
"Don’t," said John.
"Fine," said Andrew.
John got into his car. Andrew was dawdling by the driver’s side door. John waited.
"Bye," mouthed Andrew.
"Bye," responded John from inside the car.
John waited. Andrew waited. The sun beat down on the two cars in the driveway. John was late for work. Andrew began to sweat. The mailman came, which meant that the morning had collapsed on top of the afternoon. Andrew texted frantically while John watched.
John opened the car door. “Andrew,” he said, “for God’s sake just be honest with me. What’s going on. What’s happening right now?”
But Andrew was gone, and so was his Pontiac. John went to get the mail and saw that it was all addressed to a Mrs. Eloise Cumbersmith, but the address was his own. The trees that had needed trimming had been trimmed. The front door was green. It had been white. John’s car was filled with garbage, with little cracker crumbs and coffee stains. He could not find Andrew’s number in his phone. In the backseat were a number of Beanie Babies and lottery tickets. John drove away slowly so he could think of a place to go. A band of stray cats followed his car, appearing out of nowhere and refusing to go away.