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Five Birds With One Stone

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Eduardo settles into the slow train crawl back to New York, the champagne and flirting bridesmaids behind him. Georgetown's farther than he'd usually go for a wedding of peripheral friends, but it was good to get away - Christy's been exhausting him, and he wonders how being broken up generates more tinder than being together. He tries to be patient and careful, but her latest stunt tapped something inside him that still makes his chest ache.

He needs a drink.

On the club car, he finds two empty seats – one next to a kid with a laptop, and one near a couple in the midst of a fight. The choice is an easy one.

“I hope you don't mind if I sit here. I don't wanna get too close to...that.”

“Understood,” the young man says. They sit in amiable silence until the feminine half of the argument uses the term "selfish bastard," followed closely with “You knew I was allergic when you got that fucking ferret.” Eduardo can't help but smile to himself, and the kid pauses typing; he seems relieved that it's okay to find this sort of funny.

Eduardo orders a double scotch - the kid's beer is half empty, but he declines the waitstaff's offer of another and their eavesdropping continues. Apparently everything the guy did was custom designed to chap the woman's ass, because she said as much several times.

“She sounds like my ex girlfriend,” Eduardo says.

“She sounds terrifying.”

"We should send that guy a drink. Or ten.”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck you, Mark!” the woman says, and the kid flinches and reddens. Another passenger bravely asks if there is a problem, and the arguing couple departs with intentionally loud commentary about how people should mind their own business.

“Guess the floor show's over,” Eduardo says, and after a few minutes, he decides to try something. Why not? They're strangers on a train. They'll never see each other again.

“So, Mark.”

He's startled. “How'd you know my name?”

“Lucky guess.”

He bristles. “No, seriously.”

“You jumped about a foot high when the ferret lady said fuck you Mark. That's all.”

“Oh,” Mark says with a tight little smile.

“So where are you going?”

“Nowhere.”

“How d'y mean?

“I'm on here to get some work done. I get a lot of work done on trains.”

“Computer stuff?”

“Yeah. My coworkers hate me. Telecommuting is a relief to us all.”

“Oh.”

“There are too many distractions at home and checking into hotels doesn't work. I get the most done on trains.”

“No kidding. Where are you based out of?”

“Palo Alto.”

Eduardo laughs. “You're kidding.”

“No.”

“That's, like, three thousand miles away.”

“Yeah. People at work really hate me." He seems almost proud of it.

"I love it out there. I almost set up a west coast office in San Francisco."

"Why didn't you?"

"Um, it's a long and sordid story,” Eduardo says, and changes the subject. “You must meet lots of interesting people traveling like you do.”

“I make it a point to not talk to people. So, no. I don't.”

The train rocks gently and Eduardo stares out the window. He's mortified that he's foisted himself upon this unsociable stranger and starts to swallow rather than sip.

Mark snaps his computer shut. “Let's get another drink,” he says.

“Yeah...um, are you sure? You don't talk to people, and...I kinda hijacked you.”

“It's okay,” Mark says. “You seem decent. If not neutral.”

“Thanks?”

“You're welcome.”

The silence is so awkward Eduardo's driven to fill it. “So...I was in DC for a wedding this weekend. It would've been nice to stay another day, but you know. Work.”

“What do you do?”

“I run a BlackRock global macro fund.”

“That sounds fun.” Mark says, dry as a fucking bone.

“It can be," Eduardo says. "What's your job? Besides avoiding people?”

“Facebook.”

“Excuse me?”

“I'm the CEO. Of Facebook. I invented it.”

“That's...amazing.”

“Thanks,” Mark says. “Most people don't believe me.”

“Did I read about you in Fast Company?”

“You did.”

“Huh. I thought it was weird 'cause a story like yours should've been half the magazine but it was only a couple paragraphs and a picture.”

“It was supposed to be a cover story. The interviewer and I had what he classified as a 'personality clash' and we didn't get far.”

“I bet you thought the questions were stupid.”

“Exactly.”

“They did a blurb about me once,” Eduardo says. “I thought it was gonna be about business but it ended up being about my birthday party and my clothes.”

“That magazine's shit.”

“Yeah.”

Mark self-consciously asks, “Are you on Facebook?”

“No. I was, but I'm not anymore.”

“Why?”

“Well...” Eduardo hates that he has to divulge this to Mark of all people. “My ex-girlfriend kinda screwed it up for me. She added some of my friends and posted a bunch of stuff that wasn't true.”

“Like what?”

“Lots of things, but probably the worst was saying I abused her. She posted horrible faked pictures of bruises and black eyes.”

“Did you block her?”

Eduardo shrugs. “Yeah, but she made a fake account and friended everyone she didn't pollute in the first round. Seriously, Mark, you should've seen the shit she put up on my wall.”

“That's disgusting. That's not what Facebook's for.”

“I know. There was shit on my actual walls, too – like she wrote horrible things in lipstick and the oils soaked into the drywall. It's painted over, but you can still see it in the right light.”

“Huh.”

“Anyway, enough about that. Forget it.”

Neither says anything for a while and Eduardo studies Mark – they're probably the same age but he looks so young in those soft, sloppy clothes. He shares his seat with a folded Washington Post, which is interesting because what was in there that he couldn't get online?

“Whenever you're done with the Post, can I see that drought article?” Eduardo asks. The whole summer fire cycle's got him thinking TASE:ILCO, and he trusts it because his last hunch bought him a two bedroom apartment in Chelsea.

Rather than surrender the entire paper, Mark takes several minutes to meticulously tear out the article, including a narrow continuation on page eight.

“Thanks,” Eduardo says, and takes the paper pieces as if they were scraps of silk. “I think I know why you have problems with other people.”

“Really.”

“Yeah, your wiring's totally different. Look how literal you are, what you just did.”

Mark's embarrassed. “I guess it's kind of weird.”

“No,” Eduardo says. “It's beautiful.”

Mark rewards him with a shy smile.

“It's why you're a social pariah. And a genius.”

“I like you,” Mark says into his beer.

“I like you, too.”

The silence descends again until Mark asks,“What happened with your west coast office?”

Eduardo takes a deep breath. “When I was out there, Christy called, and...”

“The crazy ex-girlfriend?”

“Yeah. Um...” He's lost in thought a minute and then shakes his head. “I'm sorry. It's hard to talk about.”

"It's okay. I don't even know your name."

“It's Eduardo. And...I've never told anyone this."

“Whenever you're ready. Eduardo.”

"Right. Well...she said she was pregnant. No drama or anything, she just asked me to come home, so I did. I couldn't believe it. I started thinking about stuff that seemed so far away before, like marriage and mitzvahs and..."

Mark nods. "Peru U'revu, I know. One boy one girl.”

"Right!" Eduardo says, pleased somehow that Mark's Jewish, too. "I was happy and weirdly optimistic, I guess. Like there was hope for us, but it turned out it was all a lie. She made it up just to get me back on the east coast so we could fight in person."

"That's bad."

"Yeah. It was." He remembered crying on the plane out of sheer nerves and happiness, and then again at the shards of broken mirror she left on his bathroom floor. He'd wanted to throw things, too, but tamped the feeling down in his chest where it still lived and burned, even now.

“Did you smack her? So she could post about it for real?”

"No,” Eduardo says, ignoring the awful attempt at humor. “The lie about a kid - my kid, was the end for me. I've been trying to shake her ever since."

"And you can't."

"Right. Because she's a fucking lunatic.”

"What's her text record?"

"A hundred twelve in thirty six hours."

"That's a lot."

"It is, and it might be okay if she limited the bullshit to me, but she doesn't. She's called clients to tell them to pull their money 'cause I've got a coke problem. I don't, but it's one of those things you can't un-hear."

"Huh."

"I hate harboring this much rage against another human being, but after what she's done and stuff she probably hasn't done yet...I dunno. I want her gone."

"That could be arranged."

"Not really."

"Sure it could." Mark looks completely blank in his confidence, as if he'd just said 'I like Red Bull.'

"Sounds like you've looked into it."

"I have."

"A girl?"

"No."

"A guy."

“No.”

“Wait. How can it not be either?”

"Two."

“Huh?”

“Two guys.”

"Really."

"Yeah, twins.” He drains his beer and looks around for someone who might bring another. “They're giant WASP-y paragons who are successful and athletic and good at everything except inventing Facebook. They have this bizarre notion that it was their idea, which it wasn't. They're suing me.”

“Damn.”

“What's sick is they don't even need the money.”

“So you've thought about killing them?”

“Yes,” Mark says flatly.

Eduardo takes a respectfully grave sip of his drink; he encounters their kind in business all the time, the men for whom getting their way 98% of the time isn't enough and who will exploit any awkwardness or weakness in others for laughter or money. Mark clearly doesn't know how to wear his success or deal with people, and he's doubly – maybe quadruply outmatched by these guys in everything except the one thing that counts. No wonder he's upset.

A bartender swings by and Mark orders another round with a stiff sort of confidence that seems not quite natural. He's pleased with the transaction, though, and faces Eduardo to say, “I'll kill Christy for you.”

“Wha...what?”

“I'll get rid of her and you can take care of the twins. No one would ever suspect a thing. We don't know each other, we don't live anywhere near each other...” His eyes widen at his own brilliance. “It'd be like killing five birds with one stone.”

“Or three?”

“Yes. Oh God, we are so gonna do this.”

“Uh...I don't think so.”

“I do. It's the second best idea I've ever had.” Mark says, peeling at the corner of his beer label. “You'll come around. Eventually.”

“Yeah,” Eduardo says. “We'll see.” The scotch has caught up with him and his synapses are slow...he strains to think of anything relevant to get off this ridiculous tangent, and then finally, it comes.

“Aren't you on the verge of getting a news feed patent?” he asks, and Mark lights up like the fucking sun.

*

Somewhere in New Jersey they're in Mark's tiny pod in the sleeper car. It's like a dorm room with rumpled clothes and junk food evidence everywhere, but Eduardo likes the unapologetic environment Mark's created for himself. Mark's loose and funny and shows off a little by pulling up the the black-backed code structure of Facebook. He calls it “how sausage is made.” Eduardo laughs and shows off that he's about to dump a bazillion dollars into Israel Chemicals thanks to the article in the Post.

“Don't you mean a bazillion shekels?”

“It'd be less after conversion. Do your coworkers know you're funny?”

Mark's smile, when it comes, is utterly charming.

Eduardo might compare this to a first date going very well except for a stretch when Mark spins himself into a dark corner and talks about how he'd love the irony of the asshole twins drowning, but they were so damn big it wasn't practical.

Eduardo plays along. “I could shoot 'em,” he offers.

Mark likes this. “I've always thought that's the best option.” He abruptly switches gears with, “What does Israel Chemicals make that interests you so much?”

“Fire retardant.”

“Huh. Anyway, yes. You should definitely shoot them.”

“Great. I will.”

The mood lightens when Mark asks about Eduardo's birthday party, but Eduardo's peripherally aware that New York gets closer with every minute. He tries to make the most of this fortuitous frat he's half of and repeatedly asks Mark to call him next time he's in the city. At Penn Station he even clasps him in a hug that Mark eventually has to accept.

Only the next day, completely hung over and swilling ice water at his desk, does he realize that Mark never asked for his number.

It makes him sad. He has a ton of friends, but he wants Mark to be one of them.

*

The week grinds forward, and Eduardo indulges in way too much reflection on the Mark thing, which is starting to feel like a colossal missed chance. He does research during dull moments at work, and it's a wistful thrill to find proof that it was him. A Newsweek article has a photo of Mark looking irritated outside a Jimmy John's sandwich shop, and Eduardo's just processing the term billionaire recluse when his assistant comes in with a worried look.

“Christy's here.”

“Shit,” Eduardo sighs as the familiar, tired defeat presses down on his shoulders. “Send her in.”

Christy flings her heavy purse on the floor and sits opposite him. Why is there so much metal on women's purses, Eduardo wonders.

“Have fun at the wedding?” she asks.

“Yeah. I wasn't sure what to expect of a full Catholic mass, but it wasn't so dif...”

“Fuck any bridesmaids?”

“Oh, yeah. All five of 'em.” She rolls her eyes, and he wonders why they're still doing this, why she keeps coming back when everything he does is wrong. “I'm kind of busy, so if you wouldn't mind telling me why you're here...”

“I've got something I think you want.”

Eduardo's learned not to touch such loaded statements, so he freezes and waits.

“There's a suit of yours in my closet. You want it back?”

“I think so,” he says, blindly feeling around the edges of the conversation to find the trap.

“It's the one you wore to Charlotte's birthday at Aureole,” she says casually. She's wearing a kitten-soft sweater that shows off that hollow between her collarbones that he used to place his thumb in. And his tongue.

“Oh, the gray chalk stripe.”

“Yeah. I could bring it by this weekend.”

That's it. That's the trap.

“I can't. I'm going to Miami.”

“Oh really.”

“Yeah. Dad's away and mom's lonely.”

“Hmm.” She leans back and re-sets her chin like a cobra.

“Maybe we can get together next week? I'd appreciate it if you didn't hide a raw prawn in the pocket like the last time you returned my clothes.”

“Well,” she says acerbically, and singsongs the rest of her words as if addressing a child. “Forgive me for wanting your shit out of my closet.”

Eduardo glances at his computer screen and tries to channel what Mark might say, and it clicks. “Wait a minute. If you want it gone so bad, why didn't you bring it?”

“Excuse me?”

“You could've taken care of it in one trip, but now you've made it two.” He even gets the courage to laugh, and loves that it rattles her. “Do you seriously not have anything better to do than this?”

She snarls and reaches for her purse. “Have fun fucking whoever you're fucking in Miami.”

“Don't change the subject.” Eduardo leans back in his chair, giddy with triumph. “You can't argue with math!”

“Go to hell,” Christy growls, and her stupid purse bangs against the door frame as she goes.

After a few breathless minutes Eduardo's assistant pops her head in. “Are you okay?” she asks. “I've never heard you laugh like that.”

“I'm fine,” he says, and for once, it's true.

He returns to "work" and finds a picture of Mark on the Babbage blog at age nineteen. He wonders about Mark's romantic exploits, if any, and hypothesizes that he's far too smart to bother.

*

The weekend in Miami is perfect. He basks in the sun like it's an old friend he hasn't seen in awhile and his mother spoils him with attention and orange juice she squeezed herself.

He takes a luscious afternoon nap on the veranda and wakes up with great ideas. For starters, he thinks if he approaches Christy as a friend he can encourage her to get help; this shit's got to be wearing her out, too. Secondly, he thinks a handwritten paper letter might make it to Mark via Facebook's corporate offices and appear more charming than desperate. He wonders where Mark is right at this very minute.

His mother is staring at him.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she says with a knowing smile. “Just curious who you're thinking about. Not that awful girl, I hope.”

“No. That's over, and I mean it this time.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because instead of fighting with her I'm going to be her friend,” he says, and smiles as his mother pinches his cheek.

“So...who are you thinking about?”

“No one,” he says with a shy smile. He likes that his preoccupation is so powerful it's visible from the outside, and he itches to tell her about Mark but doesn't.

*

On Sunday it's hard to say goodbye because she's clingy and sad. “I'll be back,” he promises, wrapping her warm little hands in his. How is it that brown eyes look sadder than any other color, he wonders, and it gives him a little cramp to remember that his eyes are identical to hers.

When he finally tears himself away, there's actual danger of missing the flight and it's a mad rush all the way to the airport; his phone's going crazy but he ignores it until he's past the cattle chute of airline security. Sweat warms his collar when he's finally at the gate with five minutes to spare.

There are messages from everyone, all saying the same thing.

Christy was found dead in a club, curled around the stem of a cocktail table.

The details are sickening: Her friends were high and didn't know she was missing. Even worse, her body was hidden by a tablecloth and wasn't found until the next day.

Breakfast curdles in his stomach all the way back to New York, and he knows just enough detail to become invested and upset. He knows the club - Menage, with its astronomically priced bottle service and chandeliers in the bathrooms. It was Christy's favorite when they first got together. She'd plan her outfit all week, and on Saturday she'd turn herself into an otherworldly goddess in a thousand silver necklaces, who was gorgeous and wild and fun. Then came the jealousy and instability and now...this.

It's insulting and terrifying when the police meet him at the airport and escort him to an empty security office.

“You had a pretty volatile relationship, didn't you, Mr. Saverin?”

“Yes, but it was over. Things were leveling out.”

“Would you say you make a comfortable living?”

“Yes.”

“You could have easily paid someone to harm Christy, couldn't you?”

“Uh...” He isn't sure how to answer, because technically, the answer is yes. “Sure I could have. But I didn't. Look...Christy had problems. There's no telling who she got mixed up with or what happened. I'm sorry I can't be of more help, but I don't know anything.”

“Did she have a drug problem?”

“It wasn't a problem, but she did them sometimes.”

“Do you have a drug problem, Mr. Saverin?”

“No.”

“So if we brought a detection dog to your apartment, that wouldn't make you nervous?”

“Not at all.”

“Remind us again what you were doing in Miami?”

He sighs and gives the same answer he's given at least a dozen times, wondering why his family has to live in one of the biggest drug hubs in North America. He eventually extrapolates that Christy and her friends were doing coke, but Christy's gram wrap was pure enough to have come straight from Columbia with no middleman, which was never seen in street drugs and didn't make sense. Why she'd taken so much wasn't a mystery, but where she'd gotten it was.

He's released with the caveat that they will speak again.

It kills him that his mother has to meet with their lawyer and write an affidavit documenting their weekend, and it's unnerving that his father is supportive and kind.

The police take his phone and computer for examination, and Eduardo thinks about Mark on his endless train circuit. Sure they'd talked about this, but Mark only knew her first name. That wasn't enough to go on, especially on an insane premise that was never meant seriously anyway.

In the week it takes for the cause of death to be determined accidental, Eduardo's pants don't fit the same. He feels empty. He combs through pictures for ones to give her parents, who thank him but politely ask that he keep his distance.

He's unable to mourn her because it's all so unreal, and he does what he thinks Mark would do: Folds himself into work and ignores everything else.

*

A glossy postcard comes in the mail. The picture is a cartoon skeleton propped against a cartoon cactus and V-shaped vultures on the horizon. The caption reads “Arizona, it's a dry heat!”

The small, tight writing on the reverse reads:


All good wishes from the Golden West.

I like the tactile old fashionedness of paper sometimes, don't you?



It's unsigned.

He thinks it might be from Mark but it's so strange he can't be sure.

*

His pulse skyrockets when he's walking down Fifth Avenue and Mark calls.

“Where are you?” Eduardo shouts, ducking into a store to escape street noise.

“A payphone. In a train station.”

“A train station where?”

“Milwaukee. You have no idea how rare payphones are these days.”

“How'd you get my number?”

“Does it matter? You said to call, so I am.”

“Oh.” Eduardo remembers his desperate wish that this happen and feels a rush of excitement. "How have you been?"

“I'm coming to New York. Do you have any interest in seeing me?”

“Yes. Yes! Please!”

“Okay. I'll call you when I'm closer.”

“Mark?”

“What.”

“I'm really glad you called.”

“Yeah. Okay,” he says, and hangs up.

*

Eduardo's pants hang even looser on his waist as he races to get ready for his visitor. The lead-up – Mark calling from Cleveland, then Boston, then estimating when he'll be at the door, is more nerve wracking than any business transaction he's ever experienced.

Mark arrives at his apartment with a timid smile and two bags. He seems nervous, too.

“Hi!” Eduardo says, a little too loudly.

“Hi. Hang on. I brought you something.” Mark sets down his duffel bag, and inside, wrapped in clothes, is a bottle of Macallan. It's what Eduardo drank on the train, only this bottle is sherry oaked and twenty five years old.

“Wow, thank you! Come in and put your stuff down. I can't even tell you...it's so great to see you.”

“Thanks,” Mark says, and looks around the apartment like it's a museum. “This is nice,” he says, making his footsteps soft and looking around in awe. He admires the dark woods and the dark blues. In lieu of framed stuff, Eduardo has a couple of actual paintings. “You did all this?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you hire somebody to do the furniture and art and stuff?”

“No. I did it myself.”

“How did you know what to buy?”

“I guess I bought what I liked.”

“How did you know what to like?”

Eduardo isn't sure how to answer, so he shifts his weight a little and says, “Do you want to see the rest?”

“Okay.”

“This is the guest room,” he says of the smaller of the two bedrooms. “It's not very exciting because I never have guests, and the bathroom's right here.”

Mark pokes a peony floating in a shallow bowl to test whether it's real. “This room is like something out of a magazine,” he says.

“The tile's Japanese porcelain,” Eduardo says proudly. “Not a single tile was cut, not on the walls or shower or floor.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. We're surrounded by math. I love that.”

“You had it installed? It didn't come this way?”

“Right. The walls are based on the Pythagorean golden ratio and floor's all Pell numbers.”

“Wow.” Mark lifts a flip flop off the floor to look under it. “That's really cool.”

He's even more impressed with the television in Eduardo's bedroom. It's cleverly hidden in a thin console at the foot of the bed, and it ascends with the press of a button. “That's the coolest thing I've ever seen,” he says, as it glides up and turns itself on. He puts it away, then brings it up again. And again.

“So there's not really anything else to see,” Eduardo says, after Mark's stopped playing with the television and an awkward silence sets in. A social lubricant is in order. “Can I open the scotch?”

“That's why I got it,” Mark shrugs, and they go to the kitchen, where Eduardo pours a glass for each of them. It's so good it makes Eduardo's tongue ache, but it makes Mark sneeze. Eduardo can tell he doesn't like it, but he keeps trying.

“So where are you staying?”

“I might hop another train. I've got a ton of work to do this week.”

“You can stay here, if you want.”

Warmth stirs in Mark's expression but he doesn't answer.

At least not right away.

He says it a few hours later, after they've gone to the bodega for beer and demolished four cartons of Chinese takeout. They're lolling on the couch with horrible posture, uncomfortably full but still picking at the snow peas. “There's this theory,” Eduardo says. “That the more mauve in a Chinese restaurant, the better the food is. Have you heard that?”

“No. And I can't see mauve.”

“Really? Are you colorblind?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.” Eduardo doesn't know if the appropriate response is I'm sorry or possibly you're not missing much, or maybe something else.

“You know what else I can't see?”

“What?”

“How Greece is going to pay off the Olympics. Going on the euro was like having a rich uncle co-sign for things. It all comes down to math, and I don't think it will end well.”

Eduardo just stares at him – finance isn't even his thing, yet he's so fucking brilliant it's not even fair. His fortune cookie even said something to that effect, while Eduardo's said something dumb like You are working hard.

“So...yes.” Mark says suddenly.

“Yes what?”

“I'll stay.”

He's reminded of Mark's odd economy of speech. He has some economy of his own, because he cannot bring himself to mention the coincidence of their train discussion and Christy.

With Mark unpacking his clothes in the guest room and making jokes about the 'math bath,' it seems completely irrelevant.

*

That night and for nearly a week after, Mark sleeps in the spare room, or at least Eduardo thinks he does. He works almost constantly, sometimes staying up all night while Eduardo falls asleep to the key clicks a wall away.

He loves the subtle electricity of another person in the apartment, and relishes the coup that of all the places on earth, Mark wants to be there. The daily exposure to his eccentricities is fun, and even when Mark's busy an undercurrent of contentment connects them, as if every bare footstep and chair squeak is a way of speaking to each other.

He's a funny houseguest. Twice Eduardo comes home to find him dozing on the floor in a patch of sunlight. He keeps a teacup full of chocolate chips and peanuts by his elbow, and sometimes sits at his computer so long he gets too stiff to walk and shuffles around hunched over like a Cro Mag.

Sometimes it seems like he's lonely, because he talks so much and so fast.

“I'm a bad host,” Eduardo realizes one day, after listening to Mark's ninety second monologue about carnauba wax and how much he probably eats in a year. “You're alone all day and we never do anything outside the apartment.”

“It's okay. I've been busy.”

“Let's do something this weekend. Hey, would you have any interest in going out for drinks with some work friends on Friday?”

“God, yes,” Mark says in a rush of enthusiasm that instantly embarrasses him.

“Okay. We do it every week and cross our fingers that Kendrick will come.”

“Who's that?”

“The company's vice chairman. I don't suck up as bad as most people, but...well, maybe I do.”

*

On Friday morning, Mark sprinkles chocolate chips over hot buttered toast and waits a minute before spreading them with a knife. This is one of many quirks that Eduardo's grown terribly fond of.

Mark has a request. “When we go out tonight I don't want anyone to know who I am.”

“Okay, but how should I introd...”

“We'll say I'm your Irish friend from school. I love the Red Sox and drink like a fish.”

“You thought this all out?”

“Yes. Wait.” He licks chocolate off this thumb, scampers to the guest room, and comes back with a wrinkled green t-shirt with a shamrock on it.

“You're hilarious.”

“Right. And I'm Brian Donnelly in front of your friends.”

“Okay, Brian.” Eduardo can't help but laugh because it feels so weird. All day he can't wait for drinks. Even if no one knows who Mark is, Eduardo will, and it tickles him like crazy.

*

Their usual bar is framed in teak and aqua-tinted glass. Mark shows up in his shamrock shirt and a hoodie, looking young and boyish against all the charcoal wool and silk ties.

“This is my friend Brian,” Eduardo says, and Mark smiles in his disguise. “We went to school together.”

“Hi, Brian,” everyone says with little interest, and the night unfolds as usual – someone asks if Kendrick was invited and the girls bitch about everyone who isn't there. Mark drinks Guinness, and Eduardo wonders if it's part of the disguise or if he genuinely likes it.

“Hey Wardo,” Andy says. “Will you be our fourth at Shinnecock tomorrow?”

“Uh, I have plans with Brian, but thanks for the invite.”

“Just a heads up, Nick's hitting Bethpage on Sunday and is gonna ask you, too. Brian, did you know your friend's one of the most sought after golf partners in the city?”

“I didn't,” Mark says. “He must be good.”

“On the contrary, he's fucking terrible. It's an ego boost to bring him along.”

Eduardo laughs. “It's true. I'm really bad.”

“No one's more fun than Eduardo, but his game is the worst. Do you golf?”

“Uh, no.”

“So what do you do?”

“I do...other stuff.”

“Brian's actually famous,” Eduardo interjects, ignoring the sharp shin kick Mark delivers under the table. “Well, at Harvard anyway. He's the reigning Phoenix Pickle Run champion.”

“What's that?”

“The challenge was to run to Market in the Square for a quart jar of pickles and get back to the SK house without dropping it. It's harder than it sounds, and Brian's time is still the fastest.”

Mark loves this and gives Eduardo the softest, warmest look.

“What's amazing is he did it in December. In flip flops.”

Mark smiles so big it's impossible, and the story fades like a firework for everyone but him.

“So Eduardo,” Andy says. “I wanna talk to you about Asia,” and Eduardo half listens and watches Mark fall into a conversation with one of the girls. He overhears the word Facebook, and Mark lights up and asks what she does and doesn't like about it. It's funny and sad that he needs an alter ego to talk to people, but Eduardo soon stops watching because he seems to be doing okay on his own.

*

Maybe an hour passes and Eduardo's chewing on a stripped satay stick and zoning out of a conversation about tax loopholes – he's tried to catch Mark's eye a few times but can't. He's bored and trying to remember when he last had sex when Andy's suddenly in his face.

“Eduardo. Hey, you gotta get your friend outta here. He's annoying as shit. He's bugging everyone about Facebook and doesn't seem to know Angela's married.”

“Why the doesn't she tell him, then?”

“Dude, just get him out of here. Please. Before someone hits him.”

Mark's got an inch of black beer left in an imperial pint glass; he's explaining something with the speed and tact of a machine gun and is surrounded by three guys who clearly hate him when Eduardo steps into the tense little square. “Excuse me. Brian?” he says, and Mark's eyes are dark and annoyed. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“I'm kind of in the middle of something.”

“Come on,” Eduardo says, and gently pulls on his elbow. Mark follows, and Eduardo lies a little to ease the transition. “This happens every week. The first hour's fun and then everybody turns into a jerk.”

“How can you stand those people?” Mark asks. “They're the worst. Like, world class assholes, and I know some Olympians.”

“I don't know. Let's go somewhere else, just us. Can I call you Mark again?”

“Please do. Brian isn't very popular tonight.”

They walk outside in silence and Eduardo feels a twinge of defeat at how Mark apparently can't overlap with other things he cares about. He's chilled by the parallels with Christy, how everything became her or nothing, and how he got so lost in her he didn't know. The situation with Mark is different...yet just as miserable. He's had just enough to drink that his mood darkens as he steers them to a nearby bar he knows.

“I liked your pickle story,” Mark says when they're at a new table with new drinks. "Thanks for making me sound cool.”

Eduardo doesn't answer and has a sad, faraway look in his eyes.

“Hey,” Mark says. “I didn't mean to ruin your night.”

“You didn't.”

“But you're so quiet.”

“I'm fine.”

“Okay.”

Eduardo fingerpaints the sweat on the outside of his glass. “I brought Christy here once and she hated it. Said it was 'plebby' because they didn't have the brand of vodka she wanted.”

“Huh.”

“Christy's dead,” he says somberly, and can't remember if that fact has surfaced in the past week. "Did you already know that?"

Mark swallows his beer fast so he can answer. "Are you serious?"

Eduardo's confused. “Why would you say that?”

“Because it was my idea,” Mark half laughs.

“What? Mark...”

“How is this a surprise to you, I don't even...”

It's like being in a plummeting elevator. “When the fuck were you gonna tell me?”

“I did tell you. On the train and in the postcard. So...yeah.”

“The postcard?”

“It had four birds on it,” Mark says with a nonchalant shrug. “I thought maybe you knew but didn't want to talk about it.”

“Oh my God.” Eduardo feels a heavy knot tighten in his skull and it's getting difficult to breathe. “You did it.”

Mark shrugs again, eyes big.

“You did it.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Jesus Christ. Mark...”

“We talked about this,” he says calmly, conversationally. “And now you're going to do it for me. Quid pro quo.”

“No. No. This is not happening.” Fear churns in his stomach like cement setting in a washing machine and panic presses at his throat. “Why didn't you say anything?”

“Because I had a lot of work to do this week and figured it might escalate into what it is right now.”

“Oh my God...” Eduardo moans, raking his hands through his thick hair. “Oh my God...”

“What? You got what you wanted.”

“I didn't want this.”

“Sure you did. And now we can talk about how you'll return the favor.”

Eduardo shakes his head slowly. “Yeah. Forget it.”

“Uh...no?”

“This is insane.” He can finally see what other people hate in Mark – the indifference, the fucking smugness. “I'll turn you in.”

Mark's dry smile is almost seductive.“No you won't.”

“I want you out of my apartment.”

“But...”

“This started out fun, but I can't have you here.” Eduardo fumbles too much money out of his wallet and scatters it on the table. He can't get out of there fast enough and Mark follows two steps behind, sometimes skipping to catch up and trying to be heard.

“Eduardo, listen. This will be a lot easier if...”

“Don't talk to me.” He hails a cab and Mark stands on the curb with his hands stuffed in his pockets, unsure what to do. “Get in,” Eduardo says with waning patience. “You can get your stuff and then that's it. That's all.”

“I thought we were friends.”

“I thought so, too. You don't know how bad I wanted it.”

“So, we aren't?”

“No. We can't be.”

“Oh.” Mark settles back into the seat. “I think you're wrong.”

In Chelsea, he submissively walks a few steps behind and waits for Eduardo to open the door, then puts his head down and retreats to the guest room to collect his things. Eduardo trembles from the adrenaline and braces for when Mark comes out of the bedroom. He's never felt this sick and afraid.

Mark's eyes are so dark when he comes out to the living room with his bags, and he fixes Eduardo with this stare that's so hard and so hurt Eduardo feels like a hole's been punched in his chest.

It's unbearable. He drops his gaze to the floor as Mark walks towards the door and pushes past him, not saying a word as he leaves.

*

The cleaning service isn't due until Tuesday, so Eduardo scours the guest room with vigor he's never applied to cleaning in his life. He strips the bed and scrubs the floors on his knees until the roots of his shoulders ache and he's spluttering, weeping. He's fucking sick about Christy, and can't mourn the loss of Mark's friendship yet because of Christy.

Every trace of Mark's stay must be wiped out. The expensive Macallan is poured down the drain and Mark's forgotten shampoo is thrown in the trash. The peony Mark touched gets shredded down the kitchen sink disposal and Eduardo manages to rearrange the guest bedroom furniture by himself, even though it hurts his back and scratches the floor.

Sleep is impossible and the inside of his mouth tastes foul and metallic. Missing Christy had been a low-level confusion before - he'd folded her at the waist and put her away but now she's back, twitching and dying and he asked for it. He thinks of her at the club, pretty and perfumed and just wanting to have fun. For all she put him through, she seems so innocent now.

*

On Monday at work, no one tells him his friend's an asshole; no one knows the company's pulled funds from Mytilineos Holdings due to a throwaway comment “Brian” made over Chinese food. Eduardo finds it a hollow relief no one can tell he's half responsible for the death of another human being, and it exhausts him to know these are the earliest days in what will be a lifetime of pretending he isn't.

The day crawls by like slow, deep punishment, but once he gets home he hopes to lose himself in some online recreation. Like maybe he should check out the new Kiton collection. Or cat macros. Or porn. It doesn't matter.

An email - from himself - pings in his inbox.

 

Eduardo. We need to talk about this.

 

It has to be Mark; Eduardo changes his password but it doesn't matter.

 

Dude. Come on, seriously?

 

He feels violated – it shouldn't surprise him that Mark can hack his way into any corner of his life, but it does.

 

Leave me alone, he writes. I have nothing to say to you.

 

Really? 'Cause I've got something to say to you.

 

Eduardo's stomach clenches into a ball; he hits refresh over and over, and then it comes.

 

We aren't done with each other. Not even close.

*

The messages span two gut-wrenching weeks, and every time Eduardo thinks it's over, it isn't.

 

Can we maybe stop being so dramatic about this? It won't be as hard as you think.
I'll map it all out so it's just as easy for you as it was for me.

 

I'll turn you in.

 

The only person that will hurt is you. You know that.

 

Maybe I'll print all this shit out and turn it over to the police. There's more than enough to implicate you.

 

Go ahead. Writing emails to yourself won't look crazy at all.

 

Yeah, but they're from you. They can trace that.

 

I actually looped it so the x-orig-IP is still you. Sorry to be a dick.

 

Please stop. Please tell me this isn't real.

 

Oh, it's real. There's a gun in the bottom drawer in the guest room.
I'm working out how you'll do it because the timing has to be meticulous.
You're the perfect person to do it, what with your starched shirts and
math shower. Both of which I admire, by the way.

 

Eduardo looks in the drawer, and it's there, heavy and black wrapped in a spare pillowcase.

 

I got rid of the gun, he lies.

 

No you didn't. You've got some interesting stuff on your hard drive, btw.
Does your mother know what kind of porn you're into? She writes you the
nicest!mom emails. It would be super weird if she found out.

 

You wouldn't dare. Get the fuck out of my email and stop writing me.

 

Speaking of your family, I finally figured out your Last Straw™ with
Christy. You wanted a son. To undo the way your father treats you.

 

Mark. ENOUGH.

 

Are you going to do what we talked about?

 

NO.

 

Well, you might want to reconsider.

 

Eduardo shuts down his computer and gets a screwdriver and hammer from the utility drawer. The thin metal wallet of the hard drive pops out easily and dances on the kitchen counter as he pounds it apart. When a sharp piece of plastic flies off and nicks him in the forearm he stops, sweaty and trembling with nerves. He wants the comfort of speaking Portuguese and calls his mother. "Mãe," he says, and something about it worries her instantly, though he insists he's fine and just called to catch up.

The real reason is to remind them both that he's a good son.

*

When he gets to work the next morning, his office is stuffed full of people. There's Andy and three IT guys and Kendrick, the fucking vice chairman. They all have a wide, worried look in their eyes that reminds him of when Christy died and no one knew what to say to him.

“Eduardo. Would you happen to know what's going on with your account?”

“Uh, I don't know, you tell me.”

“There's nothing in it.”

“What?”

“It's empty. Actually, that's not true, there's five dollars and fourteen cents in it.”

“I...” His face is so, so hot. “I have no idea.”

“Fink's in Montreaux and not very happy. If it isn't a tech glitch that IT can figure out, he's coming stateside to talk to you.”

“Fuck...” Eduardo moans. Despite his two solid years with the company he's never even met CEO Larry Fink, and definitely doesn't want to under these circumstances.

“Are you sure you don't know anything about this?”

“No,” he swallows. “Can I...get a bottle of water? I'll be right back.”

He stops in the bathroom before going to the secretary's fridge; he feels sick to his stomach but takes a few deep breaths and splashes water on his face. This has Mark written all over it.

For two hours he sweats in the conference room while his office and computer are combed through, and everyone whispers and looks at him through the glass. Even his assistant wears an unconvincing air that it's all a mistake, and he's devastated that people he halfway considered family could suspect him even for a second. Resignation is an option. But then they'd be crawling up his ass looking for an enormous sum of money he didn't take. He could turn Mark in and suffer whatever punishment came down for his part in it. Or...

He emails himself on his phone.

 

You win. Undo this and we'll talk about it.

 

In less than five minutes, everyone's in the conference room, flushed and loud because the money's reappeared without explanation. Eduardo laughs and speculates on the cause like everyone else does, but with the disorientation that he's a different person now and always will be. He's promised the unthinkable and has no option of hiding or escape, because Mark's brilliant and horrible and he's not going to let this go.

It seems dangerous to check his email once the office excitement dies down but he can't help it. Of course Mark has written.

 

See? I knew you'd come around.

 

Call me, Eduardo writes. NOW.

 

Fuck that, I'm not tying my phone to yours. I'll come stay w/ you again.
Maybe I can make it for Fri night drinks cause it was a fucking blast last
time w/ the < GIANT >assholes< / GIANT > you work with.

P.S. You took the hard drive out, didn't you? That's cute.

P.P.S. I hope you didn't bust it up or drill holes in it. I wasn't
actually going to do anything.

 

Eduardo deflates further as days pass and Mark's emails turn newsy and cute.

 

If you were here I'd offer you $10M to make up another Phoenix story
where I'm the hero. Anyway, I'm bored in GA right now. There's a chemical
spill on the tracks and we're stuck till it gets cleaned up. I thought
"Georgia peach" was just an expression, but it turns out it's a real
thing. It's just fruit.

 

The one that sticks with Eduardo most comes at 2:34 AM. The ringer was off, but he could have answered because he'd been awake, hugging a pillow and wondering why he couldn't sleep when he was so fucking tired.

 

I'm a little intoxicated, I'm not gonna lie.

That week w/ you was one of the best I've ever had. I loved staying
at your apartment - must be all the math, and I like you. A lot. Don't
hate me for what I did, I thought it was what you wanted.

I'm glad you're ready to talk about our quid pro quo. I promise it won't
be that bad, and when it's done we can go back to being the way we were.

See you soon

M.

*

As far as Eduardo knows, no human has ever sat on the black leather couch in the lobby of his apartment building, but in four days he finds Mark sprawled on it with a folded hoodie pillow and an open sack of Swedish fish on his chest. Despite the dread of this reunion, it's a deep relief to know where Mark is.

“How long have you been here?”

“Not long.”

“I'm surprised you didn't steal my keys and make yourself a copy last time you were here.”

“Wow, it's nice to see you, too,” Mark says, his mouth as red as a valentine. “Want a fish?”

“No.”

Mark collects his bags and Eduardo presses the elevator button; it audibly grinds down from some upper floor as they wait in uncomfortable silence. Mark smells like artificial cherries. “Did I leave my shampoo here?” he asks.

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“Okay,” Mark says with a coy red smile, which Eduardo's paranoia interprets as okay, we can pretend you're not lying. One elevator wall is mirrored and Eduardo normally gives himself an approving once-over in it, but now he can't because he's ashamed of what a coward he is. It's nothing new, either; if hiding behind flowers or sex or fibbing would stave off the bigger problem with Christy he did it every time, and now he's doing it with someone else. He's lied to save his job. He's lied about shampoo, for God's sake, and now Mark is here expecting something he can't do.

Once they're inside the apartment, Mark seems cautiously happy to be back. “So, listen,” he says, as he sets down his things. “I've got good news.”

“Really."

"Yeah. I was thinking it's insane what I've asked you to do."

Tears spring to Eduardo's eyes. His knees feel like loose rubber, and the nightmare starts to lift off his back. "Thank you. Oh, God, Mark, thank you so much."

"Well, besides the logistical impracticality, I realized it's grossly unfair. Are you about to cry? Please don't, it's so uncomfortable." Mark bats him away as Eduardo reaches out to hug him. "Seriously. You need to back up 'cause I'm not finished.”

“Sorry,” Eduardo says. “Go ahead.”

“You only have to kill one of them."

"Wha...what?"

"You only have to kill one of them. Tyler would be my pick, but either's fine."

"No. No no no no..."

"Yes yes yes. Now just think of the math. I've cut your responsibility in half, you're welcome very much. I got the idea from a fortune cookie.” He digs in his pocket and gives Eduardo a tiny strip of paper, which says:

 

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

 

"Good advice, right?" Mark says, and starts unloading his bag in the guest room. “I don't know how much I've told you, but they're both transferring to Oxford and doing a lot of back-and-forth. There's no way we're doing this in the UK. I'm thinking Greenwich, when they come home for Christmas. You don't have Christmas plans, right? That's a joke.”

“Oh,” Eduardo says, watching from the doorway. He feels completely numb.

Mark moves a stack of t-shirts into a drawer and puts his pajamas under a bed pillow. “It's easy to crack the security system at their parents' house, but I think nailing him on a morning run would be easiest. Anyway, you have some extra time to get used to the idea.”

“Thanks,” Eduardo says, in a voice so quiet it barely registers.

“You're welcome. Hey, I meant to ask about the gun. Do you know how to shoot it?”

“No.”

“Have you even held it?”

“No.” The escalating questions make Eduardo's stomach buckle.

“You shouldn't be afraid of it, it's not loaded.” Mark quickly opens the bottom drawer and says, “Here, catch,”

Eduardo's not ready and it hits the floor with such a bang he jumps and screams, then involuntarily slips into Portuguese to cuss Mark out. You're fucking insane and I want you out of my life. Forever. Reflexive tears blur his eyesight and he kicks the gun back over to Mark.

It skitters loudly across the hardwood and Mark picks it up, smiling with that Joker cherry mouth. “I understood none of what you just said.”

Eduardo wipes his eyes. “I'll paraphrase. You're the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

“That's not true,” Mark says, un-offended, and Eduardo retreats to his own bedroom while Mark bangs drawers shut and continues making himself at home. “I like what you've done with the furniture!” he yells at their shared wall

*

Eduardo hides and obsesses until a quiet knock on the door pulls him out of dissecting his recent difficulties – Christy, the interrogation, the threats, the account drain...and today will surely evolve into something just as bad. How can this not get worse?

“Leave me alone.”

“You've been in there for hours. Don't you need to use the bathroom or anything?”

“No.”

“I drank your last beer but I'll stock you back up tomorrow. Promise.”

The audacity of Mark slipping back into his life masquerading as a normal roommate is maddening, but it's easiest to just play along. “Whatever. I don't care.”

“Thanks. And I'm sorry to bug you about something so dumb, but do you have any paperclips?”

Eduardo sighs; this is ridiculous. “There's a cup in the kitchen with pens in it. Look in there.”

“Thanks,” Mark says, and a few minutes later, metallic clicks sound in the door lock. Eduardo could almost weep at his own stupidity when Mark easily pops the lock with an unbent paperclip and leans in to peek at him curled up in bed.

“Hey,” he says softly. “Are you okay? When did you last eat?”

“What do you care?”

“Can I bring you anything?”

“No.”

Mark walks over and slumps down next to the bed so his ass is on the thick Kashan rug and his legs are stretched out across the hardwood floor. “I didn't think you'd be upset. I thought you'd be happy,” he says, digging his fingertips into the rug fibers. “And anyway, you said we could talk about it.”

“Did I have a choice? After the shit you pulled with my account?”

“I guess not.” Mark smooths the dents in the rug's pile, then pushes his fingers in again. “If it makes you feel any better, I'm upset, too.”

“Huh. Killing strangers must have that effect on people.”

“I'm not talking about that. I had a preliminary hearing in court last week and it didn't go very well.” He leans his head back against the mattress and sighs. “Just being in the same room with those two assholes wears me out.”

“I don't see how they have any traction if Facebook's yours.”

“It's a long story,” Mark says, and digs his fingers around a paisley shaped whorl. “But basically they had one one thousandth the idea I had, and they think preppy swagger and old money entitles them to what's actually mine.”

“Why Tyler?”

“He's meaner.”

Eduardo senses a story and props himself up on an elbow. “Did he do something to you?”

Mark's fingertips disappear up to the first knuckle. “Early on, they chased me across the quad and he got me down on the grass. He kept yelling for his brother to hit me but Cameron wouldn't do it, and Tyler got madder and madder, and...I got a kidney contusion from being pinned under his knee.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. My mom came to stay with me and I pissed blood for a week. But my main problem is that guys like that win enough already. You don't know what it's like to be a nobody because you're much too good looking and everybody likes you, but imagine being a nobody and then to have bookend fucking somebodies try to take everything you have.”

“I get it,” Eduardo says, sitting up. “You have every right to hate them, but it's no reason to ki...”

“I know you're having second thoughts. Maybe you never had first thoughts, but this is where we're at now, okay?”

“Mark, no. Come on,” Eduardo shakes his head. “We're not 'at' anywhere.”

Mark pinches the bridge of his nose and groans. “Have you ever wondered why the police didn't ask if you hit your girlfriend?”

Eduardo hadn't. “I guess not.”

“Yeah, well, it crossed my mind and I took care of the pictures. Like not just on Facebook. Those pictures aren't even on her hard drive, they don't exist anymore. I'm careful, Eduardo. I won't let anything happen to you.”

It's no consolation, and Eduardo rubs a corner of sheet between his fingers and considers running home or starting over in Brazil, but then dismisses them as useless solutions that Mark probably anticipated weeks ago. Like he could ever outsmart him. Like he has anywhere to go but here, with Mark living quietly on his periphery, every day watermarked quid pro quo.

“Do you still like me?” Mark suddenly asks. “Like, at all?”

Eduardo doesn't know what to say. So he bites his lip and says nothing.

“Okay,” Mark says curtly, using the nightstand to hoist himself up. “Goodnight.”

*

At midnight, Eduardo creeps out of his room because he's starving. The incessant key clicking's in high gear on the other side of the wall, and he hopes to be unseen but Mark's door is open.

“Wardo,” he calls, and the intimacy of it startles Eduardo a little.

“What.”

“Would you come here, please?”

The room is Mark's again, his clothes and teacup and his scent are all in place. “So, um...you're probably my best friend,” he says with honesty that seems to embarrass him. “And I can be patient. December's far away, right? We don't have to talk about it now if you don't want to. I guess I'm trying to call a moratorium or something.” His eyes are wide and plaintive. “So...maybe we could go back to the way things were for a while.”

Eduardo nods his assent because he's a coward, but then impulsively grabs a fistful of Mark's curls and pulls. “Stay out of my personal business,” he warns as Mark's hands fly off the keyboard and up into his hair.

“Dammit, Wardo! Let go!”

“That's not what friends do. And stay the fuck out of my email.”

“Okay! Okay!”

“Okay.” He lets go and slaps the top of Mark's head for good measure, and loves that Mark looks a little afraid.

It's too late for dinner, but Eduardo goes to the kitchen and puts together a quick little primavera. The scent of garlic and olive oil lures Mark to the kitchen, but he shuffles away once it's obvious Eduardo's only making it for himself.

*

As the week progresses, Mark never mentions Tyler and is considerate and polite.

A lot can happen by Christmas, Eduardo decides, and his subconscious starts to craft an alternate explanation for what happened. It's plausible that Mark's a very clever opportunist taking credit for something he didn't do. Bits of corroborating proof add up – like he'll usher a fly out the window rather than whack it with a magazine, and his awkwardness with people is so pronounced there's no way he could talk himself into a club like Menage, much less into the attention of a girl like Christy. It would be a little pathetic if he's a fake, but...it sort of fits Mark.

The theory strengthens and sinks in while Eduardo sleeps, and he dreams that Mark will be his weird friend and Christmas will come and go without death or fanfare. The guilt and fear never go away, but they weaken to the point that he can sometimes go an entire hour without thinking about December or Christy.

*

It's a complete surprise when Mark shows up at his office with a pair of bento boxes.

“I have no idea what this is,” he confesses. “But it seemed like something you'd like. I had the security guy lock your deadbolt since I don't have keys.”

“Thanks. For lunch and for thinking of that.”

'You're welcome.” Mark sets the boxes down and walks over to the window. “Wow. Nice view.”

“Thanks.”

“You've got nice everything,” he says, running a finger along the glossy finish of Eduardo's mahogany desk. “Your apartment and your office...it's all so nice.”

“You could have everything I have, though. Times a million.”

“No, I couldn't,” Mark says self-deprecatingly. “Not really.”

“I think you're wrong.”

“I think you are. Is it okay that I just sort of showed up? Are you busy?”

“It's fine. Pull up a chair.”

They're halfway through eating when Kendrick comes into his office. “Eduardo. This is a bit belated, but I want to apologize for the excitement over your account.”

“You don't have to do that,” Eduardo says, setting down his chopsticks and casting a skittish, sideways glance at Mark. “But thanks, I appreciate it.”

“Well, I want to. I always assume IT's on top of things, but I'm too old to know what those guys actually do. Oh.” He notices Mark. “Hello.”

“Hi.”

“Kendrick, this is my friend Brian. Brian, Kendrick Wilson. Our vice chair.”

They nod, and Kendrick opens the conversation to include Mark. “So you may have heard that a technical glitch almost gave Eduardo and the rest of us a heart attack.”

“Wow,” Mark says. “I'm glad nobody died.”

“So are we. I suspect our IT personnel play video games all day. Too bad we can't have a Mike Zuckerberg on staff, right?”

“Right,” Eduardo says, and holds his breath as Mark chokes on a bite of cucumber.

“Even Larry Fink's jealous of how rich that kid is. Speaking of Facebook...God, are you okay?”

Mark coughs and snorts until his throat clears. “I'm fine. Thanks.”

“Good. Are you on Facebook, Eduardo?”

“Not anymore. I closed my account months ago.”

“Good for you. I mention it because HR's drafting a memo about limiting online recreation but I guess it won't apply to you.”

“Good thing I don't work here,” Mark pipes up. “I'm on Facebook, like, all day.”

“Then we will never, ever hire you.” Kendrick pats his shoulder on the way out. “Thanks, Eduardo. Nice to meet you, Brian.”

When it's just the two of them again they stare at each other, and Eduardo remembers that Mark's the crown prince of the digital age and his own secret prize. Mark stares back, eyes blazing with excitement. “That was fucking awesome,” he says, his dimples deep enough to hold jellybeans.

“Yeah,” Eduardo has to agree. “It was.” They're still a few more seconds until Eduardo shifts and says, “Okay, this one's for free.” It confuses Mark, but not for long. “When you got punched by the Phoenix, you weren't hazed. At all. That's how bad they wanted you. I remember being on my knees throwing up raw eggs while you hacked the Porcellian's security system and got cheered on. I hated you for it, a little.”

“But mostly you were glad we were getting into the same final club, right?”

“Yeah. But I was jealous that the other pledges did your laundry.”

“They did a crappy job.”

“Well, still. You were such a big deal. You still are.”

“Thanks,” Mark says with a shy smile, and Eduardo is thrown back in time to the nervy, crushy ache to catch the pearls spilling from Mark's mouth. The gray in-between then and now seems distant and unreal against Mark in his office, Mark chasing sticky blueberries around a bento compartment with chopsticks.

*

Days pass and they gravitate closer to where they were the first time Mark stayed – tuned in to each other, separate yet together, sometimes sitting in silence so comfortable that its length goes unnoticed.

One night they stay up late with the hexadecimal chart and Eduardo helps Mark change Facebook's colors from blue to varying shades of mauve, and they shake with laughter at desperate voicemails from someone named Dustin.

“Maaark,” Dustin moans from Mark's phone. “It must be fun to loop around on trains and ruin my life. Where the fuck are you? I'm almost coming to the conclusion that you're a bad person. Prove me wrong, Mark. I'm begging you. I'm the only person here who doesn't want you dead, don't you want to hang on to that?”

“He sounds nice,” Eduardo says.

“Yeah. He's a good guy.”

“Should we change it back?”

“Oh...I guess so,” Mark says. “But I'll save the purple codes to a notepad in case we ever want to do it again. Hey, do you want your Facebook account back?”

“Can we be friends on it?”

“I hadn't thought of that. We probably shouldn't.”

“Then no. Thanks, though,” Eduardo says, and Mark seems far more happy than disappointed.

*

Later in bed, Eduardo tries to reach back into what was so upsetting weeks before and can barely access it. Christy may be gone, but the upside is that she's not harassing him. Mark wrote some awful things via email, but it's because he was hurt and worried the friendship was lost. They have so much fun together when he decides to. This thing with Tyler will go away by Christmas, he thinks. It has to.

Mark walks into Eduardo's bedroom in his pajamas. “Hey,” he says, and unabashedly settles on top of the covers with the remote control.

“You're un-fucking-believable,” Eduardo says. “Really?”

“I just love your TV so much,” Mark says, as the screen makes its smooth ascent. “Let me know if it's too loud.”

“Do you seriously think you're spending the night here?”

“Relax. I just want to flip around until I get tired.”

Eduardo settles on his side and watches the glow dance across Mark's face. “There's something I wanna say to you,” he says, but Mark continues to stare at the rapid-fire channel shuffle. “Mark.”

“What.”

“Would you look at me, please?”

He does, reluctantly.

“You're gonna make me do it, aren't you?”

“I thought we weren't talking about this for a while.”

“I want to.”

“Okay, yeah,” Mark confirms. “The lawsuit's escalating and I won't back down. From it or what we talked about.”

Eduardo chooses his words carefully. “I'm worried that if I kill him we won't ever speak again.”

“That's ridiculous.”

“No, think about it. You can't pass as Brian Donnelly for much longer because Facebook's too big and people will know who you are. If we're friends with adversaries who died in their twenties, that's going to be a problem.”

Mark says nothing, but the channel surfing has stopped.

“I don't want to be friends with Brian Donnelly, either, I want to be friends with you. Like, until we're old.”

Mark swallows and resumes channel flipping.

“It'd be so much more satisfying to watch the twins lose in court.”

“I'll take that under consideration.”

“I hope you do.”

“Go to sleep,” Mark says, and punches him woodenly on the arm. “You've got work in the morning.”

“All the more reason you should be in your own bed.”

“Touché.”

Eduardo rolls over and the two second sound bytes of the television lull him into the deepest sleep in months. He's warm and the pillow's just right and subconsciously something has loosened because his case couldn't have been stronger. Mark will have to let go. Their friendship will have a thousand times more space in it, and they might even be...happy.

In the middle of the night he wakes to the soft din of commercials.

 

“If you order now...”

“...an amazing value. You'll wonder how you ever got along without it!”

 

“Mark,” he grunts, and it hardly sounds like a complete word. “TV off. Now.” Silence. “Mark,” he tries again, sitting up on his elbows and tentatively opening his eyes. Mark's curled tight against his side, looking young and peaceful in sleep. “Mark,” Eduardo nudges his shoulder until he opens his eyes, looking bewildered. “Turn the TV off.”

“Mmgh, sorry.” Mark roots around for the remote, then folds himself under the covers, wiggling towards the warm spot that had been underneath him. Later, Eduardo will wonder whether they were half asleep and not doing it consciously when they settled on their sides, his hand on Mark's hip and Mark's foot hooked back around his ankle.

*

The sun filters through the blinds in the morning and it takes a minute for Eduardo to remember that the warmth and weight on the other side of the bed is Mark. He shifts and turns to look at him, and it's like the only color in the room is his blue eyes.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“I know you wanted me to leave,” Mark says. “And I meant to, but your bed's really comfortable.”

“It's okay,” Eduardo says. He's lazy and lucid and doesn't want to deal with the trauma of the coffee grinder just yet, so they lie around a bit longer, eyes sometimes closed, toes always touching.

“Remember on the train, when you said five birds with one stone?” Eduardo asks.

“Of course I do.”

“If three of them were people, what were the other two?”

“One was the lawsuit. The other wasn't so much a dead bird. It was for you to have what you want.”

“What I want. Remind me what that is?”

“Marriage and stuff. Kids. Stability.”

“Oh.” He's completely forgotten that part of himself and is touched that Mark hasn't. “Do you ever want that stuff, too?”

“Not really.”

“You mean that?”

Mark shrugs. “No one would ever want to marry me.”

“What about our sick marriage?”

Mark exhales a little puff of a laugh. “It's probably the best thing I have,” he says, and rolls out of bed.

Eduardo closes his eyes and listens to him move around the apartment – bathroom first and then the kitchen, where he makes chocolate toast. He opens the living room blinds and actually whistles a few notes when he settles down at his computer, and Eduardo realizes that he's never felt this close to anyone - not women he's slept with, not his Phoenix friends, no one.

He wonders if Mark feels it, too.

The alarm chirps and he hangs his shaky new feelings on the structure of routine: shower, dress, eat. It's become a weekday routine to set coffee at Mark's elbow before he leaves for work and the reaction's usually a grunt, but today Mark stops typing. “Thanks.”

“You're welcome.”

“I hope you have a good day at work.”

“Thank you.”

He resumes typing and Eduardo drapes an arm around his neck from behind and leans in to kiss the joint of his jaw. Mark goes rigid, which Eduardo tries to soften by placing another kiss on the taper of his eyebrow, then another on the crown of his head.

He will think about this all day, and wonders if Mark will, too.

*

He's zoned out staring at the TYO ticker when his assistant buzzes him. “Eduardo?”

“Yeah?”

“Brian Donnelly's here to see you.”

“Thanks. Send him in.”

“Hi,” Mark says, and sets his bags down. He's brought both – computer and duffel. “I'm sorry to interrupt you at work.”

“What's going on?”

“I think I'm gonna go,” Mark says shyly. “I'm not getting enough done here.”

“How? You work all the time.”

“It's not enough.”

Eduardo's disappointed and doesn't care how obvious it is. “Is this about last night? You shouldn't feel weird if you do. I never sleep that well and I'm pretty sure you don't, either.”

“It's not about last night.”

“Is it about this morning? When I left? ”

Mark squirms. “No.”

“It is.”

“No. I liked it, I'm just not...used to it.” Blush blooms across his cheeks but he shakes it off and says, “I swear this is about work. We're about to update some terms of use stuff and it'll probably be a PR disaster...and I've got a lot to do and can't do it with you around. That's a compliment, I guess.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“I'll come back,” Mark offers hopefully. “I'll do a quick loop or something – like take the Acela to DC a few times. By the way, you're out of ibuprofen. And bread.”

“Can I walk you out?”

“I'm good. Thanks,” Mark says, and maybe he initiates it because he knows it's coming anyway, but he walks behind the desk for a hug. Eduardo stands, sinks into it, and learns that Mark is much stronger than he looks.

“I want you to call me.”

“I can't. I'm sorry,” Mark says, giving Eduardo a soft little pat on the back. “Thanks for everything, though. And don't overthink this.”

“'This' is in reference to...?” Eduardo asks, because it could mean anything. The fact that Mark won't tie their phones together. The murder that already happened and the one that will. The gun. Terms of use. Last night.

“All that stuff you're thinking about,” Mark says, pulling back with the smallest smile. He picks up his bags, and a moment later, he's gone.

*

Eduardo gets a surprise distraction from missing him – an enormous social and business coup in the form of Kendrick inviting him to Southampton for a golf weekend. He's directed to bring another “fun young” person to keep him company, so he picks Andy, who drives them up after work on Friday and fanboys about the club. “So technically where we're staying is called a cottage, but it's a four bedroom house right on the course. Isn't that insane? Membership's over half a million a year. God, I want that. Don't you want that?”

"Nah." Eduardo doesn't have such goals, because what good has it done his father? “I guess I'd rather be happy.”

“You could have a membership and be happy. Seriously, Wardo, what's better than having that much money?

“Sleeping in my own bed until noon instead of an early tee time. Strawberries. Blow jobs.”

“Whatever. And anyway, you can buy strawberries and blow jobs.”

Eduardo zones out at the passing scenery and decides that past a certain threshold of daily comfort, money isn't that important.

Like it can't buy Mark's laugh.

Or him stretched out on the couch, tapping away on his laptop with a sucker in his mouth.

*

The other quarter of their golf foursome turns out to be the state Attorney General. Andy's starstruck and a little embarrassing, but Eduardo's cool and relaxed. He's not intimated by any of this. How can he be, when Mark Zuckerberg brings him lunch and sneaks into his bed?

It's a beautiful Saturday morning - birds singing, dew in the grass, and a gorgeous green smell that exists nowhere in the city, not even the Park. Eduardo takes a deep breath, and with his compensatory charm firmly in place, digs in to a truly horrible eighteen holes. Andy plays well and his spirits are undiminished by imminent sunburn. “Wardo, this is awesome. Thanks for bringing me along.”

“Come on, man. Who else would I have asked?”

“Brian, maybe?”

Eduardo can't help but laugh. “No. Golf's not really his thing.”

“Human interaction's not really his thing. Guy's an asshole, no offense.”

“Is that the Brian I met the other day?” Kendrick asks. “I thought he was pleasant enough. Screwing around on Facebook all day won't do much for his career trajectory, though.”

Eduardo feels carbonated from holding back laughter and hurriedly ducks behind a tree to draft an email to himself, if Mark still checks.

 

Mark. I HAVE to tell you something. YOU WILL DIE.

 

With the scores added up at the end, Eduardo loses by over fifty strokes but he doesn't care – he's had fun, and it's flattering how the older half of their quartet hangs on every word he says, like he's the cool kid. He's taken into the clubhouse humidor where Kendrick has his own personal drawer, and he finds himself out on the deck with a cigar he doesn't particularly want in his mouth.

“This is really nice,” he says, enjoying the sunlight on his face. “Thanks for inviting us up.”

“Well, thank you for coming. You're kind to humor the fogies.”

“Hey,” Eduardo jokes. “Someday it'll be me coaching some young jackass in the ways of business and praying he stays the hell away from my daughter.” It gets a laugh just like he expects it to, and lime-kissed gin in the sun tastes really, really good.

“Actually, you with Lauren isn't the worst thing I can think of,” Kendrick says, and Eduardo notes with alarm that he's serious. “She's at Princeton but she comes home often. She'd like you.”

Last year Eduardo would have jumped on it (and Lauren), but now it doesn't interest him. At all. “Um, thank you, but after all that's happened this year, I really want...” He isn't sure how to explain this. “There's this Jewish thing about finding your soulmate, and...”

“...and Lauren's a shiksa?”

“Taxonomically she's a shiksa goddess...but, yeah. So...”

“Say no more,” Kendrick says, and gives him a paternal pat on the back. “That's great, I hope you find what you want.”

“Thanks.” Eduardo's sure he's blown it – blown something, and he can't stop thinking his fucking zivug's Mark, but he shoves it aside because this is an enormous social and business coup and he has to pay attention.

It suddenly shifts to be so much about business he suspects this conversation is what the entire weekend has been built around. “So it's been a while since we've talked about it,” Kendrick says. “But we should revisit the discussion about your setting up an office on the west coast.”

“Oh. Um...” Eduardo hasn't thought about it since Christy was alive and he thought he was a father. “I...okay. Yeah. Let's talk about it.”

“You're the strongest person we could have on the Pacific Rim – that's why we haven't offered it to anyone else. And now that your personal life's calmed down, maybe it's time. I shouldn't need to tell you it will be worth your while.” Eduardo's quiet and still. He'd been so excited about it months ago, but now...not so much. “If you're nervous, you shouldn't be. You're very good at what you do.”

“It's not that,” Eduardo insists. Japanese business, though wonderfully rewarding and complex, takes a lot of time – like three days of social finessing before business is even mentioned. And what will this mean, Mark-wise? He feels nauseous and blames the cigar.

“Does the travel worry you?”

“A little.”

“Listen. You'll be fine. It would only be for a couple of years – get it out of the way while you're still in your twenties, before you settle down. Which it sounds like you're already thinking about.”

Eduardo blushes and nods.

Later, he breaks away to draft:

 

MARK. Find a payphone and call me.

 

When he doesn't hear back by that night, he adds:

 

Work's talking about a SF satellite office again,
so I might be gone a lot. Are you ever in P. Alto?
Do you ever think about staying in 1 place?

 

The voicemail from an unknown number comes on Sunday morning, when he's asleep against the window glass while Andy drives them back to the city.

 

Wardo. Hey. Make sure you have an open schedule two Saturdays from now.

Uh, this is Mark, by the way.

Okay.

Bye.

 

Eduardo gets home at noon and spends the remainder of Sunday finding Mark a better desk chair.

He also gets a duplicate set of apartment keys cut and considers giving them to Mark on a Cartier keyring.

*

In a week and a half, he's leaving work for the day and finds Mark loitering outside the BlackRock offices in the sun. “Hey!” Eduardo says, moving in to greet him.

Mark holds up a hand to ward off the impending embrace, but he's smiling. “Whoa, take it easy.”

Eduardo backs off with both hands held up, like he's being robbed. “Don't flatter yourself,” he says, though he's smiling, too. “Did you get your stuff done?”

“It's never done, but yeah. I'm caught up for now.”

“No PR disaster?”

“Not yet.”

“Good.” This is maybe the first time Eduardo's seen Mark outside in natural light. How can he eat garbage and have such smooth, clear skin? The sunlight bounces off his hair. This feels good. This feels normal, and Mark doesn't freak out when Eduardo eases the strap off his shoulder to carry his laptop bag for him, nor does he wince when Eduardo puts a hand on his back to guide him back into the traffic flow of pedestrians. “Did you see any of my emails?”

“Not after you told me to stay out. Why? What did they say?”

“Some stuff about San Francisco. We can talk about it later.”

“Okay. Hey, I've got a job for you.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“I need nice clothes. Can you help me with that?

“Yeah. But why?”

“For Saturday. I'm taking you to a snooty thing.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“The opera. We're going.”

“You like opera?”

“No.”

Eduardo intuits something weird is going on, but he will never, ever pass up an excuse to go to Barneys. “Okay. When do you want to go shopping?”

“Whenever.”

“It's close enough to walk. You wanna do it now? Fuck it, let's do it now.”

*

Clothes shopping with Mark is about as painful as Eduardo might have guessed – more so, actually. He's rude to the salespeople and says, “He's helping me,” while Eduardo issues a strained smile. “I don't want my inseam measured,” Mark says. “Why is this such a big deal? It's just...clothes.”

He also hates everything Eduardo suggests. “None of this is gonna fit,” he complains. “These are, like, Beatles pants. I refuse to pay eight hundred dollars for pants that make me look stupid.”

“But you can't wear stuff as loose as you're used to. It'll look like you're wearing your dad's suit.”

“Fine,” he says crankily, and every minute is torture until he's standing on the upholstered box in front of the three-way mirror. Eduardo has somehow chosen the perfect pieces to fit his frame - dark, simple, and elegant. He looks amazing.

“Damn,” Mark says, flabbergasted by his own appearance. “I don't look like myself at all.”

Eduardo is flushed with pride. “Do you want it?”

“I think so. Hey!” He nearly kicks the girl circling his ankles with a pincushion. “It fits fine!”

“It's going to fit even better,” she promises, but Mark steps off the box and away from her.

“Why the fuck would you sneak up on someone like that? With pins and shit?”

“Mark...” Eduardo starts, but it does no good.

“No. Seriously. People have been trying to crawl up my ass since we got here, and I'd like to be left the fuck alone.”

“Mark, enough,” Eduardo warns, but it's like Mark doesn't even hear because he's focused on the cowering young lady with the measuring tape draped around her neck.

“Listen. I know you're trying to do your job but you don't just go around...touching people who aren't expecting it with pins and shit.”

“Mark...” Eduardo tries again, and Mark snaps.

“Quit fucking saying name!”

“I'm sorry. Please excuse us,” Eduardo says to the girl, and he gently guides Mark back into the dressing room. There's a little padded bench and he makes him sit, then gets on his knees on front of him. “You can't treat people like that,” he says softly. “Tell me what's going on.”

“I hate this,” Mark says. “A lot.” His pupils are totally screwed up and his hands are trembling and sweaty.

“Okay,” Eduardo says. “Just settle down. Can you hear how you're breathing?”

“Uh huh.”

“Try to slow it down.”

Mark tries, and lets Eduardo's hand still his bouncing knee. “I think I know why.”

“Yeah?”

“I haven't eaten since yesterday. I was too excited to see you and forgot.”

“Jesus Christ,” Eduardo says, and starts pulling stuff out of his attaché . Yes. There's a petrified old caramel in there, which Mark unwraps and sucks like a bottle-desperate baby.

Eduardo looks up into his eyes. “You worry me.”

“Shut up.”

“So...when other people think you're being difficult, is it in situations like this?”

“Maybe one out of every ten times,” Mark says past the caramel. “Being bad with people isn't blood sugar-related. I really am an asshole.”

“But you're never that way with me.”

“Because everything's different with you.”

Eduardo sighs and rests his cheek on Mark's knee, which Mark miraculously allows. Eduardo checks his own breathing and asks, “How often do you snap like that?”

“Less than I used to, I guess. And that wasn't a snap. That was nothing.”

Eduardo lifts his head and prays he'll never see the real thing. “Can you handle a fitting or do you just want to leave?”

“I'll do it. Thank you for all the help. I'm sorry I ruined everything. If you go get that girl I'll be nice. I swear.”

“Okay,” Eduardo says, and pulls himself up to tell the terrified salesgirl that everything's okay.

Mark comes back out to the mirrors and hands her a wad of bills, all hundreds. “I'm sorry I was rude,” he says. “Please take this.”

“Thank you, sir, but we're not allowed to accept tips.”

“It's not a tip, it's an apology. Please take it.”

“Sir...”

“I'll pitch a fit that's ten times worse if you don't take it,” he says, and she discreetly tucks the wad into her hand and smiles.

He stands still and allows himself to be prodded and pinched. She makes chalk marks at his waist and carefully pins until every seam and line is perfect. Eduardo's still residually upset from what just happened but watching this show is like double reverse pornography. He likes Mark in his sloppy stuff, but dressing him up is...beautiful.

Eduardo pays while Mark changes back into his usual clothes and exits the dressing room with the heavy air that he's been through a grueling physical experience. “Wardo, please say I can borrow one of your ties.”

“You can borrow one of my ties.”

“Good. I can't shop for one more minute.”

“Well, I'm just gonna throw it out there that you can't wear flip flops.”

“Jesus Christ, I'll do it tomorrow. Where do I pay?”

“It's taken care of.”

“How?”

“Consider it a present,” Eduardo says shyly.

Mark blushes. “Oh. Thanks.”

“We'll have it delivered by Thursday,” the girl says, and to Mark: “Thank you so much.”

“Thank you,” Eduardo says, and steers Mark towards the elevator.

“I think that went okay,” Mark says. “Aside from me fucking it up.”

“You didn't. Let's get you something real to eat.”

*

The nearest restaurant isn't New York's finest but it's close - on the ninth floor, and Mark shoves steak and arrabiata pasta in as fast as he can swallow. “What were you gonna tell me about San Francisco?” he asks.

“Work's talking about a Pacific Rim satellite office again. They want me in Singapore and Japan, and...I might only be in New York half-time for a couple of years. I...don't know if that means anything to you or not.”

“Do it,” Mark says easily. “We'll still see each other.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure. I spent five consecutive days in Palo Alto since I saw you last.”

“Really?”

“Yep. And it wasn't that bad. Dustin's like my electrolarynx, you know, like a laryngectomee has? He translates what I say so it makes sense to other people. I want you to meet him sometime. You'll like him.”

“I'd love that.”

“And maybe while you're out there you can help me fix up my house. Like tell me how to re-do the tile and stuff.”

“I never knew you had a house.”

“It's a dump, but yeah. I have a house.”

Eduardo feels warm with relief. It's funny how expecting the worst always makes good news great. “Your turn. What's this opera we're going to?”

“Do you know about Wagner's Ring Cycle?”

“Not a thing.”

“Well, it's a story split into four operas, fifteen hours total. It's a huge deal, and Saturday's opening night of part one.”

“Sounds pretty highbrow. You think we can handle it?”

“Of course we can. It'll be fun to get dressed up and stuff.”

“I can't wait,” Eduardo says. “God, I can't tell you how happy I am about this.”

“About the opera?”

“Yeah,” he lies. “But mostly that we can make things work.”

*

Eduardo wants espresso but Mark's almost falling asleep at the table because he ate so much, so he pays and carries their stuff outside. It's been a long day – he'd been at work since seven thirty and now it's just after nine. It'll be bliss to be home.

Mark is on the same page. “I'm so tired I'm not even gonna work tonight. You don't have to carry my stuff, you know.”

“It's okay, I don't mind,” Eduardo says, though he's happy to fling it all into the back of the cab that shuttles them home.

They're stuck in the quiet lull of traffic when Mark says, “Sometimes it feels like you love me.”

Eduardo swallows hard. “I do. You?”

Mark nods.

“Good.”

“Yeah,” Mark agrees. “It's a relief to not be in it alone.”

Eduardo's about to explode from happiness but keeps it to himself.

“I'm sorry I have trouble with...you know. Stuff.”

“Physical stuff.”

“Yeah,” Mark says. “I'm working on it.”

“It's okay,” Eduardo says, and he means it. Just having him around is enough.

*

Mark's crazy about the new desk chair. Over the next few days he works his usual ridiculous hours and doesn't invite himself into Eduardo's bed to watch television, though he might touch his arm when they're close, or rest a hand on his shoulder when he's standing behind him reading Wikipedia's synopsis of Das Rheingold.

Eduardo picks up their shirts from the laundry on Saturday and Mark stops working at five o'clock to shower. He walks around in his new pants and an undershirt, freshly shaven with curls dripping. “There are hors d'oeuvres at this thing, but in case they suck I'm gonna fill up on crackers.”

“Good idea. And when you decide on a tie, pick out some cufflinks, too. There's a little box in my top drawer full of 'em.”

They dress in their separate rooms until Mark comes into Eduardo's holding out the tie he wants, limp like a fish. “I can do this but my knots are terrible.”

“Okay,” Eduardo says, taking the silk from his hands. “You want a double Windsor?”

“Whatever. I don't care.”

“Okay. “ He strings it around Mark's neck but can't quite get his left and right straight since it's opposite of tying it on himself. “We need a mirror,” he says, and herds Mark to the bathroom.

He stands behind him and leans over slightly, close enough to catch a familiar scent. “Are you wearing my cologne?”

“Yeah, I wanted to try it.”

Eduardo dips in to inhale. “It smells different on you,” he says. “It's nice.”

“Thanks,” Mark says, and holds still as Eduardo twines silk and arms around him like a vine, intimate and close and twisting the knot into shape with his long fingers. Mark watches him with piercing eyes, and when Eduardo stands back to admire his work he can't stand Mark's gaze because it's too intense, it's too much.

“Thanks.” Mark turns and deposits a tiny fleck of a kiss on his cheek, and Eduardo has to close his eyes and collect himself before following him out of the room.

In the cab, he puts a hand on Mark's thigh and gets no objection when he slides it up higher.

*

Lincoln Center is beautiful – red carpet, lights frozen in crystal overhead, and gold leaf gilding the ceiling. Hundreds of people in various stages of formal dress cram the mezzanine, and the air is thick with perfume, laughter, and money. This is a big deal, Eduardo has to admit, and he thinks he might learn to like opera after all.

They get drinks, and Eduardo catches Mark catching him admiring two little sisters in velveteen dresses. They are dark-haired and precious – swinging tiny purses as they practice funny walks for each other, and he realizes something so absolute it's like it's in his DNA: I want two girls and a boy. It catches him by surprise and he has to look away.

Mark doesn't. “They're both adorable,” he says, with unexpected warmth. “But I like how the taller one's a little bit bossy. I wonder if they'll be able to sit still through the whole thing tonight?”

Eduardo smiles and wonders if he will. If they're both lightweights, shouldn't they start with an opera better suited to novices? “So, Mark.”

“Eduardo.”

“I appreciate that you wanted to get dressed up,” he says, and he truly does, because he wants to undress Mark with his teeth. “But why are we here if neither one of us likes opera?”

“Because Tyler Winklevoss is here and you're going to meet him.”

“I...what?”

“He's here and you're going to meet him. He'll condescend to you and you'll absolutely hate him. It'll make this all so much easier."

Eduardo tries to act cool, tries to act like his stomach didn't just cramp. “Very funny.”

“Oh, I'm not joking. Why the hell else do you think I'd come to something like this?”

Eduardo's quiet, giving Mark the chance to say it's a joke. But he doesn't. “How do you know he's here?”

“Because I know everything he does. Password hashing's no obstacle, you know that. I'm in his email all the time.”

“That's...wrong.” It seems much more obscene than having his own email hacked. “And anyway, I can't be seen with you. We shouldn't do this.”

"You won't be seen with me, I'm gonna watch you talk to him from across the room. I certainly have no plans to be conspicuous.”

“This is insane.”

“Stop being so dramatic. We'll have a few drinks and then you'll go meet him.”

Eduardo settles back and thinks. If he can get Mark drunk - and laughing - he can stall. Mark really likes to laugh, when he lets himself.

*

Eduardo drinks for courage but it manifests in a different way. “Remember all those limousines outside the Mandarin Oriental? We should walk over and see what's going on.”

“Maybe later.” Mark's scanning the crowd with such focused intensity Eduardo's surprised he responds.

“I wonder what their rooms are like. We should get a room. Seriously, fuck all of this. Let's go get a room.”

Mark blushes and looks at him, his face soft and embarrassed. “That's not what we're here for.”

“It'd be more fun than this.” The tail end of a fourth highball disappears down his throat and he finds great comfort in the theory that Tyler, his mark, isn't even there. Even if he is, the crowd is hundreds, maybe thousand thick, and what are the chances of finding him?

“There he is,” Mark says, and it's so obvious Eduardo doesn't even have to ask where because Tyler is like a prince among men – a tall, handsome throwback to an F. Scott Fitzgerald story or Prussian royalty. Between the good looks and perfect teeth and black tie, he hardly seems real. “Help me watch him. He can't get close enough to see me but we don't want to lose him.”

Eduardo complies. Tyler has a handsome, open face and he's easy to track not just because of his height, but because he's a presence. It's hard to believe there are two of him.

Mark pushes him in the small of his back. “Go talk to him.”

“I don't wanna.”

“Do it,” Mark says firmly.

“What the fuck am I supposed to say?”

“You're good with people, you'll come up with something.”

He could almost cry but does as Mark says, knowing that he's watching. Besides the obvious difficulty of speaking to a stranger he's been assigned to kill, Eduardo can't help but feel afraid of his sheer size, but he's getting closer and closer, and...he has to do it. Because Mark said so.

He gets right up next to him, just in time for Tyler to wrap up some pleasantry with an octogenarian draped in so much jewelry it's a miracle she can stand. “So,” Eduardo says to him, pausing to filter the last remains of liquid from the ice in his glass. “Opera!” He's trembling and isn't sure what he's even saying.

“Yeah,” Tyler says in a voice is so deep and powerful it's yet another thing for Eduardo to be intimidated by.

“Are you here because you want to be, or did someone drag you, too?”

“It's my parents' thing. You know how the ceiling's messed up inside? Where the lights got raised too high and scratched the gold leaf?”

“Yeah,” Eduardo says, though he has no idea.

“My mom's head of the committee to fix that.”

“I can imagine no nobler pursuit.”

“Yeah, right,” Tyler says with a roll of the eyes. The silence is just getting uncomfortable when he adds, "I'm planning to be in the UK so I'll miss Die Walküre in May. Five and a half hours is way too long.” Eduardo laughs because it seems appropriate, and Tyler asks, “I don't mean to be rude, but do I know you?” His tone is not unfriendly but it suggests that this is all a bit strange.

“No. But I'm skipping Die Walküre, too.”

“Good for you,” Tyler says neutrally. He's looking over Eduardo's head, partially because of height but most likely out of boredom.

“How long are we suffering tonight? Do you know?”

“Tonight's only two and a half hours, but I'm still not looking forward to it. It's a weird parallel with something going on in my life.”

“Really? What's that?”

Tyler levels him with his eyes and says, “The ring that rules the world is made from stolen gold.” He's talking about Mark, and they pause in uncomfortable silence; Eduardo's instinct is to run but he can't. Not with Mark's eyes drilling holes in his back. “This might sound strange,” Tyler says. “But are you on Facebook?”

“Uh...” Eduardo stammers. This is insane. “No.”

“Really.” Tyler looks him up and down with an analytical eye – he's calculating his age, education, and...he absolutely does not believe him. “I'm sorry, but who are you?”

“I'm no one,” Eduardo says, and rattles the ice chips in his glass. He's panicked; he can't do this anymore. “Um...good luck at Oxford. It was, nice talking to you.”

“You too,” Tyler says, with an unconcerned air that he knows something's wrong but doesn't particularly care.

Eduardo returns to Mark, pale and shaken though it feels like his body temperature's shot up by ten degrees.

“Good job,” Mark says, and they settle by a rail and turn their backs to the crowd. “Did you know Wagner was a raging anti-Semite?”

“No.”

“He was,” Mark continues. “He called us 'worms.' Do you think Tyler thinks we're worms?”

“I don't know and I don't care. I hate this,” Eduardo says. “And I wanna go home. Why the hell did you build this up like it was gonna be fun?”

“You didn't think that was fun?”

“Are you fucking serious?”

“Maybe you should talk to him again. It doesn't seem like you dislike him thoroughly enough to make this work.”

“Dammit, Mark, come on. I thought we weren't gonna do this anymore.”

“You'll be comfortable with it by Christmas.”

No. He will never be comfortable with it. “Let's go home,” Eduardo pleads. “We'll get in bed, we'll watch tv...we'll do anything you want.”

“After what I did for you, all I've asked you to do is talk to someone and you can't even handle it. Seriously, Wardo? You owe me.”

“Actually...” Eduardo says. He's lost his glass. Did he drop it? He isn't sure. “Actually, I'm not so sure I do.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Mark's eyes narrow, and Eduardo can't look anywhere but the floor.

“I don't know that you had anything to do with Christy,” he says, and spits out his half-formed hypothesis. “Like maybe you happened to know about her and you're taking credit. Or maybe you hired someone.”

“You think so?”

“Sometimes. I don't think you had the confidence to get into Menage. I doubt you could even get into Menage, to be honest.”

Mark's nose scrunches like he smells something offensive. “I'm a billionaire, asshole. I go where I want.”

“You're a billionaire on paper,” Eduardo says. “But you live out of a duffel bag. No doorman knows or cares who you are.”

“Okay,” Mark says, his eyes cold. “You don't think I did it? The last thing in Christy's mouth was a tangerine screwdriver. She started going to Menage because her ex-boyfriend – you, I assume, liked getting blown under the table. You once had an entire conversation with someone who didn't know and she had to sit between your legs for half an hour until the other guy went away. Let's see, what else...the men's room had a chandelier in it. And it was full of dilettante assholes wearing Alexander McQueen, just like you.”

“I hate you so much...”

“I'm not fond of you either right now.”

Eduardo turns and walks out the glass doors, away from the party and the beautiful people. It's hard to believe he felt so good earlier and now he feels so, so bad.

Mark follows and is respectfully quiet for all of twenty seconds. “So can we talk about Tyler now?

Eduardo swallows and looks up at the night sky as if looking for help. “I can't do it,” he says. “For a million reasons, but Mark, he's huge.”

“There are options. We'll discuss them when you're less upset.”

“Hire somebody. Get someone else to do it.”

“You do that. Quid pro quo.” He's losing patience, and it's terrible to see because an hour ago things were so promising and all this shit was a million miles away. “I probably don't need to remind you I can fuck up your life in ways you can't even fathom.”

Eduardo's face crumples. “You're making me feel about a million times worse than Christy ever did.”

“Hm,” Mark pauses thoughtfully. “Would that be before or...after?”

“Before!” Eduardo shouts. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

“Nothing. You're the one yelling.”

“This has to stop, Mark. I'm serious. I can't kill that guy and I can't fight with you anymore. Enough already.”

“Great. I suppose this means I'm kicked out of your apartment again.”

"Yeah,” Eduardo says, trying to gain his footing and act stronger than he feels. “Yeah, I guess you are.”

“Funny,” Mark deadpans. “Five minutes ago you were gonna take me to bed.”

Eduardo flinches, then his face goes so, so cold. “Email me an address to send your shit to,” he says. “We're done.”

“If we could just calmly discuss this...”

“I don't ever want to see you again.” Eduardo walks backwards so Mark can hear the addenda. “And go ahead and tell my mom I like pegging, I don't care. Fuck my email. Fuck my job, I'll quit. It's not worth it anymore. You're not worth it.”

He turns and walks away as fast as he can, but halfway to the subway stop on 66th, he senses that Mark's following him.

Because he is.

Mark suffers a confused few moments of not knowing what to do with himself as Eduardo turns and walks towards him. “Wardo...”

“Stay the fuck away from me. Get on a train and go wherever the fuck you go.” He gives Mark a rough shove to the shoulders, just to upset him. “And fuck you for what you said in the cab the other night.”

“Wardo, come on,” Mark says with wide, wounded eyes. “I meant that. This isn't a big deal, you just had a bunch of drinks really fast and there's no reason we can't start over and have a decent night.”

“Go fuck yourself. I'm done with you.”

Eduardo abandons the plan to go to 66th and starts walking towards Broadway. If Mark's stupid enough to follow him once he'll probably do it again, so without slowing he turns around to say, “I'm not fucking around, Mark. If you follow me, you're going to get hurt.”

*

He's grateful for the buffer of lights and traffic as he walks away. To anyone else, he's not boiling over with rage. He's a well-dressed guy walking away from a party, and the blocks to Columbus Circle pass fast; he doesn't turn or look back, but just in case he ducks into the behemoth Whole Foods store because it's a surefire way to lose Mark if he's following. He weaves through the aisles until he's half lost himself.

It's an odd comfort to be surrounded by the equipment of normal lives, and he slows down and tries to break his biggest problem down to a manageable size. Simplicity and honesty always win in nature and math, and in front of a pyramid of cereal boxes, he decides what to do.

He'll turn Mark in. He simply doesn't care about his own role in Christy's death anymore. It was practically nonexistent, really, and any consequences will be a cakewalk compared to Mark's harassment. The new clarity frees him to stand a little taller in the checkout line. He's not shaking a sociopath, he's a well-dressed guy buying gum he doesn't want.

It's only a few steps from the store to the subway, and the platform's dotted with enough people to suggest a train's due any minute. Eduardo walks down to the very end and feels better than he has in a long time. He'll go home, box up Mark's crap, and get on with his life. It shouldn't have taken this long.

The noise and pressure of hot air surges through the tunnel as a train screeches into place. Assorted people get on and off, but Eduardo waits behind a pillar because someone further up the platform has hair like Mark's. He won't allow himself the luxury of a longer look and hangs back to wait for the next train to come.

After the train barrels away, he steps out from his column. It's rare to have so much public space to oneself in the city, but his stomach plummets when he spots Mark ten yards away, leaning against a tiled pillar and looking blank and unapologetic.
.
“You sick fuck...”

“What?” Mark says with maddening nonchalance. “I'm not bothering you.”

So much adrenaline surges up Eduardo thinks his heart might stop; he takes long strides towards Mark and pounds him on the jaw as hard as he can. Mark doubles over with a sharp cry and spits blood off to the side. “What the fuck was that for? I'm not bothering you.”

“That's for dragging me out tonight.” He's tense and coiled tight like a spring...he's never hit anyone in his life, yet he itches to do it again.

“We shouldn't fight like this,” Mark argues as he draws himself back up. “We're friends. We're more than friends, and...”

“I'm turning you in,” Eduardo says, and smacks him so hard on the cheekbone Mark falls to his knees on the stained cement, so close to the platform's edge one hand has nothing to hold onto.

“That's for hacking my email and saying shit about my parents. And this...” he rears back and Mark looks up with a wet, red smile.

“I bet you're gonna kick me. For Christy.”

"You...you fucking...” Eduardo loses his words and lunges, and Mark howls as he's kicked in the ribs, in the back. He tries to crawl away from the edge but freezes when Eduardo kicks him in the exact spot where Tyler hurt him, and the scream makes Eduardo back off, afraid he's gone too far.

Mark gets a knee under himself and rushes to run, but his new shoes are slippery and he can't get his balance.

He falls.

He actually falls, landing with a gasp below.

“Mark? Are you...” Eduardo leans over to see him in the dirty darkness, beached on his back four feet down.

His face crimps when he tries to move and his voice is small and scared. “Shit. I think I broke something.” Again he tries to move, and his eyes widen. “Shit. Shit, Wardo, please. Go get help.”

Eduardo moans and closes his eyes – as much as he hates him, he didn't want this.

“Get someone to radio ahead so I don't get hit. Fuck, hurry!”

The customer assistance intercom is twenty yards away and Eduardo's almost there when the rumble comes, then the heat and push of air and a preview of bright white light. A northbound express. It's not going to stop.

Eduardo's mouth feels full of sand.

“Wardo!” Mark shouts; his cry becomes the screech of the train and disappears beneath the oncoming roar. The clatter and violence passes, and then it's quiet.

There's no sound at all.

Eduardo can't bring himself to look. He turns and sprints up the stairs three at a time, vaults himself over railings and runs up towards the street, where it's quiet – just a few cars, pedestrians in no hurry. No one knows what just happened under their feet. No one knows anything, and Eduardo takes a deep breath and walks. It's unconscious at first, but then it becomes his mission – to walk away. No one will know. There's no trail - no legitimate exchange of emails, no telephone calls, nothing. Mark built that into their friendship from the start. He has to walk away, because he can't explain who that person was – was it Mark? Or Brian?

My cufflinks are down there.

His voice cracks as he tries to hail a cab. “Hey! Hey, please!” One finally stops and he sinks back in the black leather, feeling semi-protected from the world but then wondering why the driver is yelling at him.

“What's the address? Hello sir. Address, please?”

“I'm sorry. Just a minute.” He riffles through his wallet and pretends to be looking for a paper scrap, because it takes him a full minute to remember where he lives.

They head south as a parade of sirens threads up the street towards them – not unusual for New York, but Eduardo closes his eyes and trembles when they pass.

*

He's free.

It's what he wanted and nearly seamless, but the triumph shatters once he's inside the apartment because Mark's belongings are everywhere. The laptop. A hoodie draped across the couch arm. His flip flops under an end table. His teacup full of peanuts.

The intimacy of Mark's rumpled bed is almost too much to look at, but Eduardo takes the gun from the bottom drawer and sits down on the edge. He reviews the entire timeline, from their meeting on the train to now. He'd done nothing to prevent any of it. If anything, he'd made every turn worse. The gun's heavy in his hands and he fires it at the wall with an empty click. He does it again into the palm of his left hand, just to get the feel of it. Maybe he should kill Tyler as a posthumous payback for Mark...right now, he's just numb enough to do it, but then no. He's responsible for the deaths of two human beings; if anyone should be the third, it's him. He brushes the barrel against his mouth, more of a kiss than a threat, and tastes cleaning solvent.

He drops it down to his lap as the heaviness of an adrenaline knockout closes in around him. He knows he should stay awake and work on his mounting list of problems, but he settles into Mark's pillow with the gun tucked under his arm and falls into the blackest, deepest sleep.

*

A rough knock at the door wakes him. It takes a minute to come to, but he's sure it's the police. It will be such a relief to tell them everything. Jail will be better than this. Fuck, anything would be better than this.

“Just a minute!” he yells. He jerks himself up, hides the gun in a kitchen drawer, and opens the door.

It's Mark.

He's been crying.

“Here.” He holds out the cufflinks and borrowed tie in his hand, standing so that the swollen part of his face is hidden; he's filthy, with dirt on his face and all over his shirt. “I want my laptop. Please. My whole life's on that computer.”

Eduardo takes the items from Mark's shaking hand. “Oh my God. How...how are you even alive?”

“There's a space underneath the platform. Barely. I squeezed into it, and...please. Let me in.”

It's so surreal Eduardo unconsciously reverts to the person he was a day ago; he stands aside and Mark heads to his room with a new crooked walk. The back of his jacket's smeared with something wet and foul and one shoulder seam is torn. “Mark. You're limping, siddown.”

“I kind of don't want to be anywhere near you.”

“Have you seen a doctor?”

“No. I just wanna get my stuff and get the fuck out of here.”

“I...won't hurt you.”

“Please stop talking.” Mark pinches the bridge of his nose. “I'm not mad. I deserve everything that happened and I don't care that you left me, but I just...can't talk.”

“Okay.” Eduardo backs away. “Okay, I'll leave you alone.” He goes to his room and strains to hear Mark's movements around the apartment. The fan whirs and water runs in the bathroom, then footsteps and bureau drawers open and close in the guest room. Eduardo feels prickly and flushed that Mark's alive. Everything has its opposite close by; as much as Eduardo hates him, he wants him there. Safe.

Mark's suddenly on the phone, his voice nasal and thick. “I'm okay. Mom...no. I want to come home for a while. I...No, I'm not crying. I'm not.”

Eduardo can't breathe.

“In New York with a friend,” Mark says. “You don't know him. No. No. Tomorrow. I'm fine. Mom...no.” Failed attempts to interrupt stretch for what feels like whole minutes. “I'll see you tomorrow. I'm hanging up. I'm hanging up and I'll see you tomorrow.”

The shifting and drawer noise continues, and Eduardo gets up and finds that Mark's locked himself into his bedroom.

“Mark. Open the door.”

“No.”

“Open it or I'll get a paperclip.”

Mark reluctantly obeys and he's in his old clothes, phone charger in his hand. “The gun's not in the drawer.”

“I know.” Eduardo leans in the doorway. “Do you need it?”

Mark sinks down on the bed. “No.”

“So,” Eduardo begins, unsure whether to be soft or hard. “Why'd you follow me after I said not to?”

“It was easier to come get my stuff instead of you sending it. It was better for me and less trouble for you.” Eduardo's silent. He'd said as much to Christy once, about his suit in her closet. Mark looks up with tears in his eyes. “I never meant for things to get this fucked up.”

“Think what you factored into this the day we met, though. That's automatically fucked up.”

“I know, but I liked you so much, and...” He wipes his nose on his sleeve. “I still think about her. Every day.”

“So do I. So does her family. You have to let go of this Tyler thing. You have to.”

Mark doesn't say anything.

“You have to,” Eduardo repeats, and slips into Portuguese because it's too hard to say in English. “I wanted so much for us, you have no idea. But this is poison. I won't kill him. I won't do it, and...I can't love you like this.”

Mark seems to understand, and has to wind up twice before he can get the words out. “Let me stay one more night,” he says quietly. “Please.”

“One more night,” Eduardo says. “Okay.”

Mark bows his head. “You can turn me in if you want.”

The answer comes with almost no thought. “I won't.”

Mark nods, then winces and shifts to lie down. Eduardo turns to go to his own room, and Mark calls after him. “Wardo?”

“Yeah?”

“I wish I'd listened to you.” It hangs there, unexplained.

“Listened to me about what?”

“We should've gotten a room at the Mandarin.”

“Oh,” Eduardo says, working a cufflink toggle out of its buttonhole then starting on the other. He sets them on his dresser next to the pair Mark borrowed. “I'm glad we didn't.”

*

He wakes with a headache and an uneasy stomach, thinking maybe last night was one of those awful drunk dreams he gets from having too much too fast. There's no way Mark fell in the subway and was crying on the phone to his mother last night. But then...that's exactly what happened, because when he squirms and stretches, he's sore from sprinting up stairs three at a time and vaulting himself over gates. He slowly untangles from the twisted sheets and eases himself out of bed.

Mark's in the bathroom, so Eduardo tiptoes into his room. Last night's clothes are balled up on the floor and the ubiquitous laptop's up and running.

Eduardo pokes the touchpad.

Four tabs are open.

One: Mark's email, 934 new messages.

Two: Tyler's email, empty.

Three: YouTube video, “Perfect scrambled eggs.”

Four: Google search, what is crème fraîche

Eduardo freezes when the patter of the bathroom tap stops, then sprints to the living room and tries to look natural.

Mark looks ashen and terrible. “I was gonna make breakfast but we don't have all the stuff.” He walks stiff and off-kilter like Frankenstein, cringing faintly with every step.

“How do you feel?” Eduardo asks, though it's obvious – he's so pale the violet shadows on his cheek and jawline stand out even more, and the swelling has changed the shape of his face.

“Bad, and I took all your ibuprofen. So you're out again.”

Eduardo keeps his voice low and gentle. “When's your train?”

“Ten. So, um...I'll call you so my number's in your phone.” Mark reaches into his pocket and carefully presses the keys. “I don't imagine you'll want to speak to me ever again, but you know. Just in case.”

Eduardo nods as his phone pings from a distance. He doesn't know what to call this – better than a death but worse than a breakup. What surprises him is that Mark's imminent departure is no relief, and the itch and hum of being near him is still there. In fact it's worse, and there's so much sadness in the room his mouth feels dry.

Mark gathers his things and refuses help, even though he struggles to carry it all. He limps out from his room and stops just shy of the front door.

Eduardo feels so weak and stupid that the best he can come up with is, “Good luck.”

Mark is clearly upset but determined to hold it together. “I want you to know,” he says with a tremor in his voice. “That I don't want this.”

Eduardo drops his eyes because looking up hurts too much, and Mark turns and walks away.

It takes a moment to remember how to breathe. For a half an hour he avoids the guest room like it's radioactive, but when he goes in he finds that the bed's been made. The sticky notes of doodles and code fragments are gone. The chair's pushed into the desk. It's like Mark was never even there.

Eduardo shuts the door on his way out and breaks down in his own bed. It's a good thing it's Sunday because he needs the whole day to sort through everything he's lost.

*

The door to Mark's room will stay closed for months.

Eduardo quietly resumes his life but carries a low-level misery that friends notice. “I'm just tired,” he says over and over. He wonders if he has a bit of post traumatic stress disorder, and every day he catches himself zoning out to hover in the bandwidth just below conscious thought. He aches for a long Miami weekend but knows his mother will notice the difference in him and ask questions he can't answer.

He spots the Times article by accident. The headline catches his eye – the rare capital letter and length of Mark's last name is very recognizable, and Eduardo offers the confused woman on the subway a crisp fifty in exchange for the section with the article.

 

ZUCKERBERG PROVES HUMAN

Wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg proved this week that even geniuses can
lapse into everyday forgetfulness like the rest of us.

The billionaire founder of Facebook left his laptop in a Manhattan taxi,
prompting a two hour city-wide search for what Zuckerberg describes as
“way more important than my right arm.” Compromised by injuries from
an unknown incident, he cites prescription hydrocodone as why he was “not
paying enough attention” and exited the cab at JFK Airport without it.

The driver returned the laptop and received a cash reward of an
undisclosed amount.

 

Another article surfaces soon after.

 

ZUCKERBERG X-RAYS MADE PUBLIC

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had private images made
public this week, which users disgruntled by the social networking site's
new privacy settings say serves him right.

Taken two weeks ago, the x-rays illustrate five vertebral compression
fractures and have spawned numerous internet captions. How the images
leaked from St. John's Riverside Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York is
still under investigation.

Zuckerberg refused to comment on the cause of his injuries but made a
brief public statement. “Anyone capable of blistering wit like 'I can
has calcium' probably has better things to do with their time. Like
moving out of mom and dad's basement.”

 

Despite the joke, it makes Eduardo immensely sad; he paces around his apartment to work up the nerve to call. Mark answers on the second ring.

“Hey. It's me.”

“I know. Hi.”

“Um...I'm sorry about your back.”

“It's okay. If it was that bad I couldn't have been walking around. They said I was in shock.”

“Well, still.” It's good to hear Mark's voice again, and a tenderness he doesn't even want wells up inside him. “How have you been? Besides the broken back?”

“Good, I guess.”

“Where are you?”

“The office. I don't do the train thing anymore.”

“Oh,” Eduardo says. “That's funny, considering it was kind of your...thing.”

“It's safer here.”

The silence stretches so long Eduardo gets honest. “I didn't know whether you'd answer so I don't have much to say.”

“Maybe we'll talk some other time when you do.”

“Yeah. Hey, Mark?”

“What.”

“Does it still hurt?”

“Yeah, it still hurts.” He pauses, and something seems to shift between them. “But a little less every day.”

*

They speak occasionally. It starts as tentative and impersonal – like a formality to acknowledge the connection exists, but soon the phone calls change, like when some privacy settings get fucked up and Mark calls because he's terrified and just has to talk, or when Eduardo calls with plebian computer questions that turn into questions about Mark's vertebrae and Mark's life.

Eduardo finds him a reassuring electronic presence during an early confusing trip to Japan, when jet lag hobbles his charm and everything goes wrong.

 

Subject: Fridays and other stuff

Eduardo,

How's Tokyo? Are you drinking way too much sake?

You're brave to take on all that travel and deal with people.
There's a reason you're a success, I guess. Finesse? sorry

Last week I tried to start a tradition of Friday night drinks
for Facebook but everyone thought I was being facetious, what
with my usual penchant for avoiding them. Dustin's trying
to start a rumor that I'm fun. Without success, I'm sure.

I've started seeing a therapist. I don't know why I'm telling you
that, but it feels good to say it. Obv. I can't talk about certain
things or undo what's done, but I want to be a better person.
You've shown me that I'm missing out on a lot. So there's that.

A sparrow got into the office today. We tried to gently escort it
out, but after two hours even the most tenderhearted went after
it with a broom. A Fish Wildlife & Parks guy came and caught
it in a net. It was cool!

When you get back to NY, there should be something from me
in your mailbox. If you don't want it that's fine – just throw
it out. It's not a big deal.

Take care,

Mark

 

The 'not a big deal' is a padded envelope containing a letter and a key to Mark's house.

 

Dear Eduardo,

 

My address is on the envelope. I don't know if you stay
in a hotel when you're out here or if you have a condo
write-off, but I'm half an hour away from SFO and you're
welcome to come over or stay any time. My bathroom
floor is now Penrose 5-fold symmetry. You should see it.

I hope you're doing well.

 

Mark

 

Eduardo can't bring himself to respond but keeps the key in his pocket; at night when he undresses for bed, it's warm from spending the day tucked against his thigh. He doesn't reciprocate because part of him fears he's being set up for revenge, but then...Mark's had every opportunity to hurt him and hasn't. Not directly, anyway, and a law student could probably argue that Mark has never really hurt him at all.

The constant deliberation drives him a little bit crazy; he can't concentrate on his accounts or much else, so he reduces all of his worry to one question and consults the Magic 8 Ball that lives in BlackRock's break room. He thinks hard, shakes the ball, and turns it over to see his fortune suspended in dark blue liquid. The white die inside is an icosahedron with twenty sides, but the same answer comes three times in a row.

The odds are one in twenty.

YES

One in four hundred.

YES

One in eight thousand.

YES

“I have to go,” he tells his assistant on the way out.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. It's personal stuff.” She makes an unintentionally sour face, and he says, “What? It's not bad, it's good.”

*

He buys a silver keyring at Cartier, re-addresses Mark's envelope, and mails him the keys to his apartment.

 

Dear Mark,

 

I hope you're doing well, too. It sounds like you are.

Tokyo was hard - I was so lacking in finesse it wasn't
even funny. It feels like I'm in over my head sometimes,
but it'll get easier. It's good to be home, though.

I should maybe see a therapist myself, because I think
I'm happier with you in my life than without.

 

~ E.

*

Mark thanks him for the keys via voicemail, but something feels off soon after. His electronic correspondence cools and he starts responding sporadically and at odd hours, if at all.

The strange, unnerving feeling is present in his own home, Eduardo notices after work one day. Something feels different about the apartment but he's not sure what until he finds a note taped to the bathroom mirror.

 

Dear Mr. Saverin,

 

Sorry we keep missing each other – I've got a lot going on.
I flew in this morning and had a few hours before catching
a train north so I hung out for a while.

I'll be back in a few days.

There's cake in the fridge.

 

- Mark Elliot Zuckerberg

 

Eduardo finds a classic pink bakery box in the refrigerator with a marble bundt cake inside, one quarter missing, and two beer bottles in the recycling bin. It's a fun hunt to track other evidence...like dents in the duvet and pillow where Mark watched television. Folded clothes lay stacked in some of the guest room drawers and a pale blue dress shirt hangs in the closet.

He eats cake in bed like Mark did, and it's so good he has another slice that's even bigger.

*

Mark comes in a few days as promised.

Eduardo's hand-drying dishes from his depressing dinner for one when he knocks softly and uses his own key to let himself in. "Wow," Eduardo says, because Mark's in a suit with an open collar and wears it like he's supposed to: a young success rocking clothes that fit perfectly. “What's this all about?”

“It's about public nudity being frowned upon. We have to wear clothes.”

The buffer of jokes. Okay, they need this. “You wouldn't run around naked if it were socially acceptable.”

“Probably not.”

“So where were you? I thought north meant home, but that doesn't explain your clothes.”

“Boston,” Mark says, and leans against the counter. “I sort of have big news.”

“Yeah? What?”

Mark sets the paper bag he's been carrying next to the dish rack. “I settled.”

“Settled.”

“Yeah.”

“Wait. You...”

“With the twins. I signed the papers this morning.”

Eduardo's jaw aches like he's bitten a lemon.

“It's funny...” Mark continues. “I didn't want to do it. Like even when I woke up today I didn't want to. But every hour that goes by, I feel a little better.”

Eduardo can't even speak. He can barely stand, and Mark opens his arms and takes him in, squeezing hard. “You mean it,” Eduardo says into his collar when he finds his voice. “You mean it this time.”

“Yeah. You don't have to worry anymore. It's over,” Mark says, and loosens his hold with a soft little back-pat. “I brought champagne, if you want any.”

“I do.”

Mark pulls a bottle of Moët out of the paper sack. “It's the best they had that was already cold. Is there still cake?”

“Yeah,” Eduardo says, and takes a deep breath – he wants to collapse on the floor, but if Mark's going to treat this like it's no big deal then he will, too. He works on the neck foil and Mark gets out the pink box.

“Holy shit. You ate a ton!”

“You never said I couldn't. By the way, I'm like ninety percent sure you're hypoglycemic. Just because you're young doesn't mean you don't have to take care of yourself.”

“You'd make a good dad.”

“Thanks. But I'm serious, you should look it up.”

He looks at Eduardo with sudden intensity. “It's weird seeing you again.”

“I know. It's been a long time,” Eduardo says, studying Mark's face. It's the right color, the right size. “Are you staying?”

“A couple days, maybe. If that's okay with you.”

“Of course it's okay with me,” Eduardo says, and eases the cork out with a satisfying pop. “We should toast the settlement.”

“Fuck that. I won't give that mess one more second of attention.”

“Then maybe we should toast how much better you've gotten at dressing yourself.”

Mark's dimples make an endearing appearance. "Screw you."

Eduardo alternates pours between two glasses to get the bubbles level and wonders what shape this will take. They might stuff themselves on takeout and ruin Dustin's life with another color change, or maybe this is wedding champagne and they'll end up in Eduardo's bed with careful hands on bare skin. Even going several peaceful days without speaking would be fine, because the sound of Mark typing at night is the most comforting thing he knows.

“I'm glad you're here.”

“So am I.” Mark lifts his glass. “To us.”

Eduardo raises his own and the rims clink and sing like a bell.

“Mazel tov.”