Mark was sitting on the couch next to Sandy, watching TV as Dan watched them. They sat closer than normal, he thought. They usually kept some inches between them but now their shoulders were touching. Dan didn’t know what to think. Last he’d heard, they were fighting and Sandy was refusing to come over and Mark was refusing to talk to him.
And now this.
“Hey, Sandy,” he said, testing.
Mark and Sandy looked up at him and didn’t spring apart, didn’t blush, didn’t start stuttering excuses. Sandy smiled and said hey back. Mark turned to stare at the TV. They were still leaning against one another.
Dan was confused.
Jessica came home late after spending the day at Mary’s house, studying. She found that was the best for everyone: her house was chaos more often than not, and she would end up fighting someone (Mark) eventually when they didn’t let her read in peace. So she had been staying at her friends’ houses for most of the last couple of weeks, stressing over finals with people who understood what being in senior year meant.
So she hadn’t been home a lot lately, but she still could tell something was different as soon as she walked into the living room and saw how close Mark and Sandy were sitting.
Dan looked up from his place on one of the bean bags and gave her a look – he had noticed too.
“Hey,” she said, testing.
Only Sandy turned to her.
“Hi,” said Sandy. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Did you bring chips?” Asked Mark, eyes still on the TV.
They didn’t seem to notice they were acting weird. It freaked her out.
“Buy your own chips,” she replied. “And what’s this about?”
“What?” Mark asked.
“This,” Jessica gestured to their touching shoulders until they both looked. “It’s nearly indecent for you two.”
To their credit, they did look awkward, but when Mark only shrugged and didn’t move away, and Sandy smiled at her like he had this big secret he wasn’t going to tell, Jessica got it.
And then was completely grossed out.
“Oh, don’t be so fucking obvious about it!” She snapped at them and walked off to Dan’s shout of What?!
Mark was talking to Sandy, which wasn’t weird anymore. What was weird was the way in which they were talking. Standing in line to get their lunch, Mark’s elbow on Sandy’s shoulder, Sandy’s fingers playing with Mark’s sleeve. They were completely ridiculous and completely unsubtle.
“Is anyone else seeing this?” John asked.
“Yes,” Dana replied, sounding like it would take a lot more than mild flirting to unsettle her.
“I wish I wasn’t,” Emily grumbled, stabbing at her food with a plastic fork. “They’re gross.”
Both John and Dana looked at her and she blushed slightly, frown deepening.
“I’d find anyone rubbing their sex life in people’s faces gross, not particularly them,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“I don’t think they’re doing it on purpose.” Dana offered John an orange slice, which he took even though he hated oranges. “At least they’re talking again.”
“Oh, joy,” Emily muttered.
To her credit, though, once Mark and Sandy were back at the table and respecting each other’s space, she didn’t say anything cutting. John thought this was a big step forward.
“So,” he said, because someone had to, “what’s this all about?”
“What?” Mark asked.
“The total loss of decorum, man.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
John gave Mark a look, and when it didn’t seem like Mark was going to own up to his actions, Emily cut in.
“He’s saying that you’re all over each other and to stop it.”
Mark’s face went almost purple in under a second.
“I’m not saying to stop it,” John corrected.
“You are,” Dana said. “It’s sort of adorable.”
Emily and Mark looked horrified.
“It isn’t, believe me.” Emily shook her head.
“But it’s nothing personal,” Dana explained. “She doesn’t think anyone who rubs their sex lives in people’s faces is adorable.”
“Right,” Mark said, a little faint. He dropped back on his chair and rubbed a hand over his face.
Sandy was eating his lunch, avoiding everyone’s eyes.
Then Dana started talking to Emily about homework and Sandy asked John about a show that was airing that night and John figured it was enough torture for one day and left Mark alone.
For the next couple of days, Mark felt as if he had a sign hanging from around his neck, reading I had sex with Rogers in bold letters.
When he was at home, maybe having dinner with his family, the sign turned neon green and blinked in time with the pounding of his stressed-out heart.
At school, it added a wailing siren that made him feel everyone was turning towards him when he walked down the halls.
It wasn’t that he was embarrassed about it or anything…it was just that it wasn’t anyone’s business.
When he was with Rogers, though, the sign vanished. Instead he felt as if it turned into a blanket that wrapped around him and made him feel all warm and stupid and horny.
It was like the beginning all over again, with his hands moving towards Rogers without his consent. Only this time, it wasn’t that he couldn’t keep his hands off him or anything corny like that, more like he felt like he wanted to be touching him all the time. Which wasn’t the same, no matter what that little voice in his head told him. It was even worse than before because he had all these new ways he wanted to touch him and there was nowhere to do it.
That time in Rogers’ room they had been lucky, but they hadn’t found more than ten minutes to be alone since.
It didn’t frustrate him now, though. Each time they got interrupted it didn’t feel like the last time they would have the chance to do anything, or that Rogers didn’t really want to, or that it would be impossible to ever go past a hand-job.
It was just annoying, but Mark knew there would be another chance soon.
(Except sometimes knowing what he was missing out on made being interrupted ten times worse.)
Rogers didn’t seem that bothered by it either – not like before. At least they hadn’t had a serious argument ever since. The subject of Frank hadn’t come up again, Mark didn’t think he was still calling. He had wondered a couple of times what was going to happen in the summer, if Frank was going to turn up at the Rogers’ doorstep and stay there until Rogers caved and went with him.
His thoughts didn’t go past that, because for some reason he was sure Rogers wouldn’t be able to hold his ground long enough for Frank to give up.
And what would happen if Rogers went? He’d be gone for almost three months. What then?
But Mark didn’t think about it. Summer was still months away, and Mark wasn’t about to ruin everything by asking Rogers about it.
During the week that followed that day, not even Emily had been able to burst their bubble. Though Mark had to admit it didn’t seem like Emily was even trying very hard. She didn’t say a word to Mark, which was odd, and the few times she had slipped and acknowledged him, she had checked herself before an argument could break loose.
He wondered if Rogers had told her. He wondered if she had found out on her own. Except, no, that couldn’t be. Apart from the lack of fights, Mark didn’t think they were acting any different from before, no matter what everyone said. At least not in public.
Before, Mark could pretend that he didn’t want to pin Rogers against a wall as soon as they were alone. They could have an entire conversation before one of them finally caved and made the first move. Now, though, they were at each other even before Rogers’ door room was entirely closed, or they were all the way into Mark’s side of his room. It was as if they were trying to see how far they could go before someone was calling from downstairs, or someone was walking down the hall outside, or Dan had to come in to look for a book or something.
Mark had the terrible feeling Hannah Rogers had talked with his family and told them about Rogers and him having sex at her house. He was sure they were all plotting to keep them from doing it again until they were thirty. Or until they had moved out.
“Hey,” Mark said to Rogers once, “What are you doing after school’s over?”
They were on Mark’s bed and Rogers’ chest was pressing down on Mark’s in a way that he would have found intimidating not that long ago. Rogers’ elbows were resting on either side of his head, and he could feel Rogers’ fingers tugging at his hair.
Rogers was still flushed, his breath coming in harsh pants when he looked up from Mark’s neck, suddenly looking wary.
Mark, just now starting to feel uncomfortable and cold in his jeans, shook his head.
“After next year,” he clarified and started to sit up. Rogers drew back and sat on Mark’s legs, giving him room to push up to his elbows.
“I’m still thinking about it,” he said, brushing damp hair out of his eyes. “But I’m not…staying here, you know.”
Mark snorted, “Who is?”
Rogers looked at him for a moment.
“Where’re you going?” he asked.
Mark shrugged as an uneasy feeling swept over him. This was a subject that had been coming up a lot ever since Jessica had started going crazy with College Talk. Now they were only a few months away from ending the school year, and after Jessica was gone (two states North to study Journalism) their parents’ eyes would land on him, the next one up to have to make a decision.
Mark still had no idea – but he knew he was going somewhere.
He felt Rogers’ arms go around his neck and realized he hadn’t said anything yet. He started to open his mouth, drew a blank, and shrugged again.
“Are you worried you’re gonna have to stay home forever?” he mocked. “I’ll come visit you every chance I get, but I’ll probably be very busy being important and stuff.”
It was clear Rogers was less eager to talk about the future than Mark was, which was really not eager at all. But it was something that was eating up Mark’s insides more and more as the summer grew closer.
“Fuck off.” He pushed Rogers away, but he only tightened the grip his legs had around him and scooted closer.
“I’m sure your parents will let you live in the attic. It’ll be cool, we’ll play checkers and I’ll brush your foot-long beard and force you to go outside because you’ll be so pale even your freckles will have vanished.”
Mark laughed and shoved Rogers off of him. He landed at the foot of the bed, still spitting up ridiculous things, and Mark scrambled on top of him before he could get up again.
“I’ll come visit you at your stinky dorm,” he breathed in Rogers’ face, struggling to keep Roger’ hands down on the mattress. “We’ll see who has a foot-long beard then.”
“I’m not the one who can grow facial hair overnight,” Rogers said, grinning, trying to knee Mark anywhere soft. “I don’t know if you remember your mustache, a few years ago.”
Mark felt himself blush at the embarrassing memory.
“That mustache was cool,” he muttered and then, “d’you remember every ridiculous thing I ever did?”
“Live for it,” Rogers replied and rolled them over and onto the floor. Mark landed on his back with a curse as Rogers managed to head-butt his mouth, making his teeth click together painfully.
“Sorry, that wasn’t very smooth.” Rogers groaned. “And you’re bleeding.”
Mark licked his throbbing lips and winced at the taste. When he looked up, Rogers was grinning again.
“If that scars,” he said, and pressed his thumb next to the cut on Mark’s upper lip, “then you’ll grow the beard? For me?”
“No.” He let his head fall back with a thump. Rogers hovered above him.
“If I manage to grow one by the time you visit me at my stinky dorm,” he said and Mark closed his eyes, “I’ll let you brush it. I’ll even let you braid it.”
“Well, you probably like me more than I like you, then.”
Everything stopped. Mark snapped his eyes open instantly, expecting to see Rogers’ fist flying to his face. But Rogers was making a stupidly thoughtful face instead of punching Mark in the nose.
“I don’t know about that,” he said.
Mark took a moment to feel relieved that this wasn’t escalating to another fight before he was offended.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped.
“I think you like me a lot.”
Mark’s first instinct was to deny, deny, deny – but he squashed it down and said nothing.
“I’ll take that as a ‘you are my favorite person in the world, Sandy’.” Rogers finally got up and sat back on the bed. Mark was left lying on the floor, staring up at him.
They were quiet for a while before Rogers cleared his throat and spoke again.
“You don’t have to stress about college and all that yet,” he said and Mark remembered that it was what they were talking about all along. “You could wait until after summer break, and we could freak out about it together then.”
That was six months away.
Mark sat on the floor and crossed his legs in front of him. He wasn’t sure, but he thought Rogers was saying something he wasn’t quite getting.
“Okay,” he said. He had no reason to believe six months from now they weren’t going to be doing this thing they were doing.
And apparently, Rogers didn’t either.
“I think I’ll move to Jessica’s room after she goes away. We’ll have more privacy. To freak out. About college.”
Rogers laughed and flopped backwards onto the bed.
“Are you saying we have to wait until then to freak out – about college?”
Mark climbed up after him, feeling warmth starting to pool in his belly. He felt up Rogers’ torso until he could fit his palms on either side of his face.
“No, we can freak out,” he said as he arranged himself between Rogers’ legs. “If we’re very quiet.”