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We Wander Through Difference

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When Mark meets Eduardo for the first time, he hasn’t slept in 40 hours, hasn’t showered in 48, and probably looks like he started his own fight club from the bruising under his eyes. It’s not how he would have imagined meeting the goddamn love of his life, if he had ever wasted the time imagining such a thing. It all starts when—no, Mark hates stories that start with It all starts when, because technically it all starts when Mark is born, or even nine months before that when his parents get drunk on their anniversary cruise, and Mark really does not want to think about that, so.

 

It all starts when Dustin shows up on his doorstep with a case of Corona and a bag of limes for an impromptu Call of Duty tournament and all-night hackathon, because they haven’t hung out as bros in forever, or something. Of course Mark agrees, not remembering until too late that he has an early meeting the next morning (he has to find out what he did to incur his assistant’s wrath—there is no other reason good enough to explain why he would schedule anything important before eleven). Then at around six, right when he is starting to think about leaving the office, Facebook starts crashing. They manage to find the problem and fix it fairly quickly and the site’s down for less than ten minutes, but it’s enough to make Mark feel anxious for the rest of the night. It’s hard enough for him to leave work on the best of days, so there is no way he is going home so soon after a crisis. He stays for another five or six hours, just watching the traffic and poring over random bits of code, checking for errors. He finally leaves at midnight, dead on his feet. So of course he realizes halfway home that not only is he starving, but that there is literally no food in his house. Maybe the last third of a bag of Doritos, if Dustin hadn’t finished it for breakfast this morning.

 

In his first bit of luck all day the grocery store nearest to his house is open 24 hours, so he pulls in and parks haphazardly (he’s inside the lines, mostly, and it’s not like normal people go grocery shopping at midnight, so whatever, who cares if he parks perfectly straight). He walks through the store on autopilot and is checking out within fifteen minutes. He’s practically asleep on his feet at this point, so when the cashier says something to him it takes a second to register.

 

“Sorry, what?” Mark replies, blinking out of a daze. He takes in the cashier’s long, tan limbs and big brown eyes with a hot surge of want that startles him.

 

“I said, can I get you anything else? Maybe some fruit or vegetables, or anything remotely healthy and not processed all to hell?” the cashier repeats, failing to hide a grin while he nods at Mark’s groceries—a case of Red Bull, a case of Beck’s, tuna, bread, about ten boxes of various frozen dinners and snacks, and four bags of Red Vines.

 

Mark’s been awake for almost 40 hours, so he can be excused for not coming up with a witty retort right away, but nothing prepares him for the way heblushes at the cashier’s teasing tone. He can feel the heat rising in his cheeks, and this is even more embarrassing than his less-than-healthy food choices (especially because he refuses to get embarrassed about what he eats—he’s the 21-year-old CEO of a very successful social networking site, okay, he doesn’t have time to cook real food). So he just shrugs at the cashier—Eduardo, according to his nametag—and mumbles “No, I’m good,” before fumbling some cash out of his wallet.

 

Eduardo just smiles wider, not even trying to hide his amusement. “Okay,” he replies easily. “I promise I’m not here to judge, just to check you out.” Mark can’t help smirking at that, and Eduardo almost drops Mark’s change. “I—I mean, check out your groceries, not like, check you out.”

 

“Of course,” Mark says, and they both start bagging his groceries.

 

“Anyways, this isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve seen here. It’s actually pretty normal for this time of night, when it’s not drunk Stanford kids, that is. Generally, the people who go grocery shopping at midnight are not your stereotypical 2.5-kids-and-a-minivan families. It’s most of the reason I don’t mind working the night shift. It gets boring, but I get the best stories out of it.”

 

Eduardo seems content to prattle on to a silent Mark, and Mark surprisingly does not mind. Usually he can’t stand when people, especially strangers, feel the need to fill silences with inane chatter, but something about Eduardo’s friendly manner is endearing. So Mark finds himself replying, telling him how he’s been awake for almost two days. Eduardo’s eyes get impossibly bigger at that, and he practically shoves the last bag into Mark’s arms, insisting that he go home and sleep, God, should you even be driving? Mark just rolls his eyes, but he smiles at Eduardo’s concern.

 

Mark starts heading towards the door, but he turns around at the last minute. “I’m Mark,” he says, and watches a smile slowly spread across Eduardo’s face.

 

“Eduardo,” he says.

 

“I know,” Mark can’t help saying, nodding towards the nametag pinned to Eduardo’s shirt. He laughs and shakes his head.

 

“Right, of course. Good night, Mark,” he says, biting on his bottom lip shyly.

 

“Good night,” Mark replies shortly, then turns around and walks quickly out the door.

 

He’s been awake for almost two days straight, he’s probably going to have nightmares about Facebook crashing for good once he finally gets to sleep, and now he apparently has a colossal crush on the cashier at his neighborhood Safeway. Today has really not been good to Mark.

 

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The third time Mark ends up going through Eduardo’s checkout line, less than two weeks later, he asks, “Are you stalking me?” It sounds playful, teasing, but Mark’s been called creepy enough times for his first reaction to be defensive.

 

“No, what? No. Of course not. This store is on my way home from the office,” Mark says.

 

“And you regularly leave work at… eight in the evening?” Eduardo asks and looks pointedly at his watch.

 

“Yes. It’s been a busy couple weeks, okay?”

 

“Sure, no need to get defensive. What exactly do you do?” Eduardo asks as he passes Mark’s groceries—boxed macaroni and cheese, milk, cereal, more Red Bull, and baby carrots because Chris was starting to get that look in his eye whenever he saw Mark—across the scanner.

 

“I, uh, work with computers.”

 

“I should have guessed. I mean, it is Silicon Valley, and you look a little young and, um, underdressed to be a lawyer, and I can’t think of much else that would regularly keep you at work so long. Like, computer repair, or programming? I honestly don’t know anything about either, but I really admire people who do. It’s getting to be such a necessary skill, you know?”

 

“Uh, yeah, I guess. I’m mostly a programmer, but I do some other stuff too.”

 

“Cool. Well, the next time my computer blue-screens I know who to call.”

 

“The Ghostbusters?” Mark suggests. He tries to keep a straight face, but can’t resist grinning when Eduardo throws his head back in laughter. Unfortunately, the customer behind Mark doesn’t seem so amused, and clears her throat pointedly.

 

“Right,” Eduardo says and quickly gathers Mark’s change. “Well, I usually work here from four to midnight, so I guess I’ll see you next time you run out of sodium and sugar in a box.”

 

“Hey, I got carrots today!” Mark says, jokingly indignant.

 

“It’s a start,” Eduardo replies seriously, but his eyes are still dancing with laughter, and Mark smiles as he picks up his bag of groceries and heads out the door.

 

Later, as he eats his pasta out of the saucepan, not even bothering to put it in a bowl, he thinks about what he told Eduardo. That he “works with computers.” It’s not like he lied, exactly. He does do a lot of programming, as much as he can whenever his time isn’t occupied with the meaningless administrative drivel that seems to come with being CEO. But he’s also never before felt like hiding the fact that he was in fact the CEO and creator of Facebook.

 

Mark thinks of the business cards in his wallet. The one that says “I’m CEO, bitch,” that he carries around mostly for sentimental value and for the occasions—getting rarer and rarer these days—when suits at various functions smirk at his hoodies, his youth, his inexperience. And his other card, the one that just says “Mark Zuckerberg, CEO,” that somehow seems even more pretentious. He can’t imagine giving either one to Eduardo. Or rather, he can imagine it. He can imagine perfectly the look Eduardo would get, the one that’s equal parts admiring, impressed, and surprised. Normally, Mark can’t get enough of this look, the one that says he’s past the metaphorical bike room, that he’s finally someone. But on Eduardo’s face, in his imagination, it just seems wrong.

 

Instead, Eduardo’s face as he laughed at Mark’s jokes earlier that evening springs unbidden into his thoughts. His delight at teasing Mark for his unhealthy purchases, the way his dark eyes crinkle in a smile whenever he sees him walking up to his register—those are all for Mark, the nerdy programmer who doesn’t eat right and cracks lame jokes, not Mark Zuckerberg, CEO. So maybe it isn’t that much of a surprise that he wants to keep those moments in his week when someone likes him for who he is instead of what he’s done. Anyway, one little lie of omission to a grocery store cashier is harmless, right? Even if Mark has a tiny crush (like, miniscule, really), it’s not like anything’s going to come of it.

 

Except they keep running into each other. Mark can’t really be blamed; maybe he did make a mental note when Eduardo volunteered his usual schedule and start grocery shopping on his way home from work—and buying less each time so he’d have to go back sooner—but who wouldn’t want a little eye candy while they bought groceries? It’s Eduardo that gets friendly. Well, friendlier.

 

Mark is content to keep their status quo—a little banter at the register, Eduardo teasing him about his choices in food—but a couple weeks after he lies about his job, Mark walks into the store to see Eduardo taking his dinner break in the little café at the front. Eduardo, of course, waves him over, so Mark sits down and they have their first real conversation.

 

Eduardo, chatty as ever, tells him about an article he just read in the Wall Street Journal and Mark counters with a couple stories from the office, told to make it seem like he’s talking about his coworkers, not his employees. A week after that, Eduardo is sitting in the café again, head buried inFreakonomics, so Mark ambles over and sits in the chair across from him. Eduardo doesn’t even notice.

 

“Good book?” Mark prompts.

 

“What? Oh, Mark!” Eduardo looks up in surprise, then delight as he realizes who’s sitting across from him. “Yeah, it’s really interesting,” he continues, and then proceeds to babble for the next twenty minutes about cheating sumo wrestlers and drug dealers and all manner of things that can apparently be analyzed using basic principles of economics. Mark is content to sit back in his chair and watch the show. Eduardo lights up as he’s talking, hands flying, excited and passionate. He’s beautiful, really, and Mark isn’t even embarrassed to use that word for a guy, because there’s no other way to put it.

 

Finally, Eduardo winds down, looks at his watch, and jumps up. “Shit, my break was over five minutes ago,” he says, quickly clearing away his garbage from dinner. He pauses and smiles at Mark. “Um, happy shopping? I’ll see you later,” he says, and walks off towards his checkout.

 

Mark lets his head thunk down on the table. Shit. This crush really is inconvenient.

 

Pretty soon they develop a routine. Mark comes in on Thursdays sometime between seven and eight. Eduardo will take his dinner break, and they’ll sit and talk for half an hour. When his break’s up, Eduardo will go back to work, Mark will do his shopping, and they’ll have another quick conversation as he checks out. They talk about everything from video games to economic theory; Eduardo’s taking some time off from school, but he wants to go back soon, so occasionally he’ll read econ textbooks during slow shifts. Mark avoids talking about work and Eduardo avoids talking about his family, but neither remarks on it.

 

Mark thinks they might be flirting, but Eduardo seems like the kind of person who is friendly and talkative regardless, and it’s not like Mark has any frame of reference for how he acts around anyone else, so he refuses to hope for anything more than the easy conversations they’ve fallen into. He can’t quite stop himself from thinking of Eduardo, though. He finds himself mentioning Eduardo in conversation to Chris and Dustin—just little things, like giving Eduardo’s opinion on the new James Bond movie along with his own—until they start giving him looks whenever it happens. Mark does manage, with effort, to keep Eduardo out of his thoughts when he’s jerking off in the shower or before bed, because it would be creepy to think of a friend like that, no matter how hot they are, and Eduardo is already becoming a good friend.

 

He manages, that is, until the night they’re trading stories of past drunken shenanigans, trying to one-up each other with their stupid decisions. “This one time,” Eduardo starts, already starting to giggle, “Christy and I got trashed on the shittiest rum I’ve ever had, and we thought it would be a good idea to go visit my ex-boyfriend at the bar where he worked,” and Mark doesn’t hear the rest of the story over the sound of Eduardo repeating ex-boyfriend over and over in his head. He snaps out of it in time to give a weak smile at the end of Eduardo’s story, but he can’t stop thinking about it as he’s shopping. Eduardo’s voice was as casual as any other time, but Mark remembers the look on his face as he said it—intent, careful, and even a little hopeful—and he realizes with a shock that Eduardo did it on purpose. That Eduardo wanted to make sure that Mark knows he dates men—that maybe Eduardo wants to date him.

 

He’s so distracted he doesn’t quite realize until too late what slips out as he’s leaving. “See you next week, Wardo,” he says, and this blinding grin slips onto Eduardo’s face, even as he tries to bite it back.

 

“See you later, Mark,” he replies.

 

Later that night, Mark is not even that surprised when Eduardo’s brilliant smile pops into his mind as he’s trying to concentrate on the sensation of his lotion-slick hand on his cock, and he comes to the image of Eduardo kneeling before him, Mark’s fingers tangled in his hair and Eduardo looking up at him, his dark eyes huge and blown with desire.

 

Fuck, he thinks, as he slams his head back into his pillow and reaches for the tissues on his bedside table. This is getting ridiculous.

 

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It’s been one of those unusually busy days. Sundays are always a nightmare, but weekday evenings aren’t usually particularly hectic. This Tuesday night, however, has been a never-ending nightmare of long lines, declined credit cards, and chatty customers. Eduardo only has about twenty minutes before his break (although he knows from experience that those twenty minutes will seem to take ten times as long), so he just grits his teeth and pastes on his best fake smile as he turns to the next customer.

 

“Good evening, welcome to—Mark!” Eduardo wasn’t expecting to see him for another couple days, and he can’t help grinning for real at the welcome sight of Mark’s curly hair and piercing blue eyes.

 

“Hey, Eduardo,” Mark replies, as the corners of his mouth turn up.

 

“I don’t usually see you around this time of day. And by ‘this time of day,’ of course I mean any time of day that is normal for grocery shopping.”

 

“Yeah, well,” Mark shrugs. “It’s Taco Tuesday, and someone forgot to pick up salsa.”

 

Eduardo turns to the conveyer belt, which indeed contains a lone jar of salsa and a six-pack of beer.

 

“You can’t have Taco Tuesday without salsa,” Mark continues dryly. Eduardo laughs, and Mark’s straight face dissolves into a smirk. He starts to say something else, but he is interrupted when a redheaded man comes barreling up to the register, stopping just short of running into Mark. He plops a bag of little plastic dinosaurs—the kind that grow when you put them in water—on the conveyer belt.

 

“Marky, can I get this?” he asks excitedly.

 

“Buy it yourself,” Mark says.

 

“Aw, you never buy me anything anymore, Marcus. It’s like you don’t even care about me,” the other guy replies, throwing his arm around Mark’s waist and planting an exaggerated, sloppy kiss on his cheek.

 

Oh, Eduardo thinks, heart sinking. Well, that certainly answered that question. Except Mark was leaning away, complaining.

 

“Augh, seriously Dustin?” He looked a little nervous as he tried to catch Eduardo’s eye and wiped at his cheek.

 

“Don’t mind Mark, he gets embarrassed about our epic love in public,” Dustin whispers conspiratorially to Eduardo.

 

“That will be $17.68,” Eduardo says as he shoves their items, including the dinosaurs, in a plastic bag. He thought this thing between him and Mark was moving at a glacial pace because they were being careful, and because Mark wasn’t always the most adept at picking up on social cues like flirting. But apparently nothing was happening because Mark has a boyfriend, and probably isn’t even interested in Eduardo. He feels stupid and silly, and younger than he has in a long time. He knows he’s actually older than Mark, but Mark has a boyfriend, apparently, and Taco Tuesday, and a real job, and Eduardo is just the grocery store cashier with a dumb crush.

 

Mark takes the bag from Eduardo and pushes it at Dustin. “Go wait in the car,” he orders, glaring angrily. The goofy expression on Dustin’s face drops, and he just looks a little confused and annoyed.

 

“Okay dude, chill,” he says, and he takes the bag and walks towards the door, shooting Mark a weird look over his shoulder as he goes.

 

Mark hands Eduardo a twenty, but he keeps holding onto it as Eduardo tries to take it, not letting go until Eduardo meets his eyes. “Dustin isn’t—we’re not together,” he insists. “He’s one of my best friends, emphasis on friend.” He finally lets Eduardo take the bill and he busies himself making change.

 

Or maybe nothing’s been happening because Mark is actually straight and just friendly. Great. “It’s okay man, pretty sure your heterosexuality doesn’t get revoked because of one gay joke,” he mutters.

 

“No, that’s not—yes, Dustin and I are just friends. But that’s because I’ve seen him at the end of finals week, and I’ve taken care of him when he was drunk and crying about some girl in my art history class, and because he’s—he’s just Dustin. The fact that he’s a guy is not what is stopping me from dating him,” Mark stammers out, blushing a little and looking down at where his hands are twisting together in his hoodie pocket. It’s kind of adorable, and Eduardo finally allows himself a little hope.

 

“Oh, good,” he hears himself say, and Mark looks up, a small smile on his face.

 

“Good?” he asks, and now it’s Eduardo’s turn to blush. He’s trying to think of something to say that’s not ridiculously sappy or just plain embarrassing when Mark’s phone starts ringing.

 

He curses as he pulls it out of the pocket and answers. “What? Yeah, I’m paying. At the grocery store. No, just—Really, this can’t wait ten minutes until I get home? Yeah, fine, we’ll be right there.” Mark hangs up and looked at Eduardo apologetically. “Sorry, I have to go. So, um, see you around,” he says and nods once.

 

“See you around, Mark,” Eduardo replies. He watches Mark turn around and head toward the door before he realizes he’s still holding $2.32. “Wait, Mark! Your change,” he calls out.

 

Mark turns around, still walking backwards. “Keep it.”

 

“Grocery store cashiers don’t usually get tips,” Eduardo says, but Mark just shrugs in reply and walks out through the whooshing automatic doors.

 

Two days later, Eduardo climbs out of his beater car and walks across the sun-baked parking lot to the picnic table that sits a precise 25 feet from the entrance of the Safeway, where a small Asian woman is lounging on the table and smoking a cigarette. Eduardo flops down on the bench next to her feet and pillows his head on the green apron that’s sitting on the table next to her hip. He lets out a groan that turns into a yawn halfway through. The woman scoffs as she ashes into a plastic cup on her other side.

 

“Rough night?” she asks. “I thought you said you didn’t want to go out after work.”

 

“Neighbors,” Eduardo groans. She makes a sympathetic noise and ruffles a soothing hand through his hair.

 

“What was it this time?”

 

“I don’t actually know. They were already going at it when I got home. Two hours, Christy. Two hours of screaming and dish-throwing, and then when it was finally over, of course they had to have make-up sex. Extremely loud make-up sex. I need to move somewhere with thicker walls. Like, maybe a bomb shelter. I’m sure that would be nice and quiet.”

 

“Oh, poor baby,” Christy says, not sounding sympathetic at all, and tosses her cigarette butt in the cup. She tries to rearrange his hair so it looks somewhat presentable and not like she’s been playing with it, then hops off the table and tugs him up with her. Eduardo immediately buries his own fingers in his hair, messing it up again, before scrubbing across his face and yawning.

 

“This day is going to be terrible, I can already feel it,” he complains.

 

“But it’s Thursday,” Christy retorts with a wink.

 

“What’s on Thursdays—oh. Christy, don’t. You’re reading into things that don’t exist, and I really don’t want to deal with it today.”

 

“I think the fact that you know what I mean is a clue that no, I’m definitely not. Just ask him out, Eduardo. He obviously likes you, and I’m getting tired of watching you two flirting and neither of you making a real move.”

 

“I just—I really like him, Christy. What if he doesn’t like me? He hasn’t made a move either, and I’ve mentioned Jason to him, I know he knows I date guys.”

 

“Oh, honey.” Christy softens. She hooks her arm around his and they start walking into the store. “I’m sure he’s thinking the exact same thing about you, too. You guys are not subtle, but apparently neither of you are very observant either. At least get his phone number, or something. You can even pretend it’s just to hang out sometime if you really want. I’m just saying, I don’t think he’d be opposed to sucking your cock, too.”

 

“Jesus, Christy!” Eduardo hisses, “Do you have to be so vulgar?”

 

“Come on, I know you’ve thought about it. I mean, with that mouth, those lips? Even I’ve thought about it,” she replies, barely holding back laughter.

 

“Oh my god,” Eduardo says, turning bright red, but he’s starting to laugh as he pokes her in the side, and soon enough they’re in a full-blown tickle fight that only ends when they reach their adjacent checkout lines.

 

Eduardo is right. It does turn out to be a miserable day. His giddiness wears off quickly, and after a couple hours he starts to develop a monstrous headache. He has to put up with multiple toddler tantrums, a higher than usual number of rude customers, and now that Christy’s put it in his head, he can’t stop mulling over his situation with Mark. He knows they have been flirting, and after the last time when he came in with Dustin, when Mark all but told him he was gay, he thinks that Mark is aware of the flirting. Which just leaves Eduardo trying to get up the courage to make an actual move and wondering why Mark hasn’t done so himself.

 

He can’t quite decide if Christy is helping or not. Whenever there’s a lull—and sometimes even when there’s not—she’ll lean over and start grilling Eduardo about Mark. She isn’t satisfied until he’s recounted each of their encounters practically word for word, and even then she only stops her questioning to pester Eduardo about what he’s going to say when Mark comes in.

 

Except that’s probably the most miserable part of Eduardo’s day, because Mark does not come in. He knows not to expect him before seven, but seven comes and goes, then 7:30, and eight, and still no Mark. At 8:30, Eduardo gives up and takes his dinner break, dragging it out as long as he can. He takes an old economics textbook to the café with him, but he can’t focus, looking up whenever he hears the doors whoosh open.

 

By the time 9:30 rolls around, Eduardo is snapping at Christy and she is giving as good back, sometimes even over the intercom. He fully expects that at least one of them is going to get fired. It’s a slow night, so Eduardo is rearranging his gum and candy display when someone taps him on the arm.

 

“Hey,” he hears as he spins around to see Mark standing in front of him, hands shoved in his pocket as usual.

 

“Hey,” Eduardo says back. “I was starting to think you weren’t going to show up today.”

 

Mark twists his hands inside his hoodie pocket and shrugs a little. “We had an update that went live this morning, so I stuck around for a while to make sure everything went okay and I lost track of time.”

 

“Low man on the totem pole always gets the shitty, long grunt work, huh?”

 

“Something like that. Anyways, I should do my shopping. I just wanted to say hi, I guess. Which is silly, because I’ll see you in like fifteen minutes when I’m ready to check out, so I’m going to go.” A flush creeps up Mark’s neck as he talks, until he finally turns around and walks off, shaking his head slightly, as if to clear it. It’s adorable, and Eduardo can’t help the soppy grin he’s sporting.

 

“Will you stop being such a little bitch now that Mark’s here?” Christy’s giving him a look—hands on her hips with her head tilted, hoop earrings and ponytail dangling; the one that means Eduardo, you’re my best friend, but you’re an idiot.

 

“Eduardo, you’re my best friend, but you’re an idiot,” she continues. “Are you going to ask him out tonight?”

 

“You don’t have to tell me I’m an idiot, that’s what the look is for!” Eduardo says, hands flying before finally settling in his hair.

 

“I know that’s what the look is for. I thought you needed the reinforcement. Because Eduardo, honey, you’re really being an idiot. You like him, he likes you, ask him out. Or we might need to revisit the best friend thing, because I don’t want to be best friends with a coward.”

 

“Christy, jesus, did anyone ever tell you you’re really fucking blunt? Like, painfully so. And persistent.”

 

“This is the most interesting thing that’s happened to either of us in a long time, so sorry if I’m getting a little overexcited.”

 

Luckily, Eduardo gets a customer then, so he has an excuse to stop the conversation. But just as he starts checking out the guy’s groceries, he feels his phone buzz in his pocket. And then again. And again. When he gets a break from customers, he pulls it out to see who keeps texting him.

 

He has 47 texts, all from Christy. The first reads ASK HIM OUT, the second is seriously just ask him, and he only reads the next three—all variations on the theme—before deleting the rest  unread.

 

“47 texts? Christy, you are insane,” he tells her, but she just shrugs and looks smug.

 

About fifteen or twenty minutes later, Eduardo’s finishing up checking out a couple college guys buying solo cups and like five cases of beer when Mark gets in line behind them, even though Christy’s line is open. He sees Christy pull a disbelieving face out of the corner of his eye, and then she leans over to call at Mark, “Hey, dude, I can check you out over here,” but he just shrugs a little. “No, seriously, I’m wide open,” she calls again.

 

“It’s okay, they’re almost done,” Mark says. He’s tapping his fingers restlessly where they’re resting on the handle of his cart, and starting to get a defensive look on his face. Christy gives up, and Eduardo resolutely ignores the significant look she gives him, but he’s smiling kind of helplessly as he gives the frat guys their change, and thinks maybe he actually can do this.

 

All his confidence dries up when he actually faces Mark, though. He just plain chickens out, and makes some comment about the weather—and not even like Eduardo usually talks about the weather, but a stupid small-talk-type comment. Mark looks at him funny, but doesn’t call him out on it.

 

Christy has no such compunctions, though. He hears her sigh, and his stomach sinks as she picks up the intercom microphone. “I need a price check from the floral department, for this beautiful bouquet of PANSIES and PUSSYwillow,” she says into the mic, making Eduardo cough and fumble Mark’s change. Mark looks at him expectantly and a little confused.

 

“Christy’s crazy, just ignore her,” Eduardo says.

 

“Okay,” Mark replies easily. He collects his grocery bags, then pauses. He starts to say something, then just takes a breath and lets it out, not quite a sigh. “See you next week, Wardo,” he finally says, and turns around to leave.

 

“Wait, Mark,” Eduardo  gets out, and Mark stops and turns back around. “Do you—I mean, can I—” before he gives up, writes his name on the back of Mark’s receipt, and says, “Facebook me? If you want to. If you even have a Facebook, that is. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t assume everyone does, it’s just becoming a lot more common and it’s easy, and—” but Mark thankfully cuts him off.

 

He’s beaming, like Facebook me are the best two words he’s ever heard, and he says, “It’s okay. I do have a Facebook, and I will definitely find you.” He takes the receipt, folds it, and puts it in his pocket, before walking towards the door again. Right before he gets there, he turns back around, still lit up with that smile, eyes soft. “Bye, Wardo,” he says, and walks out the door as Eduardo returns the farewell.

 

Eduardo has a matching soppy smile on his face, and it’s totally worth all the shit that Christy gives him the rest of the night.

 

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The thing Eduardo hates most about his job are the rude customers. He likes people; he has to in order to survive this job for more than a shift. He can usually excuse a harried mother’s impatience and laugh off drunk college kids’ shenanigans, but he cannot get over the customers who are outright rude to him or practically ignore his presence, like he is a machine built to check out their groceries and take their money. Like this young, blonde douchebag who starts to unload his full cart onto Eduardo’s conveyer belt and shows no sign of hanging up his fancy cell phone. It’s Thursday again, five days since Eduardo came home to a Facebook friend request from a certain Mark Elliott, who is looking skeptically at Dustin making a goofy face in his profile picture. They haven’t talked much besides an initial assurance that he was the right Eduardo Saverin, but nothing can damper Eduardo’s excitement to see Mark later tonight, not even this asshole who is still talking on his phone.

 

“You really need to pay me more. No, really? Of course I fucking know this isn’t part of my job description. I’m doing this as your friend, not as your PR manager. That was a general statement. You know, like ‘the sky is blue,’ ‘the grass is green,’ ‘Chris Hughes needs to be paid more.’” There’s a pause, broken only by beeps as Eduardo steadily passes the man’s items by the price scanner. The man, presumably Chris, keeps unloading items from his cart: soup, Gatorade, more soup, cough syrup, vegetables, bread. He pauses in unloading to pull his phone away and make a face at it before putting it back up to his ear.

 

“Jesus, would it kill you to have some patience? I’m checking out right now.” Pause. “What? Why do you want to know that? Fine, you’re such a weirdo.” He puts his phone against his chest and finally looks at Eduardo. “I’m sorry, this is a really weird question, but what’s your name?” he asks.

 

Eduardo just raises his eyebrows and glances down at his nametag, not pausing in his task of checking out the groceries. (Yeah, he could be less bitchy about it, but he’s had a long day, and people who talk on their cell phones while at the checkout are one of his biggest pet peeves.) The other man just smiles and shrugs sheepishly at him, returning to his phone conversation.

 

“His nametag says Eduardo. Yeah. You want me to do what?” There is a long pause, and then the incredulous look on his face suddenly softens and he glances involuntarily back up at Eduardo, who is now more curious than ever. “Dustin was so right last week. I can’t believe this,” he continues into the phone. “Yeah, okay, I’ll tell him, but we are talking about this when I get back to your house. I have to pay now, though, so I’m hanging up. See you soon,” he finishes, and flips his phone shut, even though Eduardo can just barely hear someone on the other end still talking.

 

Eduardo tells him his total, and Chris pulls out his wallet and hands him a credit card. “So,” he starts. “Mark says hello.” Eduardo whips around to look at Chris, who is staring intently back at him.

 

“What?” Eduardo asks, immediately cursing at himself in his head for the inane response.

 

“He also told me to tell you he’s sorry he won’t be seeing you at his normal time tonight, but he’s sick and has been ordered to stay at home.” Chris’s intent look suddenly breaks as he grins at Eduardo conspiratorially. “It wasn’t really an order, more of a forceful suggestion.”

 

“Really?” Eduardo says. He’s really scoring big points in this conversation, but he’s still a little stuck on the part where Mark asked his friend to say hello for him. And then apologized as if his normal grocery shopping time was some kind of—no, don’t even think it, but too late—date.

 

Chris just chuckles, completely unaware of Eduardo’s internal crisis. “At least this way I can make sure he has some real food in his house,” he says, and Eduardo’s brain finally stops going Mark asked about me maybe he likes me maybe not but he asked about me and kicks back into gear.

 

“You should see the stuff he normally buys. Pure sugar and processed chemicals. I don’t know how he hasn’t gotten scurvy yet,” Eduardo replies.

 

“Oh, believe me, it’s taken a lot of effort. Like I said before, I don’t get paid nearly enough.”

 

“You work with Mark? I wouldn’t take you for a computer guy. At least, not the ones I normally see around here,” Eduardo says, gesturing to Chris’s neatly tailored pants and shirt.

 

“God no,” Chris laughs. “I know a little programming, but my computer skills are less than nothing compared to what Mark and Dustin can do. No, I’m Mark’s PR guy. Well, officially I am Facebook’s Head of Public Relations, but it’s really the same thing, what with the way Mark pretty much isFacebook, you know?”

 

“No, I don’t think I do,” Eduardo replies, shaking his head. He’s pretty sure his face is doing the thing that Christy calls his Bambi-in-headlights look, but he doesn’t even care, because if Chris is saying what he thinks Chris is saying then he has bigger things to worry about than looking stupid.

 

Chris looks puzzled. “You don’t—Mark never told you what he does?”

 

“He told me he’s a computer programmer and sometimes he tells me stories about his coworkers, but nothing really specific to what his job is. We’ve only really had a few conversations longer than five minutes.”

 

“His coworkers—but I thought—I mean, Dustin made it seem like you guys were practically exchanging rings. I am going to kill him.”

 

“Dustin said—” Eduardo starts, then shakes his head quickly to clear it. “Never mind. What did you mean when you said Mark is Facebook?” he asks.

 

“Mark’s the CEO. He invented Facebook in our dorm room at Harvard two years ago.”

 

“Mark is the CEO of Facebook. Oh my god, Mark is Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook,” Eduardo repeats.

 

“You didn’t know that. Haven’t you handled his credit card before?” Chris asks incredulously.

 

“He uses cash a lot, and I don’t really pay attention to people’s names, anyways. It’s creepy to know people’s full names when they don’t know mine,” Eduardo answers automatically, and Chris laughs. “No, you’re lying. Mark can’t be—that,” he continues.

 

“What, you don’t believe me?” Chris asks.

 

Eduardo groans and gives in, pillowing his head on his arms on the counter. “I do, I believe you, I just—I don’t want to, because that means last week I told the CEO of Facebook to ‘Facebook me,’” he mumbles.

 

“What?” Chris asks, failing spectacularly to keep himself from grinning.

 

“And then spent five minutes apologizing for assuming he had a Facebook page.” Eduardo looks up at Chris morosely, trying to convey his utter pain and embarrassment. By the way Chris is starting to laugh, it’s not working very effectively. Eduardo thinks about how he’s basically been flirting with Mark Zuckerberg for two months without even knowing who he was, and he can’t help the laughter that spills out. Chris is howling with laughter and Eduardo’s edging into hysterical giggles by the time another customer gets in line behind Chris and they force themselves to calm down.

 

“So first of all,” Chris says as they bag up his groceries together, “I want to apologize for the fact that you found out this way. Mark is going to kill me when he finds out I told you, but in my defense he should have done it himself by now. Secondly, as one of Mark’s best friends I have to ask, what do you think about this?”

 

“About Mark?”

 

“All of it. About Mark, about the fact that he invented Facebook and didn’t tell you.”

 

“I guess I’m still a little in shock that I seem to have become friends with a, a millionaire—”

 

“Billionaire,” Chris interjects.

 

“Seriously?” Eduardo squeaks, and Chris nods. “Well, billionaire then. But that doesn’t really change anything. I mean, he’s still Mark. He still gets pissed off at people who walk slowly, and listens to me talk way too much about meteorology and economics, and eats too much candy. I still like him, probably an unhealthy amount, but don’t tell him that.”

 

Chris nods, apparently satisfied. “Good. Mark doesn’t have the greatest track record with relationships, or people in general, so be careful, okay? I don’t want to see him get hurt.”

 

“I would never—wait, are you trying to have the talk with me? Like, the threatening friend talk?”

 

“Well, I am Facebook’s PR guy. Some things can be more effective than physical intimidation.” Chris gets this little smile on his face and raises one eyebrow, and it’s actually frightening. It’s not like Eduardo has a public life or reputation or anything to ruin, but he somehow gets the feeling Chris could ruin it anyways, in his sleep.

 

“I swear, I would never hurt Mark. Not intentionally. I—he means a lot to me.”

 

“Well, then. I’ll see you around, Eduardo,” Chris says easily, and he takes his groceries and leaves before Eduardo can muster up a reply.

 

--------------------------------

 

Chris is not as subtle as he thinks he is. So when he walks into Mark’s office and spares a considering glance at the wall of windows that look out into the bullpen before sitting down on the other side of his desk, Mark gears himself up for a difficult conversation. Chris not only has his Serious Business face on, with bonus sides of worry and puzzlement, he doesn’t usually care if their occasional confrontations have witnesses—he thinks it’s good for the employees to know their CEO is human and sometimes makes mistakes and gets yelled at—so the fact that he even thought about closing the blinds means that this is definitely not a conversation Mark wants to have. Finally, Chris is looking at him like he doesn’t quite know where to start, and Chris is never at a loss for words. He’s been living and breathing Facebook PR for so long, Mark suspects he even writes out the lectures he gives Mark whenever he screws something up for maximum effect, clarity, and efficiency. And Chris and Mark could probably have one of their try-to-be-a-real-boy-and-not-a-coding-robot conversations in their sleep at this point, so it’s not that either. Mark is just starting to get worried that something finally broke Chris—worried both at the prospect of a broken Chris and about the absolute disaster that could have broken him—when Chris finally speaks up.

 

“You look like death, Mark. You should have stayed home.”

 

“I stayed home sick for the last two days, and I was going crazy. And I feel better,” Mark starts to say before he erupts in a coughing fit. Traitors, he thinks at his lungs. Chris just raises an eyebrow. “Anyways,” Mark continues, “I’m busy. Doing important CEO things,” and he turns back to the paperwork on his desk. It’s just contracts he needs to sign—CEO busywork he’ll never get used to—and Chris knows it.

 

“If you were actually interested in what you’re doing, it would have taken me at least two more tries to get your attention,” Chris says.

 

“Fine,” Mark sighs. “I know you didn’t come here to lecture me about my health again, because you did that enough yesterday. So what do you want?”

 

“Why didn’t you tell Eduardo you’re the CEO of Facebook?”

 

Mark freezes. He knew this wasn’t going to be a fun conversation, but he had never imagined Chris would ambush him with this. He presses his lips together and spins his chair a little to stare at the corner of his desk.

 

“Come on Mark, really? You’re not going to talk about this?” Chris huffs out an exasperated sigh and ruffles a hand through his hair. “Think of it as practice. I bet Eduardo’s going to want to talk about it at your next little grocery store date.”

 

“They’re not—wait, he knows?”

 

“Yeah, he knows. How did you think I knew that he didn’t know? Before I told him, that is.”

 

“You told him?” Mark bites out, spinning back to glare at Chris.

 

“It just happened! Accidentally. It’s not like I knew that you hadn’t told him that you invented Facebook! Jesus, Mark, you usually can’t wait to pull that card. And with the way Dustin was practically puking rainbows and planning your wedding last week, how was I supposed to know Eduardo didn’t know what you do every day for a living?

 

Mark deflates. “What am I supposed to say? You’re right and I screwed up? I know I should have told him. I should have told him the truth when I said I worked with computers. But I didn’t, and I can’t change that no matter how much you yell at me. So can you please just—stop? Believe me, I’ve already yelled at myself enough. Now, I’m busy, and I’m sure you have important things to do, so can you go do them? Preferably somewhere else.”

 

Chris does not leave, in the surprise of the century, but Mark has had years of practice in ignoring his significant looks, so he simply turns back to signing paperwork, if a little more forcefully than before. After a tense minute, Chris breaks.

 

“Mark, look, I’m sorry that I accidentally told Eduardo that you invented Facebook. But I did, and he knows, so now we need to plan a course of action.”

 

Mark rolls his eyes. “I didn’t molest him or anything, so there’s really no need to pull out your precious NDAs.”

 

“What—NDAs—Mark, what are you talking about?”

 

“Course of action? I assume that’s what you meant. After all, that’s your job, right? Clean up after my fuck-ups.”

 

Chris crumples in on himself a little. “Mark, no. First off, that’s not—that’s not what I do. Okay, yes, as head of Facebook PR it does fall to me to—smooth things over sometimes, but that’s not—and anyways, second, you did not fuck this up. I promise. By course of action, I meant how we are going to get him to date you.”

 

Mark can’t help himself from looking up at Chris, and he’s past caring to hide the hope and surprise on his face as Chris’ words echo in his head. “You think I still have a chance?”

 

Chris grins. “Maybe. But probably not without my help. I already knew you were emotionally constipated, and after talking to Eduardo yesterday, I don’t know if he’ll ever get the guts to make a move. So obviously you need a solid plan, and luckily you have at your disposal Chris Hughes, ‘Most Awesomest Planner,’ according to the plaque on my desk.”

 

Mark grimaces at the memory of Dustin armed with a label-maker. It was a harrowing two days before Chris finally managed to confiscate it while Dustin was napping in the game room. They still sometimes find more misspelled, asinine labels on random objects around the office.

 

“You already have a plan, don’t you?”

 

“Oh yeah. You’re going to call him, apologize for lying, and ask him out on a date.”

 

Mark waits to hear the rest, which doesn’t come. “Wait, that’s it?” he finally asks.

 

“Yes, that’s it. He’s pretty stupid for you, so it won’t take much groveling. Honestly, I’m not sure it will take any groveling, but you still should, it’s good form.”

 

“I don’t even have his phone number,” Mark says petulantly.

 

“You forget that I know you all too well,” Chris says, and he slaps a post-it note on Mark’s desk. Mark picks it up, his thumb tracing the ten digits on it.

 

“How did you get this?” he asks.

 

Chris just gets this smug grin and nods towards Mark’s desk phone. “Call him.”

 

“Okay, I will.” He turns back to his paperwork, but Chris doesn’t leave. “What, right now?” Mark asks.

 

“Yes, right now, because otherwise I know you’ll talk yourself out of it.” When Mark still doesn’t make a move towards his phone, Chris does, grabbing the post-it note out of Mark’s hand and punching it into the handset. Halfway through, he pauses and sighs.

 

“Mark, you know I’m not trying to be a dick about this. I like Eduardo, and you seem really happy whenever you talk about him. For the last few years, your main emotions have hovered somewhere between coding and stressed out. You were happy when we got Thiel’s investment and when we hit a million members, and even that only lasted until Sean fucked up. You’ve done this huge, amazing thing. Facebook’s good, Mark, it’s thriving and it’s not going anywhere. You deserve something good just for yourself.” He finishes dialing and puts it on speaker.

 

“Speaker, really?” Mark says as the phone starts ringing, but Chris just gives him one of his evil little shrug and grin combos, and then Eduardo picks up.

 

“Hello, this is Eduardo.”

 

“Hi, Eduardo, it’s Mark. From the grocery store.”

 

“Mark? What’s up? Um, also, how did you get this number?”

 

“I got it from Chris, and I don’t even want to know how he got it.”

 

“Right, yeah, probably for the best.” Eduardo sounds a little nervous.

 

“Do you want to have dinner with me?” Mark says in a rush. He looks at Chris, who’s mouthing apologize at him. “I want—I need to talk to you, and I want to apologize, but I want to do it in person.”

 

“Yeah, yes of course, sure, Mark. Is tonight too soon? I have a night off.”

 

 “No, tonight’s perfect. I can pick you up at seven.”

 

“Sure, I’ll send you my address on Facebook.” There’s a funny noise on the other end, like Eduardo fumbled his phone. “I—I mean—”

 

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Mark says, and then they both pause.

 

“Mark, you’re—is this—this is a date, right?” Eduardo finally says, and Mark smiles helplessly at Chris.

 

“Yes. If you want it to be,” he replies.

 

“Good. I mean, yes, I do. I’ll see you at seven?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll see you at seven. Bye, Wardo.” Chris hangs up the phone, then throws his arms up in some kind of victory wave, but Mark doesn’t even care. Chris finally gets up to leave, but right before he walks out the door Mark speaks up.

 

“Look, Chris. Thank you. For making me do this.”

 

Chris smiles softly. “You’re welcome. And good luck tonight,” he replies, and then walks out, leaving Mark smiling at his paperwork, finally letting himself think about Eduardo.

 

Mark gets a Facebook message less than five minutes later with an address and a phone number, signed Can’t wait :) –E. He barely gets anything done the rest of the day, too excited and nervous to focus. He tries to wire in during the afternoon and only sort of succeeds; he writes some good code, but he’s hyper-aware of the time, panicking every half hour or so that he’ll lose track of how long he’s been working and accidentally stand Eduardo up. But he doesn’t, and he manages to sneak out of the office at 5:30.

 

He drives home, takes a quick shower and then still has 45 minutes before he has to leave. He ends up sitting on his bed with his laptop, shirtless—he spent three minutes staring at his closet and then gave up before the feeling that he was a ridiculous teenage girl got to be too much—just dicking around on the internet. He checks a few webcomics and starts an argument about, like, global warming or something with a douchebag on some random forum just to burn off some of his nervous energy.

 

Finally, he looks at the clock again and realizes he needs to leave now, and then he has to try to button up the first shirt he grabs out of his closet while brushing his teeth and tying his shoes—no matter what Dustin says, Mark does know enough to not wear his flip-flops on a fucking first date—all at the same time.

 

He has to speed a little on the way over, but he manages to pull up to Eduardo’s apartment building at 6:58. Eduardo actually lives only about fifteen minutes away from Mark, but it’s definitely a different part of town. It’s not a bad neighborhood, just a bit more run-down than Mark’s, where most people have either owned their houses for a few decades or are on the generously wealthy side of upper middle class. But quite a few of the apartments in Eduardo’s building have window boxes with flowers, and there are two plastic trikes in the grass, and it looks nice—the kind of place where you can ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar or to watch your kid for ten minutes while you run to the corner store. Mark doesn’t really know what to do with his neighbors and their invitations to dinner parties and wine tastings, offered in the awkward moments when he is getting his mail or caught watering the hostas his mom planted when she helped him move in.

 

Mark sits in his car until the clock ticks over to seven exactly, then pulls out his phone and carefully dials the number he entered into his contacts that afternoon. It rings three times before Eduardo picks up with a breathless “Hello?”

 

“Wardo, hey. It’s Mark. I’m outside your building. Um, you didn’t give me your apartment number, so I’m just sitting in my car. Whenever you’re ready.”

 

“Cool, just give me one minute and I’ll be right down.”

 

Mark almost hangs up—he hates goodbyes, especially superfluous ones—but instead says, “Okay, see you soon.”

 

“Yeah,” Eduardo replies, and he sounds like he does when he can’t stop his stupid smile from spreading all over the place. “Okay, one minute,” he adds, then hangs up on Mark.

 

Mark’s not counting, but it feels simultaneously like half a second and five years before the door to Eduardo’s building bangs open. Mark’s mouth goes dry as he takes in the fit of Eduardo’s dark jeans and the line of his open collar, black against his golden skin. He should probably get out and open the car door for him or something, but he can’t exactly think at the moment, let alone move. He had already known the effect Eduardo’s general attractiveness had on him, but now, out of his uniform and about to go on a date with Mark, with all the possibilities that implies, he is unfairly perfect.

 

Eduardo climbs in the car; Mark probably should have thought about this more, because he says, “Hello, Eduardo,” weirdly formal and awkward as hell, especially considering the fact that he’s still gripping the steering wheel with an almost white-knuckle grip. Eduardo’s smile slips for a moment, but then it turns softer, indulgent.

 

“Hello, Mark,” he says back. Mark is about to turn back front when Eduardo raises his eyebrows a bit and adds, “Mark Zuckerberg,” because of course, all Mark’s ever wanted is yet another person who won’t put up with his bullshit.

 

Mark can tell the back of his neck is getting flushed, but he manages to keep the rest of his embarrassment under wraps. He thinks. Eduardo is grinning obnoxiously though, so probably not, after all. “Can we just wait until dinner? I promise I will explain—no, apologize. And explain, but Chris has told me more times than I want to remember that explanations are not apologies. Normally I don’t care, but this time I really do have something to apologize for, and I need to do it right. Not sitting in my car, which I probably should have cleaned up a bit before I picked you up.”  Because Mark is just now noticing that there is a mess of receipts and change in one of the cup holders and an empty Mountain Dew can in the other, and his backseat is covered in map books, CD wallets, what may or may not be important paperwork, and even a couple hoodies tangled together around one of those ice scraper-brush things, and why does he even have one of those, it doesn’t even snow in California. Okay, he’s probably a lot more nervous than he let himself feel before.

 

He starts a little when Eduardo lays a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Mark, it’s okay. Just breathe, and then we can go eat and talk, and everything will be okay. All right?”

 

Mark breathes, in and out, and then again, before unclenching his hands from the steering wheel and starting his car. Eduardo nods, making an approving noise, turns to buckle his seatbelt, and then they’re off. To their first date.

 

During the drive to the restaurant—Mexican, good food but not particularly fancy—they chat about little things, almost-but-not-quite small talk that would probably be awkward if not for Eduardo’s seeming ability to defuse any weird tension. He’s cheerful and earnest, and it’s infectious. By the time the waitress comes by to take their drink orders, Mark feels as comfortable as he always did sitting with Eduardo during his breaks at Safeway.

 

Once the waitress has come back and taken their orders, Eduardo doesn’t waste any time. “So, you’re Mark Zuckerberg, the young genius creator of Facebook, the most popular social-networking website in existence.”

 

Mark winces. “Well, when you say it like that,” he tries to joke, but it falls flat. It’s almost like Eduardo’s flipped a switch from having fun to Serious Conversation. He doesn’t look particularly angry, though, which gives Mark the courage to continue. “I really am sorry. I’m sorry I misled—no, lied to you. I shouldn’t have done that.”

 

“I guess I just don’t understand why you lied. I mean, the first time, whatever; it would have been worse if you led with that. But when you said you worked with computers and just let me assume that you were, like, some flunky programmer—that, I don’t get.”

 

“I just—you have no idea how nice it felt to have someone that didn’t see me as the ‘young genius’ creator of Facebook. I could just be a regular guy with you. I didn’t even have to think about Facebook if I didn’t want to. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but for the past three years, my life has basically consisted of Facebook and sleep. I mean, I hang out with Chris and Dustin a lot, but they both work for Facebook too. I think I needed a break. I was a naïve kid when I started Facebook, and I never realized how much work it takes to run a company. I can’t just hole up in my dorm room for days and wire in anymore. At Safeway with you, even if it was just for half an hour once a week, I could turn that part of my brain off and just listen to you talk about storm patterns or whatever.”

 

Eduardo nods thoughtfully. “I guess I get that. And I forgive you, obviously, even though I felt like an idiot after Chris told me. It’s just—you know I don’t care, right? Not like—I care what you do, obviously, but it doesn’t change my opinion of you, for worse or for better.”

 

Mark takes a sharp breath. Now that he’s heard Eduardo say it, he can finally admit that his nerves hadn’t been because of the date, per se, but he was worried that Eduardo would treat him differently now that he knew. Mark has met plenty of tech groupies, if that’s even a thing, and they always weird him out. But now that he thinks over the hour or so and the phone conversation they had that morning, Mark realizes that Eduardo had never given him the shining eyes or breathless praise that was never for Mark himself, but for what he did. Mark never thought he would say this, but mindless adoration has gotten a bit tiring. Eduardo talked to him—is talking to him—like Mark is a real person, not just the brain behind a website.

 

“Thank you,” he says, not even quite sure what for, but Eduardo seems to get it. He smiles softly and grabs Mark’s hand from where he’s fidgeting with the corner of his napkin, giving it a quick, light squeeze.

 

At that moment, in either the best or worst display of timing ever, Mark can’t decide, the waitress comes back with their food and the moment is broken. Eduardo takes his hand back and the next few minutes are filled with eating and appreciative sounds. After their initial enthusiasm has worn off a little, Eduardo restarts the conversation, apparently satisfied with their Serious Talk.

 

“Did you know you can predict the price of oil just by paying attention to the weather? Someone could make a lot of money that way.” Eduardo looks down at his plate and takes another bite before looking up at Mark again with a proud grin. “I actually tracked it a couple summers ago. With the numbers I was fooling around with, I would have made three hundred grand.”

 

Mark whistles. “Why don’t you?”

 

“Mark, I work at a grocery store. I don’t exactly have a couple thousand just lying around waiting for me to invest it.”

 

“I know that, Wardo. I meant, like, in the future. When you do have money to invest. I’m sure you would be a great investor.”

 

Eduardo looks away. “You really think so?”

 

“I would let you invest my money.” Eduardo looks back at him, vulnerable and open. “Wardo, you’re one of the smartest people I know. You read The Economist and The Wall Street Journal religiously. I don’t know why you’re wasting your time at Safeway, you could do anything you want.”

 

Eduardo’s face shuts down and Mark gets the floaty, hot feeling in his stomach he always gets when he knows he said something wrong but can’t quite figure out what yet.

 

“It’s not that simple, Mark,” Eduardo replies. “Not all of us can make up revolutionary websites in our Harvard dorm room, and most investment firms don’t make a habit of hiring college dropouts.”

 

“You can go back,” Mark shrugs.

 

Eduardo raises an eyebrow. “I’m planning on it. That’s what the job at Safeway is for. Well, after rent, groceries, you know, the things I spend most of my paycheck on. College isn’t cheap, Mark, especially not—not where I want to go.”

 

Mark opens his mouth and stops. He looks down at his plate and sighs. “I’m being an asshole about this, aren’t I?” He looks up at Eduardo again, who stops looking angry and grins ruefully instead.

 

“Yeah, you kind of are.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Mark says softly, fighting his impulse to look away. Eduardo snorts and starts honest-to-god giggling, running a hand over his face.

 

“God, you look like a kicked puppy, stop it. It’s okay, I know what people think of my job. I—” He stops, looks away, and bites his lip. He takes a deep breath, and wipes his hands on his thighs nervously before turning back to Mark. “I went to Stanford for a year.”

 

“You what?” Mark isn’t surprised, exactly. Eduardo had mentioned before that he had briefly gone to college, but Mark had no idea it had been Stanford. He isn’t surprised; he knows Eduardo would have been successful at college in the way that Mark never really was—classes, extracurriculars, social groups, all of it.

 

“I had to take an ‘extended leave of absence,’ but it feels pretty permanent at the moment. I can’t just go to community college, though, not after that. My father—it was always—” Eduardo stops again to collect himself, and this time it’s Mark’s turn to put his fork down and reach for Eduardo’s hand. “When I was eight, we moved from Brazil to Miami. About a year after that, my father made some bad investments and we lost a lot of money. We moved out here to start over, but we never got back to the same place we were. When I graduated high school, I was lucky enough to get a partial scholarship at Stanford, and it was just barely enough to make it possible. It was—amazing, everything I had hoped for, and I really thought—” Eduardo broke off and shut his eyes tightly for a minute.

 

“You don’t have to—” Mark starts, but Eduardo shakes his head.

 

“It’s okay, I—I want to tell you.” He takes another breath, seems to brace himself, and begins again. “The summer after my freshman year, my mother got sick. Basically, it came down to tuition or hospital bills, and by the time she—she passed away, I was working at Safeway and supporting myself so my parents wouldn’t have to worry about it on top of everything else.”

 

“Shit, Eduardo. I’m sorry.” Mark hates the inadequacy of his response, but he can’t think of anything else to say.

 

“It’s fine. It’s been a couple years, and—I’m not over it, obviously, but I can talk about it. And I want you to know.” He sniffs, then huffs out a weak laugh. “This is probably the heaviest first date I’ve ever been on.”

 

Mark tries to smile. “If you count all the times I sat with you on your breaks, this is probably date seven or eight.”

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“I wanted them to be,” Mark says, surprising himself with his frank honesty. Eduardo doesn’t say anything, but his face lights up, and Mark can’t help but return the smile.

 

The rest of their meal passes uneventfully. They settle into easy conversation, trading stories and bad jokes. Eduardo bumps his foot against Mark’s under the table to emphasize his particularly terrible punch lines, and the last time he does it he leaves it there. They get coffee and a slice of chocolate cake for dessert, but both of them are too full to do much besides pick at it. When they finally get the check, Eduardo moves for his wallet, but Mark stops him with a look.

 

Eduardo grabs Mark’s hand as they walk to where he parked on the street and doesn’t let go when they reach the car.  He settles against the passenger door and slides his hand up to Mark’s wrist, reeling him in close with a slight tug.

 

“I had a really nice time,” he says, soft and serious. Mark might laugh at how cliché it all is, but he’s too caught up in the warmth radiating from Eduardo’s body and the warmth in his dark eyes. Mark watches as they flicker briefly downwards, and he can’t stand it any longer. Mark fits his fingers along Eduardo’s jawline and presses upwards to meet his mouth. Eduardo’s lips part beneath his and they are soft and warm, and it is the most perfect kiss Mark could ever imagine. It’s short, not much more than a brief press of lips, but when he pulls back, Eduardo’s smile takes over his entire face and Mark ducks his head.

 

Eduardo gives Mark’s hand one last squeeze as Mark steps back and around to the driver’s side of the car. They both get in, but Mark catches Eduardo’s eye as they’re buckling their seatbelts and they just kind of smile helplessly at each other for a minute before Mark finally starts the car. Later, he doesn’t remember anything from the drive to Eduardo’s apartment. They keep glancing at each other, and at one red light Eduardo reaches up and grabs Mark’s right hand from the steering wheel, tangling their fingers together against the gearshift. Mark’s glad, because it gives him something to hold on to so he doesn’t reach up to touch his lips in disbelief like some chick in a teen movie after getting kissed for the first time.

 

When Mark parks the car outside Eduardo’s building, it’s Eduardo who pulls him in without hesitation, capturing Mark’s lips in a kiss that starts sweet but quickly turns heated. Mark’s breath hitches as Eduardo licks into his mouth. His tongue is slick and hot and Mark can’t get enough, but the gearshift is digging into his stomach where he’s leaning across the center console. More importantly, Mark isn’t sure if he wants this to go any further tonight. He’s never been patient, but the night has gone so well, he wants to keep it perfect. He might actually turn into a walking cliché for thinking it, but Eduardo is worth the wait. Even before he made it Facebook’s motto, Mark’s always been a move fast and break thingskind of guy, but he wants to be careful with this, so even though it takes all of his self-control, he pulls back after a few minutes.

 

“Do you want to come up?” Eduardo breathes, and oh god, he does, but.

 

“Next time?” Mark counters, and Eduardo kisses him hard and quick, looking even happier.

 

“Next time,” he repeats back, and climbs out of the car. He pauses with one hand on the open door and one on the roof of the car, bending down to look at Mark again. “Call me tomorrow?” he asks with a hint of uncertainty, as if Mark might not want to see him tomorrow, or the next day, or basically every day as long as it’s physically possible. It’s only the end of their first real date and Mark is already addicted to the slick press of Eduardo’s mouth against his, how his eyes crinkle up when he smiles, his habit of talking with ever-more expansive gestures when he talks about anything he cares about from economic theory to the Weather Channel and Lord of the Rings.

 

“Of course I’ll call you tomorrow. That’s not even a question,” Mark replies.

 

Eduardo laughs a little. “Okay. Well then, good night, Mark,” he says as he straightens up and starts to shut the door.

 

“Night, Wardo,” he replies. Mark stays to make sure Eduardo gets into his building okay, so he sees it perfectly when he does this goofy spin move as he opens his door and goes inside. Mark laughs quietly as he shifts out of park, already looking forward to tomorrow.

 

Unfortunately, the next day brings Dustin bursting into his office just before lunch. He flops down in the chair opposite Mark’s desk, clutching his chest in exaggerated something—it’s Dustin, who knows.

 

“I am betrayed,” he cries. Mark rolls his eyes. “No, seriously. You went on a date with your grocery store hottie and I find out from Chris—not even our Chris, but Chris from Accounting. That is the opposite of chill, dude.”

 

Mark rolls his eyes again, but then the rest of Dustin’s comment sinks in. “Wait, Chris from Accounting knows I went on a date with Wardo?” Dustin’s eyes fill with unholy glee at the nickname, but before he can say anything, Chris—real Chris—walks in and slams the door behind him.

 

“Whoa there Chris, Mark’s becoming a real boy. We should be encouraging that, not punishing him, or whatever that face is for, that is not a good face. And yeah, I have no idea how he knew, which brings me back to the original point. Why does other-Chris know you went on a date yesterday when I, your oldest and best friend, had no idea you even got past stammering at him through a haze of oblivious lust?”

 

“I think you mispronounced ‘youngest’ there. Because you’re an infant,” Mark half-heartedly quips, but his attention is redirected when Chris yanks his laptop from him and turns it around, typing furiously. Dustin’s mouthing eight days at Mark, but he stops and his eyes grow wide as he looks at what Chris is doing. Mark understands his shock when Chris turns the computer back to face Mark.

 

He has a Valleywag article pulled up with the headline “Mark Zuckerberg Changes Relationship Status?” and a pictures of him and Eduardo outside the restaurant the night before. Mark skims the article quickly before scrolling more carefully through the pictures. They don’t have any actual information, it’s all speculation about Mark and the “unknown man” with him. The pictures are pretty damning, though. They have one of them holding hands leaving the restaurant and another of them next to the car. They didn’t post a picture of them kissing, though Mark is sure they must have one if they have these, but Mark’s hand is on Eduardo’s face and Eduardo’s hand is circling Mark’s other wrist; their bodies are tilted toward each other and it’s obvious enough.

 

It’s an incredibly sweet picture, actually, if you ignore the fact that it was taken by a creepy paparazzo. It’s close enough that you can distinguish their expressions, a mixture of radiant happiness and anticipation on both of their faces.

 

“What do you want me to do, Mark?” Chris asks, breaking him out of his reverie.

 

“What do you mean?” Mark can’t even think right now.

 

“We can issue a statement, if you want. We could try to sue them, but you don’t exactly have the best track record with lawsuits. I could definitely get the article taken down, but it’s been up for a few hours by now, so that would probably make it worse. I could probably get whoever wrote the article fired.” Chris pauses, but Mark doesn’t answer. “I should get whoever wrote that headline fired, I’d be doing them a favor,” he mutters in disgust after a minute.

 

That surprises a grim bark of laughter out of Dustin. “God, it’s fucking awful, isn’t it?”

 

“No comment,” Mark finally says.

 

“Wait, you don’t actually think it’s a good headline, do you?” Dustin asks incredulously.

 

“No, you idiot. I don’t care about the fucking headline. No comment on the article, on all of it. That’s how I want you to handle this,” Mark says to Chris.

 

“Are you sure? I mean, this is a pretty big deal, it’s not going to just go away if you don’t say anything. Especially if you keep dating Eduardo.”

 

“Look, I don’t want to be a poster boy and I do not want Eduardo dragged into the spotlight. He didn’t sign up for it and it’s not fair to him at all. So no comment, on any of it.”

 

“Okay. We can do that. Just, be careful, okay?” Mark can almost see Chris switch from PR Mode into Friend Mode, and all of his anger—at Valleywag, not at Mark, he only now realizes—melts away into concern. “And if you ever need to talk about anything, you know where to find me.”

 

Mark rolls his eyes. “Yeah, in my office, apparently. Now get out of here, both of you. I have work to do.”

 

“Okay, okay, we get the picture,” Dustin whines as he bounces out of his chair and towards the door. Chris follows him, but Mark stops him before he leaves.

 

“Chris, I’m fine, I promise. This isn’t exactly how I would have liked like the day after our first date to go, but I can deal with it. It would have come out eventually, but I had hoped we would have more time. I just—Eduardo doesn’t deserve to have his life examined and dragged through the press simply because I got him to go on a date with me.”

 

“No, he doesn’t. I’ll do my best.”

 

“You always do.”

 

Chris smiles softly. “You know, you’re a good guy, Mark, even if you try not to be.”

 

“Oh, fuck off,” Mark says, and Chris grins.

 

“Right, fucking off now,” he says, and finally, finally leaves Mark in peace. If he uses that blessed quiet to save the two pictures to his desktop and stare at them until he’s memorized every last detail, well, he’s CEO, bitch, he can do what he wants.

 

--------------------------------

 

Mark calls Eduardo at around six the day after their first date to invite him over. He says he wants to stay in tonight, and Eduardo can’t help himself.

 

“Do you mean stay in, or stay in?” he asks, complete with an eyebrow wiggle for no one’s benefit but his own, since Mark can’t see him over the phone.

 

Mark chokes for a second, but bravely answers, “Um, both?”

 

Eduardo severely underestimated the effect hearing that would have on him. “Yeah, okay. That sounds good,” he says, just barely keeping his voice from breaking.

 

He drives over to Mark’s house later that night. They do stay in, ordering takeout and watching a movie. Then they stay in, and it’s pretty damn incredible. Eduardo had thought Mark might be a little awkward in bed, just like he’s a little awkward and distracted everywhere else, but he is, in fact, the opposite of awkward. It’s not perfect, of course—first times with a new partner never are—but having Mark’s all-or-nothing focus one hundred percent on him is just about the hottest thing Eduardo’s ever experienced. Plus, Mark’s hands are basically porn, not to mention his mouth (and yes, Mark confirmed Eduardo’s suspicions about his oral fixation, quite enthusiastically).

 

They repeat the night a few days later when Eduardo gets another night off, and then again the day after that. Mark comes to Safeway a lot, now, during almost every one of Eduardo’s shifts. Mark comes around dinnertime with his laptop and sit in the café and work until Eduardo’s break comes up. They eat dinner together, and when Eduardo’s break is up, Mark goes home. If Eduardo isn’t too tired after his shift, sometimes he goes to Mark’s when he gets out so they can be together for a couple hours before Eduardo goes home for the night. It’s been less than two weeks and they’re already developing a routine, but it’s comfortable and easy, and it’s been awhile since Eduardo has had something this nice.

 

Christy comes into the store one day and immediately corners Eduardo in the break room. “Why didn’t you tell me he was famous, you idiot?” she yells, hitting him in the chest, harder than is warranted.

 

“I—what? What are you talking about?” Christy drags him into their manager’s office where she kicks Darryl off the computer and pulls up a weeks-old article about him and Mark on some tech gossip site. It’s surreal, seeing pictures of them and trying to understand why people would even care about such a thing, but he laughs it off. The next time he sees Mark, he teases him about being too famous for Eduardo, but it falls flat and Mark gets quiet and weird for a while.

 

A couple weeks later, Eduardo is at Mark’s house when Chris and Dustin show up unexpectedly. Mostly unexpectedly.  “I should have expected it,” Mark mutters as he stalks into the kitchen to find a bottle opener.

 

“It’s okay, I like them,” Eduardo replies easily. He turns Mark around and kisses him, running his hands up and down Mark’s arms soothingly, until Mark is kissing him back soft and pliant. Mark pulls back and rests his forehead against Eduardo’s shoulder for a second, then sighs and walks back into the other room, Eduardo following close behind.

 

Mark chucks the opener at Chris, who catches it easily and says, “Mark, I forgot to ask you earlier. Are you driving to the thing on Friday, or do I need to get you and Eduardo a car?”

 

“What thing?” Eduardo starts to ask, but Mark interrupts.

 

“I’m driving, but I’m taking Lauren as my plus-one, so you might need to get her a car.”

 

“Oh. Okay, then. I’ll ask her,” Chris says. He’s too much of a PR man to show much surprise, but Dustin has no such compunction.

 

“You’re not taking Eduardo? I thought that dating somebody implied they would have a permanent place as, you know, your date to things,” he says. Eduardo’s starting to feel uncomfortable as well as confused. The number of significant glances being tossed around the room alone would make anyone feel uncomfortable.

 

“Eduardo’s working on Friday night,” Mark says, sounding defensive. “Right Eduardo?” he asks, finally looking at him for the first time since Chris spoke up.

 

“Yeah, I am, but I can try to get someone to cover for me if you need me to. What’s happening on Friday?”

 

“Don’t bother, it’s just a party for some of the investors. They’re boring and pointless and they happen way too often. There’s no point in subjecting you to it. Lauren’s my assistant and she gets paid to be there.” It rings true, but something in Mark’s face gives Eduardo the feeling that it’s not the only reason Mark didn’t tell him about this party sooner.

 

Now that he thinks about it, Eduardo’s pretty sure that in the month since their first date, he can count the number of times they have gone out on one hand, with a couple fingers to spare. He and Mark have spent a lot of time together, but they usually hang out at Mark’s house, or whenever Mark stops by the grocery store. Eduardo is starting to feel like the secret boyfriend that Mark’s trying to hide, and it’s not a good feeling.

 

It all comes to a head another couple weeks after the party incident.

 

Angie, one of the night shift workers, catches a nasty flu from her niece, so Eduardo works doubles for a week. He gets one of the high schoolers to cover the first half of his shift a couple times, but even then he’s at the store from eight until six in the morning. He usually doesn’t mind picking up people’s shifts, even overnight shifts—they mess with his sleep schedule for a while after, but it’s worth it for the extra cash that can go straight into his Stanford fund—but now he has Mark, and a week of overnight shifts means a week of barely seeing Mark. Mark’s not the most dedicated sleeper, but even he can’t wait up until six in the morning to meet Eduardo, then wake up to go to work three or four hours later. They text, once Eduardo wakes up in the afternoon and whenever he can grab a minute at the register, and Mark comes by the store a couple times, but it’s not enough. Eduardo feels ridiculous, because it’s been barely over a month since their first official date, and he’s already pining pathetically, in Christy’s words, after only a week of no Mark.

 

So when he drags himself into work on Friday, dead on his feet from a week of shitty and insufficient sleep, to find a healthy Angie in the break room with a sheepish smile and an offer to take his shift as well as hers that night, his thoughts go something like Mark. No, sleep, then Mark. And that’s what he does.

 

He goes home and naps for a few glorious hours. He wakes up a little before eight and takes a shower to get rid of the lingering fuzziness from his nap. The prospect of seeing Mark proves to be too promising, though, so he gets out before he’s completely awake and throws on jeans and whatever t-shirt is on top in the drawer. It’s not like they’re going to go anywhere fancy; they rarely go out as it is, and right now Eduardo just wants to cuddle—well, as much as Mark will tolerate it—and watch a movie or something.

 

He drives to Mark’s, stopping by the hole-in-the-wall Chinese place he knows Mark likes on the way. When he gets to Mark’s house, he’s surprised to see a big black SUV in the driveway next to Mark’s Prius and spares a moment to wonder if he should have called ahead first, but he shakes it off and just parks in the street. They haven’t traded keys or anything—not that Eduardo ever really enjoys having Mark over at his shitty apartment—but Mark has told him more than once to feel free to come over whenever, I’m never really busy when I’m not at the office, which in Mark-speak is practically the same thing. Mark hates when people invade his personal space, so to have an open invitation to his home is a big deal; the only other people Eduardo has seen at Mark’s house are Chris and Dustin.

 

So while the big SUV in the driveway should have clued him in, he’s still surprised when the doorbell is not answered by Mark, but by an unfamiliar blonde guy in a tight black t-shirt, jeans, and a fitted blazer. The guy looks him over quickly in confusion before his eyes snag on the bag of food in Eduardo’s hand.

 

“I think you have the wrong house. We didn’t order anything,” he says and starts to shut the door.

 

“No, wait,” Eduardo starts, and the guy stops closing the door, but he doesn’t open it any farther and moves so he’s blocking the doorway even more. “Is Mark here?” His voice trails off a little as he realizes what an idiotic question it is, and the guy’s face gets a little sharper.

 

“Is he expecting you?”

 

“No, not really. I mean—I’m Eduardo, I’m Mark’s—we’re dating,” he finishes lamely. He’s still a little groggy from his nap, and he wasn’t expecting to have to explain himself.

 

The guy starts smirking and finally opens the door the rest of the way, ushering Eduardo in with an over-the-top gesture. “Well, come on in, I’m sure you’re welcome. I’m Sean Parker,” he says, offering his hand to Eduardo, who shakes it with a growing sense of foreboding.

 

The thing is, Mark’s told him stories about Sean. He told him about how they first met—how Sean somehow found the site and found Mark, and then took him and Chris out to dinner, dizzying them with nonstop chatter about fame and success and a billion dollars. He’s told him about the early days of Facebook, how they had to take out loans and borrow money from their parents to live off ramen until Mark’s serendipitous second run-in with Sean (that story took a long time, since Dustin felt the need to interrupt with a so-called brilliant rendition of his zipline prowess, and then they had to clean up the lamp that was an unfortunate casualty before Mark could finish the story), and how Sean got them the angel investment that allowed them to eat real food and get a real office, and basically allowed Facebook to live past that first summer. And finally, Mark’s told him about the night of the million-member party, and the chain of similar fuck-ups that followed. It’s only been a couple years since, but Mark’s initial anger and disappointment—which he admits was aimed as much at himself for getting so caught up in the image Sean was projecting as at Sean himself—seems to have mostly faded into a kind of resigned fondness. Sean’s role in the company has been solely nominal for a while, but Eduardo knows that Mark still thinks of him as a friend, and that they hang out sometimes. Eduardo doesn’t exactly approve, especially after he did his own bit of googling after Mark first mentioned him, but he can’t really say anything. Sean is Mark’s friend, and after all, Eduardo’s never actually met him—until now, that is. Mark’s never offered to introduce Eduardo to Sean, but it seems as if it’s going to happen anyways, no matter what anyone wants.

 

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Sean. I’ve heard a lot about you,” Eduardo says, trying to convey I know who you are and I’m not impressed without having to actually say it.

 

Sean’s smarmy grin grows even bigger. “Is that so? You know what I’ve heard about you?” Eduardo gets a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that grows when Sean leans in and whispers, “Nothing.”

 

Before Eduardo can react, Mark walks in from the living room, absently twirling a Red Vine in one hand. His face lights up when he sees Eduardo, and the sick feeling starts to abate, especially when Mark greets him, sounding like finding Eduardo in his hallway is the best surprise he could imagine. Mark moves in as if to kiss him hello, but at the last moment he pulls back and just punches him lightly on the shoulder, and Eduardo is back to feeling off-balance, hyper-aware of Sean standing nearby.

 

“You’re here!” Mark says.

 

“Yeah, Angie got better and she offered to work for me tonight, so I thought I’d surprise you. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting something.”

 

“No, not at all,” Sean says, cutting off Mark’s reply. “It’s good to finally meet you. We’re just having a drink before going out. I know a guy who can get us into Gush, this hot new club in San Francisco. You should come with us.”

 

Mark starts to look uncomfortable, his easy grin fading away quickly. He gives Eduardo a quick once-over that doesn’t escape anyone’s notice before replying. “We’ll go out another time, Sean. I just want to stay in tonight. Watch a movie or something. I’m sure you’re tired, Wardo, you’re probably not in the mood to go clubbing. He’s been working a lot this week,” Mark adds for Sean’s benefit.

 

Eduardo follows Mark’s eyes down at his ratty jeans and old t-shirt and can’t help but compare it to Sean’s snappy outfit. He tries to fight the dull flush of embarrassment, but his face starts to heat up despite his efforts. It’s not like he doesn’t have nice clothes, he just couldn’t be bothered to dress up. After all, he wasn’t expecting to be confronted by the only one of Mark’s friends who actually seems to care about being rich and moderately famous.

 

“Right, work. What is it you do again, Wardo? Mark must have forgotten to mention.” Sean asks.

 

Eduardo clears his throat nervously, then takes a breath and sets his shoulders. He refuses to be cowed by Sean fucking Parker. “I’m a cashier at Safeway.”

 

“He’s saving up to finish at Stanford,” Mark cuts in. “Economics. He’s going to be an incredible investor. He kind of made $300,000 on the oil futures market a couple summers ago by watching the weather channel.”

 

“Impressive,” Sean nods. “But why only kind of?”

 

“It’s not—it was just for fun. I didn’t have the cash to actually invest, so it was more of a simulation I made up than anything. Just something to pass the time,” Eduardo explains.

 

“Bagging groceries must get pretty boring, huh?”

 

“Sean, don’t,” Mark says. Eduardo wants to punch Sean’s stupid smirk off his face, because while he refuses to be ashamed of his job, he’s starting to think Mark is. It is not exactly the first time he’s thought it, but it’s the first time it has been so apparent that Mark is embarrassed.

 

“It’s fine,” Eduardo says, not really sure who he is answering. “I mean, it’s just a job, but it’s not that bad, all things considered.”

 

“Well, someone has to do it. Although, now that you’re with Mark, you probably won’t need to do it much longer, will you?” Sean’s smirk turns harder, colder. Eduardo flashes back briefly to the first time he met Chris, and all of a sudden he feels calmer. He knows this isn’t really about Sean laughing at him for working at Safeway, and he starts to relax.

 

Until Mark hisses Sean’s name again. He looks about two seconds from tearing into Sean; Eduardo isn’t sure he wants to hear what Mark would say, so he lays a hand on Mark’s shoulder and says, “Can I talk to you, Mark? Alone?” He steers Mark into the kitchen and sees Sean head back into the living room.

 

Eduardo pushes Mark into a stool at the kitchen counter and finally sets his bag of Chinese down  in front of him. He hears the television turn on in the other room as he’s getting a couple plates down from the cupboard to the left of the sink, so he turns back to Mark, who’s just staring at his clenched hands resting on the counter.

 

“What the fuck was that, Mark,” Eduardo says, finally allowing himself to get angry.

 

Mark looks up. He’s starting to look less angry and more remorseful, but Eduardo’s almost positive he is sorry for the wrong reasons. His fears are confirmed when Mark replies, “Sean’s a dick. I’m sorry, if I had known you were coming over I would have made him leave earlier.”

 

“I wasn’t talking about Sean. Yeah, he’s an asshole, but he’s just trying to be a good friend.”

 

“A good friend? A good friend wouldn’t say shit like that to my boyfriend,” Mark interjects. Eduardo can’t even feel any satisfaction at the label; he’s too busy getting abruptly sick of Mark’s bullshit.

 

“You mean the boyfriend he didn’t even know existed until I rang the doorbell? Me, the guy who works at Safeway who is apparently dating his billionaire friend who is notoriously bad at social interaction? If I were Sean, I might be a little protective too.”

 

Mark jerks back as if slapped. “Eduardo, you know I don’t think—”

 

“I don’t know what you think, Mark, and frankly, right now I don’t particularly care. I just worked a week of double shifts and I am too exhausted to do this. Have fun on your night out, I know you haven’t gotten to go out a lot recently, since I’ve been around. I’m going to go home.” Eduardo rounds the other side of the counter, brushes off Mark’s hand when he reaches towards him, and walks back into the front hallway. He pauses there, but he hadn’t had time to take off his shoes and he didn’t bring a jacket, so with a quick pocket check for his keys he heads out the door. When he gets to his car he has to turn back towards to Mark’s house to unlock his door, and he can’t help glancing up. Mark is standing on his front porch with his arms crossed, an unreadable look on his face. He opens his mouth to speak, but Eduardo cuts him off with a quick shake of his head.

 

“I’ll see you later, Mark,” he calls, and gets in his car. It starts on the third try, like always, and Eduardo’s face grows warm as he pulls away from the curb. He drives back home on autopilot and doesn’t have the energy to do anything but kick off his shoes and shuck his jeans before falling back into bed.

 

It’ll be fine. Sean will take Mark out to whatever glamorous club he was talking about, and he’ll introduce Mark to fucking models or, like, people in his own tax bracket, and then Mark can start dating someone he won’t be embarrassed about and Eduardo can go back to focusing on work, saving for Stanford, and trying not to have nightmares about wearing a green apron every day until he’s sixty.

 

It takes hours before Eduardo finally reaches a fitful sleep.

 

He wakes up the next morning when his phone rings. He grabs it off his nightstand when it refuses to stop even after Eduardo slurs a half-hearted shuddup at it. It’s Mark, of course. He turns it on silent, tosses it back onto the nightstand, and sinks back into sleep for a few more hours. When he wakes up again on his own, he feels almost hungover,  that achy, sore feeling all over. But as the events of the previous night replay in his head, he knows he will not be going back to sleep again. He grabs his phone and looks at it while he pads out to his kitchen, scratching his chest absently. Mark had only called once more after that first time, but he left a message, so Eduardo dials his voicemail on speaker, tossing his phone on the kitchen counter, and starts to make coffee.

 

Wardo, it’s Mark. I want—I don’t really know what the protocol is for fighting with your boyfriend—that was a fight, right? But I want—I need to see you. Can we talk? Call me back when you get this.

 

Eduardo hangs up as the automated voice is telling him to press seven to delete, then gives in and replays it, leaning with his hands braced against the counter. He looks at the clock; it’s just after noon. Eduardo puts it off for a while, puttering around the kitchen. He makes pancakes, even though he rarely eats anything more complicated than cereal for breakfast. But pretty soon, he has eaten and cleaned up and his phone is still sitting on the counter accusingly. He half-chickens out—sends a text instead of calling. He tells Mark to meet him at the Starbucks by the Safeway in half an hour, and Mark texts back immediately.

 

See you there, his text reads, and it’s followed by another a minute later. Thank you.

 

Eduardo looks at his phone, confused, until he thinks about some of the stories he’s heard from Chris and Dustin about Mark in college, and he thinks Mark probably hasn’t gotten a lot of second chances from other people in his life. It’s that thought that propels Eduardo into the bathroom for a quick shower, and eventually into his car to drive to Starbucks.

 

Mark is already sitting at a table when he gets there. Eduardo sees him before Mark notices him walk in, and he takes a moment to really look at him. His lips look red and kind of raw, like he’s been chewing on them all day, his leg is jiggling under the table, and he’s fidgeting with the paper cup of coffee in front of him. There’s a baseline of anxiety running under his normal calm demeanor, and it makes Eduardo want to smooth away the bags under his eyes and hug him until he relaxes, boneless, into him. He wants to take care of him, and it scares him. He has no idea how this socially awkward, usually grumpy programmer wormed his way under his skin so easily, but this goes way beyond simple attraction. Fuck,Eduardo thinks as he realizes he just might love Mark, or is at least on his way there. This certainly makes things complicated. But he can’t dwell on it, because at that moment Mark notices him and sits up. His leg stops shaking for a moment before starting up again, quicker than before.

 

Eduardo walks over to his table and sinks into the chair, grateful to get off his own shaky legs. “Hey, Mark,” he says, voice low.

 

“I missed you,” Mark replies, looking determined.

 

“It’s been 18 hours since we saw each other, Mark,” Eduardo replies. He knows he’s being obtuse, but he thinks it should be his turn to be ornery and difficult for once.

 

Mark looks a little annoyed. “You know what I mean, Wardo. Before, when you were working a lot. We barely saw each other for a week, and that’s—I missed you.”

 

“It’s called a job, Mark. I can’t exactly control the shifts I work, and I’m in no position to say no to extra shifts. Stanford, remember?” Eduardo says, feeling a little bitterness creep into his tone at the end.

Mark looks down to where his finger is tracing patterns through a bit of spilled sugar on the tabletop. “I could—” he starts.

 

“Don’t even,” Eduardo interrupts. “I know you could, but I couldn’t. I have to do this on my own, okay?” Mark is chewing at his lip again, and he doesn’t respond. “Look, we need to talk about this. It was already an issue, last night just made it clearer. It has nothing to do with Sean.”

 

“Then what is it?” Mark bursts out. “I honestly don’t know what I did wrong, so can you tell me so I can fix it?”

 

“What you did wrong?” Eduardo counters. He’ll never underestimate Mark’s obliviousness again. “You’re fucking ashamed of me, Mark. Do you know how shitty that makes me feel?”

 

Mark jerks back as if Eduardo slapped him. “What? I’m not—how could you think that?” he asks, shocked. Eduardo looks away to try and collect himself enough to explain.

 

“I don’t really talk to my father anymore. He gets sad, and—and disappointed,” he finally says, a little hesitant.

 

“He’s disappointed in you?”

 

“No, in himself. I think—I know he blames himself for what happened in Miami, even though none of it was anything anyone could expect. And seeing me reminds him of having to make the choice between my education and my mother’s life, even though it wasn’t really his decision; I would have refused to go back if he had decided the other way.” He pauses, trying to find the right words. “My father has spent the last ten years being ashamed of himself and I refuse to do that. I would give up Stanford all over again if I could have another day with my Mãe, and that last year with her was worth working at Safeway for the rest of my life, if it ends up that way.”

 

“Eduardo—”

 

“No, Mark, listen. I refuse to be embarrassed or ashamed of working a menial job. But I know that a lot of people would be, so when my new, semi-high-profile, billionaire boyfriend basically tries to be seen in public with me as little as humanly possible, I’m going to jump to some unfavorable conclusions. I know you say you don’t care that kind of stuff in private, but in public, it’s a different story. I can’t handle someone else I care about looking at me like my dad does.”

 

“Wardo, I have never been embarrassed of you—fuck, I am so sorry that I made you think I was. I was trying to protect you.”

 

“You were what?”

 

“The day after our first date, Valleywag published an article speculating about our relationship, with pictures.”

 

“I know, Christy showed it to me. I joked about it,” Eduardo interjects.

 

Mark grimaces. “I remember, and I hated that. Even as a joke, it hurt to hear you say you weren’t good enough for me. If anything, it’s the opposite. I’m awkward and I spend too much time thinking about work and I have trouble talking about feelings and important things sometimes. You deserve better.”

 

“Mark, no. First of all, I think I can decide for myself what I ‘deserve.’ And yeah, maybe some of those things are true, especially the last one, I’m starting to realize, but we can work on it. Starting now, when you tell me why you thought you had to protect me from the big bad internet gossip site.”

 

“It’s not just Valleywag, it’s all of it. Apparently I’m famous enough, especially out here, that people care about my life, and it would be news if I start dating someone publicly. It was news—that wasn’t the only article. We basically killed the story by just refusing to talk about it, but we wouldn’t be able to do that if it kept happening. I don’t want to subject you to that kind of attention. Not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed or anything—fuck, Wardo, that’s insane.” Mark laughs for a second before he continues. “When we first met and started flirting or whatever, you had no idea what you were signing yourself up for. It wouldn’t have been fair to you to subject your life to that kind of scrutiny.”

 

“And you don’t think I should be a part of that decision?” Eduardo isn’t exactly angry anymore. He kind of understands Mark’s point, but he wants to clear the air completely, so this doesn’t become a recurring argument.

 

“No, of course I do. Before the Valleywag thing I was planning to talk to you about it eventually. Around this time, or even maybe a month from now, but not after our first fucking date. I just—I panicked. I saw that they had no idea who you were and I wanted to keep it that way, for your sake. Especially after hearing the things you told me about your family that night. I did not want you to have to hear or talk about any of that unless you wanted to. Then once we picked a line we had to stick with it. And yeah, I probably should have been talking to you about it at the time, but jesus, we had just had our first date. You—I wanted it to be just us for a while, you know? I didn’t want the fucking media to be in our relationship from the first fucking day.” Mark breaks off, breathing fast.

 

“So that’s why we didn’t ever go out.” Mark nods once. “That’s—actually kind of sweet, Mark. A bit of an overreaction, but sweet. And is that why you didn’t take me to that investor party?”

 

“The what—you were pissed off about that?” Mark asks. Eduardo just raises his eyebrows and gives him a significant look. “Okay, I guess I can see why you might be pissed. Honestly, that was only a little bit of a publicity thing. Mostly, I just hate those parties and I didn’t want to subject you to the torture of having to listen to people talk about Facebook and the internet like they know anything about what they’re saying. Like I said, I had to be there but you didn’t, so I didn’t want to make you take off work just to be bored and annoyed.”

 

Eduardo tries to bite back his laughter, but he can’t help grinning. “Mark, you know not everyone is as allergic to social interaction as you are? I’m sure I would have been fine.” Mark makes a face at him, but it’s the face he makes whenever Eduardo teases him, annoyed but more fond than anything.

 

“Well, you can come to the next one if you really want to, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Mark says. He flushes a dull red and adds “That is, if—if you still want to—you know.”

 

“Of course I still want to,” Eduardo says as his heart melts a little. He reaches out and grabs Mark’s hand, touching him for the first time since they sat down, and his last bit of anxiety is released when Mark tightens his grip reflexively.

 

“So we’re good then?” Mark asks. Eduardo bursts out in laughter, half-hysterical from the emotional roller coaster of the past day.

 

“God, Mark,” he says once he’s calmed down a bit. Mark looks offended and more than a little nervous at Eduardo’s laughing fit, but Eduardo squeezes his hand again and smiles. “Yeah, Mark, we’re good,” he says, and Mark lets out a shaky breath and his whole body relaxes, losing all his nervous tension in obvious relief.

 

Eduardo almost tells him then, those three words ready on his tongue, but he stops himself. Instead, he leans over the table to kiss Mark soft and slow. Mark opens for him immediately, and it settles Eduardo, and he knows it can wait. After all, it’s been an emotional day for both of them, and he doesn’t want Mark to overheat from too many feelings or something. They can work up to it; they have time.