Eduardo tries to be very careful about the way he looks at Mark. Because Mark has a girlfriend, Erica, who seems like a pleasant enough girl, and they are just friends. Close friends, he likes to think, probably even best friends -- not that Mark is going to be buying them matching split-heart necklaces from the mall any time soon.
Mark is brusque, he is rude. But he is also sneakily, secretly, hilarious. He makes Eduardo laugh and then feel a twinge of guilt afterwards, because he has a wicked sense of humor -- dry, mean.
Mark is taciturn, and moody. But he also has the most amazing smile, a smile that heaves up on just one side of his face, and every once in a while (like every other week, maybe once every ten days) he will laugh, really laugh, from the bottom of his stomach and it makes Eduardo feel so oddly proud if he is the one making him laugh.
That is why they are friends.
He knows Mark is difficult, as a person.
Dustin makes faces behind Mark's back when he is being an asshole, and Chris calls him out on it, which usually shuts him up.
Eduardo never tells Mark to shut up, even when he's acting like a dick.
It's because he's a good friend who listens is all it is. Not because he wants to look at Mark's mouth when he talks, to have a chance to look at him close up, to study how the color of his bottom lip bleeds over just a millimeter onto his chin.
That would be too intense for two friends, surely.
He watches Mark type because he is interested in what he does, even if he does not understand any of the symbols and letters and words that go rushing past his eyes. He sits on Mark's bed (always taking his shoes off first, hanging his jacket up so it doesn't crumple) and gets out a textbook and tries to study. Mark types with purpose. That's what he calls it, "purpose."
To Eduardo it sounds like gunfire. The flex of Mark's hands on the keys, the dancing lightness of his fingers. He's just amazed someone can type that fast, not hunt and peck like he does. It takes him a good five minutes to hammer out an email.
He worries about Mark catching hypothermia or getting frostbite on his toes because he wears those sloppy Adidas flip-flops even when it is raining, or sleeting, or snowing. When they meet back in the room after Mark has made a beer run and Eduardo has procured greasy food for movie night and Mark kicks off his shoes and strips off his wet socks and puts his bare feet up on the coffee table ("Ew," says Chris, and Mark glares at him.)
He is just being a concerned friend, is all he is doing, when he says, "Put them up here," and Mark sort of swivels around on the couch and his mouth goes sideways and he pushes his feet underneath Eduardo's thigh, and leaves them there for the whole of Dawn of the Dead.
That's all he's doing.
At some point during the movie he has a hand on Mark's ankle, almost mindlessly rubbing his thumb across the knob of bone there. His feet are cold, unlike the rest of him, but by the end of the movie they are basically warm. When the movie is over Mark does not hurry to take his feet away, and Eduardo lets himself wrap his fingers around Mark's ankle, once, just to see if they fit.
The other parts he could explain away. The hands, hair, eyes, skin, mouth, nose, arms, torso, brain, smile, laugh.
Those he could explain.
But not the feet.
And not the ankles.
He pushes it aside and tries not to think about Mark's shiny shins, poking out of his khaki shorts even in the middle of November. He tries not to watch when Mark idly hitches up his sweats to scratch underneath his knee, the flash of pale skin confusing, so far removed from being sexual.
He wants to touch Mark's ankles again, but unlike a shoulder or sometimes a hand, ankles are off-limits.
Eduardo sees Mark in his boxers one time.
He's trying to wrestle a video game controller away from Dustin, who promptly dumps half a screwdriver into Mark's lap.
"You fucker," Mark shouts, dropping the controller with a thud. Dustin hoots and makes devil horns, as Mark stands up and rubs at the spreading stain.
"Prick," he mutters. Eduardo, always ready to help out, jumps up to find a towel to blot Mark's pants. When he turns around, having found a stack of coffee house napkins on Dustin's dresser, Mark is standing in the middle of the room kicking his pants off.
Mark is standing right in front of him wearing only his blue plaid boxers and rubbing his jeans across his thighs.
"I'm all fucking sticky," he growls. Edaurdo tries to move closer to hand him the napkins but he cannot. Stop. Staring.
At Mark's legs. Which, again, like the ankles, there is not really any reason to look at.
They're just legs. Skinny white boy legs. Scrawny like a chicken.
Chris coughs and Eduardo realizes he has been staring.
"Here," he says, taking a step forward and holding out the napkins. It feels like walking through glue.
"Thanks," Mark says, throwing the stained jeans onto Dustin's head. He promptly tries to turn them into a turban.
Mark uses the rest of a Dasani bottle to clean himself off. Eduardo tries to look elsewhere, but his eyes keep coming to rest on Mark's inner thigh, the hair there damp as Mark rubs it with the wet brown paper napkin. He sucks in a hard breath through his mouth, wondering if his skin would taste like orange juice.
Just to spite Dustin, Mark remains in his boxers until time for the AEPi mixer, at which point Eduardo says, "I'm gonna take a shower first," and they all nod and go their separate ways.
He watches the back of Mark's thighs as he goes into his room. He sits down at his desk, still clad in just his boxers.
Eduardo stays in the shower much longer than he normally would, that evening. Thinking about Mark's legs, wet and pale. Wondering what they would look like if he took him home to Miami. Laying by the pool, watching his white shins turn pink then hot red from the sunshine. Pressing fingertips into the burn, leaving white prints behind, watching them turn red again. Or putting sunscreen on him, with long caressing strokes, rubbing it firmly into his kneecaps. Him jumping in the ocean to cool off, then coming back over to flop on a towel next to Eduardo, who does not really need to wear sunscreen, but does so because it is safer. Sand on the soles of his feet, caked there with sea water. His swim trunks wet and clinging to his thighs.
Eduardo thinks about all of this, in his shower.
It is only when he has finished jerking off to the thought of rolling on top of Mark at the beach, holding him by the waist as Mark wraps those skinny legs around him and locks his ankles together as Eduardo drives into him, rocking him into the sand, under the midday sun or in the cool dark of the night (he imagines it both ways), does he stop to consider that this is just a fraction more involved than friends, typically, get.
He dries off and gets dressed for the party.
Mark has not made much of an effort.
In fact, Mark is wearing his gym shorts.
Eduardo curses inwardly when he sees him. From across the room it's hard to tell, but he thinks Mark might possibly be smiling at him.