He's been watching the truck all morning. His mom said it was a moving truck, for the people who are taking over Mrs. William's house. She's been running around all morning, talking about things like cakes and the best time for something. Mark doesn't care - he's just glad she forgot to make him clean his room.
"Mark?" his mom calls, and Mark clambers off his parent's bed, leaving the window.
She fusses when she sees him. "We should have gotten you a haircut," she says, and scrapes her fingers through his hair. He tries to twist away, but she catches him easily.
"And your father," she says, and sighs. "He had to choose this weekend to take Randi to that silly game. We didn't know they'd be moving in, he says, but they are, and now we're going to look rude."
From the other room, the baby starts to cry.
His mom mutters something under her breath and tells him sternly, "Don't move, I'll be right back."
Ignoring her, Mark trots over to the front windows. There's a lot more people outside now, not just movers. Nobody looks any different from all the other families.
"Mark," his mother calls, exasperated. "Come here! Get your coat on."
Mark gets one of his arms tangled, and his mother pulls too hard when she helps him. Mark eyes the baby dolefully, and she stares back at him with huge eyes.
"Come on," his mom says again, and takes his hand.
Outside isn't that cold yet. Mark doesn't like his jacket, it's heavy and hot, but his mom won't let him out anymore without it.
They cross the street, and his mom calls out to the couple, some long name that Mark doesn't remember a second after she says it. The other mom smiles at Mark's mom and they talk to each other and make stupid voices at the baby before Mark's mom nudges him forward. The boy behind the other mom gets the same treatment.
"Introduce yourselves, boys," the other mom says, and the other boy steps forward on his own.
Mark watches him carefully.
"I'm Eduardo," he says. His tongue makes funny sounds when it shapes his name.
"What?" Mark says, screwing his face up. "Ewardo?"
"No," the boy answers, screwing his own face up in response.
"This is Mark," Mark's mom says, laughing. "Come on, Mark."
They stare at each other some more, and then the other mom says, "Why don't you two go play for a little while?"
The boy's eyes light up, and he says, "My room," grabbing Mark's hand and yanking him forward.
Mark yips, reaching around for his mom, but she's not paying attention and he's not as strong as the other boy.
"Leggo," he snarls, but he isn't released until they're at stairs, and then the boy drops his hand and shoots upstairs, faster than Mark could go even if he wanted to.
He stares back the way they came. He thinks it was right down that hallway, but he doesn't want to get lost.
"Slow!" the boy yells, head popping out at the top of the stairs again.
"'m not!" Mark yells back, and then he has to go upstairs.
The stupid boy's room is all the way at the end of the hall. Mark thinks it's the wrong one, because there's nothing in it but boxes, not even a bed, but when Mark says so the other boy shakes his head over and over and says it's just not here yet. He shoves one of the boxes over, so all the toys inside spill out.
"See?" he says, and then throws a stuffed animal at Mark.
No mom comes up, and Ewardo ignores him, and eventually he stops because his throat gets tired.
Ewardo, who says that isn't his name, gives Mark a box of toys to put away. Mark empties it into a corner and starts stacking books, wondering why he's letting him put things away. Mark hates when his friends mess with his stuff.
He gets bored eventually and complains about being tired, and the boy says, "Take a nap," and Mark says, "I already did," but he lies down anyway, and gets a whole box of stuffed toys dumped on top of him.
He falls asleep in a patch of sun, watching the specks in the air.
He's woken when his mother picks him up. He fusses, squirming, and she says, "It's okay, we'll come see them again," quietly, because the other boy is asleep too, next to where Mark was lying.
Mark says, "No."
"No, what, honey?" says his mom.
"No," Mark insists, and falls asleep again on her shoulder on the way down the stairs.
"Wardo?" Mark says, and clambers up the front steps.
"Take off your boots, honey," Wardo's mom calls, and Mark claws at them until they flop to the floor in the mudroom. "Good boy. He's upstairs."
Mark darts upstairs, shoving Wardo's door open.
"Hey!" Wardo yelps, and throws himself against the other side.
"Lemme in," Mark says, leaning into the door. Even with all his weight, he can't force it open.
"No," Wardo says meanly. "It's mine."
"I want to see," Mark says, and shoves himself back against the door.
"Go away," Wardo says.
Mark huffs and back away, sitting down. "I let you play with all my toys," he calls.
"He's not a toy," Wardo says, muffled through the door.
"Wardo!" Mark says.
"Boys," Wardo's mom calls up warningly, and Mark holds his chin up as Wardo reluctantly opens the door and lets him in.
"Just don't be mean to him," Wardo says, but Mark ignores him and goes straight for the puppy.
"All we have are cats," he says. "I want a puppy."
"You can't have him," Wardo says promptly. He's waiting by the door, like he's going to shove Mark back out in a minute.
Mark scoots closer to the bed, picking the puppy up. It stares back at him.
"Come on," Wardo says, after a minute. "Let's take him outside."
"What are you going to name him?" Mark asks, as they climb down the stairs.
"Fluffy," Wardo says, frowning as he concentrates on holding on to ten pounds of wiggling puppy.
"That's a stupid name," Mark says.
"I'm not really going to name him Fluffy!" Wardo says.
"Okay," Mark says doubtfully, and then struggles to get his boots on.
Out in the snow, the puppy bounds around, before settling on a spot and lifting its leg.
"Ew," Mark says.
"At least it's doing it outside this time," Wardo says.
He makes Mark go get a stick, and then he throws it for the puppy - as yet unnamed, or at least, Wardo won't say its name. Mark thinks, suspiciously, that it really was going to be named Fluffy. He will investigate later, possibly while Wardo's mom is giving them hot cocoa and can be convinced to rat out her kid.
Wardo throws the stick for the puppy, and the puppy goes chasing after it each time, like, what, is it too stupid to figure out it's just a stick and it's being thrown by Wardo each time? Apparently.
Mark is really glad he was not born a dog.
He is even more glad when said dog begins chasing its tail. Mark has never done that, and is pretty sure he never will.
"Your turn," Wardo says, and shoves the stick into his hand.
Mark waves the stick around, waiting for the puppy to notice, and then the throw and chase routine begins again.
Mark doesn't throw it fast enough or something, because suddenly the puppy is lunging at him, chewing on his pants and growling. Yelping and stumbling back, he falls in the snow, and the puppy is on him, still yapping and biting his face.
"Get him off!" Mark tries to squirm away.
"He's just licking you," Wardo says and laughs.
"He's trying to eat me!" Mark says, and rolls onto his side. The puppy follows. Its mouth is still on his face. "Get it off!"
"You would probably be delicious," Wardo says.
Wardo's mom comes out of the house.
"Boys!" she yells, and Wardo scrambles to grab the puppy. "Get out of the snow, Mark. Eduardo, stop letting your dog misbehave!" When they've followed her instructions to her satisfaction, even though Mark is still brushing snow off his butt and trying to scrub dog slobber off his face, she goes back inside.
"I like cats better," Mark tells Wardo. "They're not as stupid."
"He's not stupid," Wardo says.
"He runs around in circles all the time," Mark says.
"He's just a baby," Wardo says. "He'll grow out of it."
"I don't think so," Mark says.
"He will," Wardo insists. "Just like your mom says you'll grow out of sucking your thumb."
"I don't do that," Mark complains.
"Sleeping you do," Wardo says.
"Shut up," Mark says. "I don't like you or your puppy."
"Then go home," Wardo says, frowning.
"I am!" Mark says, and stomps across the street.
Wardo gets back the last day of Spring Break. He and his mother come over in the early evening, and Wardo grins brightly at Mark. "We brought you souvenirs," he says.
Mark's mom laughs, letting them in. "How was the trip?" she asks.
"Hot," Eduardo's mom says, smiling. "It was wonderful though."
"What did you think, Eduardo? It was the first time you've gone back, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Wardo says. "I didn't remember anyone."
"You were really young when you left," Mark's mom says, and sits on the couch with Wardo's mom.
Wardo comes over to Mark. He's sunburnt, which is weird - Mark has never seen Wardo burn before. He's not like Mark, who freckles and fries after fifteen minutes.
"Are you still mad at me?" Wardo whispers.
"No," Mark says. "I told you, I don't care that you were gone all break."
"You missed me," Wardo says confidently.
"Did not," Mark says. "I like Natalie more."
"Who's Natalie?" Wardo asks.
"Mark," Wardo says, whining. "Who's Natalie?"
When Mark still won't answer - he likes knowing things Wardo doesn't - Wardo huffs and goes over to Mark's mom. "Who's Natalie?" he says.
"Eduardo, you know better than to interrupt," Wardo's mom scolds. He drops his head, looking suitably chastised.
"Oh," Mark's mom says, surprised. "She's the girl that moved in down the street." She turns back to Wardo's mom. "I forgot to tell you."
"The new family moved in?" Wardo's mom asks. "Finally! Oh, and we missed it."
"I invited them over for dinner tonight, actually," Mark's mom says, "if you want to stay and meet them. They should be here soon."
Mark groans. Everyone ignores him.
Wardo's mom asks Eduardo, who of course says he can't wait to meet them, and then Mark makes grumpy noises until his mom sends he and Wardo up to his room.
Wardo keeps pestering him, wanting to know things about what she's like and what they did and why Mark likes her so much. Mark just says, "I dunno," to every question and otherwise tries to ignore him.
The doorbell rings and Wardo flies out of Mark's room. Mark follows more slowly. He'll catch up on the stairs, because Wardo never runs down the stairs. He says it's because he doesn't want to look impatient and immature. Mark knows it's because he's secretly terrified of heights.
Natalie's parents are shaking hands with Wardo's mom, and Natalie is standing next to them. She smiles at Mark shyly and then looks at Wardo, suspicious.
He's smiling at her, but it falters when he sees her expression.
Wardo gets introduced to her parents, who like him, of course, and then Mark's mom sends them back upstairs.
Natalie goes straight to Mark's room and claims the spot at the foot of the bed. Mark sits in his desk chair. Eduardo is left staring at Natalie, uncertain, before he finally sits on the floor by Mark's feet.
Mark kicks him, because he's there.
The next hour is the most confusing conversation Mark has ever survived. Natalie and Wardo both keep looking at him for help, and he doesn't know what they want him to do. It's not his fault they don't agree on anything.
Natalie is new, and Mark likes her - she's quiet and nice and she doesn't like his sisters more than him - and Mark knows Wardo can be terrifying sometimes.
But Mark doesn't remember when he didn't know Wardo, and Wardo really is trying. He's just not good at talking to girls, apparently.
Natalie ends of going downstairs and asking to leave, disrupting everyone. Her mom believes her when she says she's tired, and Mark says goodbye, and then Wardo drags him right back upstairs.
Mark doesn't care what Wardo thought of Natalie. Wardo is determined to tell him anyway. He's been talking about her since she and her parents left half an hour ago.
"She didn't have to get so mad when I asked her why she doesn't like dolls," Wardo says.
"Not all girls like dolls," Mark says.
"It's not a bad thing! I like them," Wardo says.
"She was so shy," Wardo continues.
"Not really," Mark says. "You talk a lot."
"I do not," Wardo says, and finally shuts up, sulking.
Eduardo will not stop complaining about the heat.
"Stop going outside then," Mark says.
Eduardo stares at him, and Natalie, sprawled on Mark's bed, snorts.
"I'm not going to sit inside all day and do nothing," Eduardo says.
Mark shrugs, spinning back around to his computer.
"We could go swimming," Natalie says.
"Yeah," Eduardo says. "But the pool is always so crowded."
"And I feel too lazy to walk that far," Natalie says.
"Definitely," Eduardo agrees. "It sucks that none of us have pools."
Mark says, "You wish we were five and playing in the inflatable pool in the backyard?"
"I could splash you until you started crying again," Eduardo agrees.
"He started crying?" Natalie asks, laughing.
"My eyes were watering," Mark says.
"They were not," Eduardo says. Then he sits up. "Hey," he says.
"What?" Natalie asks.
"Hey, Mark," Eduardo says.
"What?" Mark says.
"You still have the key to the Hermans' house, right?"
Mark pauses. "Why?"
"Oh, come on. They won't be home from work until this evening."
"You want to break into their backyard and use their pool?" Natalie says. She doesn't sound as horrified by the idea as Mark thinks she should.
"It's not breaking in, technically," Mark says. "If I have a key."
"Exactly," Eduardo says. "And do you really think they'd mind?"
Everyone in the neighborhood knows they'd mind. They don't let anyone use their pool, and even when everyone takes turns hosting a Fourth of July barbecue - which Mark has managed to skip the last two years, thank you - they never offer. They rarely even attend. They hate all the neighborhood kids, except Mark. They trusted him enough to pay him to housesit while they were on vacation, and Eduardo made fun of him for that for weeks, because while Mark's mother had said it's because he acts mature for his age, Eduardo had said it was because he's the only person who hates everyone else as much as they do.
"Yes," Mark says. "They would." But Eduardo just keeps looking at him hopefully, and Natalie is leaning forward with pleading eyes, and Mark doesn't actually give a shit whether the Hermans mind - because whether or not he hates everyone else, he definitely doesn't like them.
"Okay," he says.
Natalie makes a squeaky noise and falls off the bed in excitement. Eduardo kicks her gently and says, "We have to be sneaky," reprovingly.
"I'm bringing my brother, too," Natalie says, and Mark rolls his eyes. They can never convince her to leave him behind, even though he's only eight and extremely whiny. She likes him anyway, for some reason.
"Put the sunscreen on, Taylor!" Natalie says, exasperated, trying to catch him long enough to slather him with it.
Mark keeps a wide berth, both because Taylor tends to lash out at any nearby object when he's feeling abused and because Natalie can be indiscriminate with her good-intention sunscreen, and Mark would rather be freckled for the next year than let her put purple, fruity-smelling grease all over his face.
He unlocks the gate with his key, pushing inside. Behind him, Eduardo holds it open for Natalie and Taylor to come through before shutting it very quietly.
Natalie jumps right in, followed by Taylor, and all attempts at quiet go out the window because Taylor shrieks triumphantly the moment he touches water. Eduardo climbs down the steps, but he floats over to hang on Mark's knees. "Please tell me you're not going to sit on the edge the whole time," Eduardo says.
"Maybe," Mark says, and shrugs.
Eduardo grabs his ankles.
"Don't," Mark warns.
Eduardo says, "I don't know what you're talking about," and yanks Mark into the pool.
"I told you—" Mark yells, coming up spluttering, and all three of them are laughing at him.
"We can't come all the way over here and then not swim," Eduardo says reasonably.
"I hate you," Mark tells him. "And you can go—"
"Don't swear in front of Taylor," Natalie scolds.
"Yeah," Taylor parrots, sneering.
"Fuck off," Mark tells him.
"Mark!" Natalie says.
"What is going on here?" demands Mrs. Herman.
Mark turns slowly, and sees her glaring at them from the back patio, while Eduardo swears quietly and fervently to himself.
Mrs. Herman sends Natalie, Taylor and Eduardo straight home. Mark is not so lucky.
"I cannot believe you would abuse our trust like this," she says, for maybe the third time. They're on Mark's front porch, waiting for his mother to come home so Mrs. Herman can yell at her, too.
Randi, who is inside, had told Mrs. Herman their mother wasn't in fact home, and no, Mark was not lying to her about that, and then she'd run and hid in her room like a coward. Across the street, Mark can occasionally see Eduardo's face peek out his bedroom window to watch them. Mark glares at him every time.
Thankfully Mark's mom gets home pretty early, but she sees them and she's frowning by the time she gets to the front steps.
"Hello, Mrs. Herman," she says, and sends Mark a sideways glance. Mark stays very still.
"Karen," Mrs. Herman says, and stands. She grabs Mark's elbow and hauls him up with her.
"How can I help you?" Mark's mom asks, and then Mrs. Herman is off.
She talks at length about the trespassing and violation of privacy and personal property, not to mention of her trust at finding Mark and three of his friends in her pool. Mark's mom's expression gets tighter and tighter the longer she talks, and when Mrs. Herman finally stops for breath, she says, "This is very disappointing."
"Yes," Mrs. Herman says severely. "And I am even more discomfited by the idea that there is no way to know how many times they've done this before."
"We haven't," Mark says, but she ignores him just like every time previous.
"Be quiet, Mark," his mother says. To Mrs. Herman she adds, "Obviously, I understand your anger. I promise—"
"So then, you weren't aware they've been doing this?" Mrs. Herman asks shrewdly.
Mark's mom frowns. "Of course not. Edward and I would never—"
"The kids in this neighborhood," Mrs. Herman says, interrupting again, "are so poorly behaved. They get away with so much. It makes my husband and I very uncomfortable."
"I promise," Mark's mom says, tone cold, "Mark and his friends will be dealt with. However—"
"Please see that they are," Mrs. Herman says, and walks past Mark's mom without another word.
Eduardo sneaks up to Mark's room that night a little before midnight. Mark's door is locked, but Eduardo taps very gently and very repetitively until Mark gets sick of the noise and lets him in.
"I got grounded," he says, sounding depressed.
"So terrible," Mark says, and flops onto his bed.
Eduardo looks around, and then he says, "She took your computer?" He at least has a tone of appropriate horror, so Mark doesn't immediately try to strangle him.
"Two weeks," Mark says.
"I only got grounded for one," Eduardo admits.
Mark sits up and glares at him. "This is your fault, you know. You're always getting me in trouble."
"You get yourself in trouble plenty without my help," Eduardo retorts.
Mark glares at his empty desk.
Eduardo sighs. "You're right, this was my fault." He sits next to Mark on the bed. "I'm sorry."
"Whatever," Mark says. "Have you talked to Natalie?"
"I thought maybe you had," Eduardo says.
"She probably didn't get in trouble at all," Mark says bitterly. Natalie's parents don't believe in the strictest discipline. Taylor definitely wouldn't have gotten in trouble, and Natalie's punishment would've been mild. But considering how much her parents hate the Hermans, it's incredibly likely they wouldn't have been angry at all.
Mark, along with the computer ban, had received an almost two hour a lecture on morals, responsibility and being ashamed of oneself, while his sisters had looked on sympathetically from the hallway.
"Probably," Eduardo says. "Hey," he says. "Do you mind if I stay here with you tonight?"
"You'll get in more trouble tomorrow," Mark says doubtfully.
"Yeah, but you'll be bored without me."
Mark snorts. "I'll be bored with you, too."
Eduardo shrugs, and then leans sideways into Mark, pushing as hard as he can until Mark topples over with a squawk. "You'll be a little less bored with me, maybe," he tells Mark.
"You're a dick," Mark says.
Having survived his first month of high school, Mark still doesn't get what all the fuss is about.
"You aren't even a little frightened of all the upperclassmen?" Eduardo asks. "They can be very intimidating."
"Shut up," Mark says.
"Come on, you can tell me," Eduardo says, leaning close.
Mark leans closer too, watching the way Eduardo lights up in anticipation, and then he says again, "Shut up."
"Very cute, guys. Cuddling at your age is adorable. But would you get out of the middle of the floor?" Randi says, exasperated, as she edges around Mark and climbs over Eduardo's sprawled limbs. "You're always in the way."
"See?" Eduardo says. "Very intimidating."
"Not all of them," Randi says. "Mark happens to really like some of the older kids."
"Fuck off," Mark snaps, and ignores his dad's warning about language from the other room.
"Really?" Eduardo says, sitting up interestedly.
"Really likes," Randi says, because she's a bitch, and then smiles and saunters out of the room. Mark refuses to believe there is not a way she could walk that would keep her hips from moving like that. Her ass reminds him of the backside of a horse.
"Do you have a crush?" Eduardo says slyly, turning to Mark.
"No," Mark says, and resolutely ignores Eduardo until he gives up and lies back down.
"I think we should stay here and nap," Eduardo says slowly, after a while.
Mark snorts, and sprawls out on his stomach next to Eduardo. He has better things to do than sit in the living room, but his mother promised to drop them at the movie theater only if they are at the door and ready to leave when she swings by to pick them up on her way to her book club.
Looking over at Eduardo, who has his eyes closed, Mark tries to stretch himself out the same way. Eduardo hit a growth spurt, and Mark had to listen all summer while everyone they met cooed over him and how tall he was getting. But he hasn't gained weight, so he looks like a stick figure.
It is funny watching him scramble up when Mark's mom honks outside. He's extremely clumsy, and it takes Mark less than half the time it takes him to find his feet. He smiles at Mark when Mark laughs, as if he knows what Mark's thinking.
The problem with going to a late movie, of course, is that afterwards Eduardo stays the night.
"He lives right across the street," Mark argues, and his mother starts in on the speech about hospitality again.
Stomping upstairs, where Eduardo is already stripped to his underwear and happily at home, Mark says, "You are not taking my bed."
Eduardo doesn't lift his head off Mark's pillow. "Is it time for your mother to talk to you about how to treat guests again?"
Mark says, "Move over. I'm not sleeping on my own floor."
Eduardo wiggles closer to the wall and says, "We're probably too old for this to be normal."
Kicking at Eduardo's shins as he climbs in, just because he can, Mark says, "The floor is right there, any time you feel like it."
Eduardo settles his head more comfortably on Mark's pillow. Mark makes a disgusted sound and reaches over to turn off the light.
He's staring at the ceiling when Eduardo says, "Psst."
"How old are you?" Mark asks, in a normal tone of voice.
"Don't ruin the centuries-old tradition," Eduardo whispers.
"Bite me," Mark says. He jumps when Eduardo moves, but it turns out he's just wiggling onto his side.
"Tell me a secret," Eduardo says, still whispering.
"No," Mark says, and, when Eduardo kicks him lightly, rolls his eyes and whispers back, "No!"
"Tradition, Mark," Eduardo says, disappointed.
Mark can feel Eduardo's breath on his neck, and he's very careful not to look at him as he gives in and asks, "What?"
"What did your sister mean earlier?"
Mark frowns. "I don't know."
Eduardo snorts softly. "Yes, you do."
Mark stays quiet.
"I can always ask her tomorrow."
"Shut up," Mark hisses. "Don't do that."
"So you do have a crush on someone," Eduardo says, and Mark can hear the tone that means he's grinning. Mark hates that tone.
"It's stupid," Mark says. "I'll grow out of it."
"Mark," Eduardo says, and wiggles closer.
Mark scoots over.
Eduardo wiggles closer still.
Mark has no room left to move if he doesn't want to fall out of bed.
"Cara," he hisses, and then elbows Eduardo sharply. "Move the fuck back over."
Eduardo does, surprisingly, and Mark gathers the courage to glance over at him.
"Thompson?" Eduardo says, unsurely. "The one from math class?"
Mark's ahead in math; Eduardo is, too, but he's in the same section as Mark as a teacher's assistant.
"Yes," Mark says. There are no other Caras at their school, as far as he is aware.
"She's a senior," Eduardo says.
"I know," Mark snaps. He forgets to whisper, and it comes out loud. "I said it was stupid."
Eduardo leaves him alone after that, thankfully.
Uncharacteristically, Eduardo seems to have dropped it. Mark spends the following weekend cringing but Eduardo never mentions it again. On Monday, when he walks into Calc, he's worried; but the week passes without incident.
The week after that, however, doesn't.
Mark walks in to class and sits down at his regular desk. He messes with his books for a while, and flips his pencil back and forth between his fingers. He hates waiting for class to start.
"Hey," someone says, and he looks up instinctively. When he does, the whole group of girls on the other half of the room start giggling. Mark blinks, confused, and then realizes Cara's sitting over there, instead of her usual desk in front of him. He looks at her, but she won't meet his eyes. Alarmed, Mark twists around; Eduardo won't meet his eyes either.
Mark sits through the rest of class numbly, and he waits until everyone else has rushed out to leave. Eduardo is still here, though, sitting at the back of the room and watching him. He looks horribly, horribly guilty.
"Don't," Mark says, when he opens his mouth, and walks past him.
It's not as if the entire school knows. Mark knows this, logically, but he's in classes with a rather small group of people, and most of them are either his friends or have a vested interest in making him miserable. So while the entire school may not know, almost everyone Mark encounters the rest of the day does.
He ignores everyone, and at lunch Natalie grabs and saves him.
"I don't even know who Cara is," she says, direct, shrugging. Mark shrugs back and eats with her.
Before school lets out, Cara finds him in the library. Mark looks at her warily when she asks if she can sit down, but he nods.
"So," she says.
Mark looks across at her.
"People have been saying things today," she says. "I know you've heard."
Raising his eyebrows, Mark waits.
She persists. "I wanted to say I'm sorry. My friends can be mean sometimes."
It doesn't matter. It will pass in a day or two, and Mark has learned his lesson. He doesn't know why she's bothering to talk to him.
"I just wanted to let you know," she says, biting her lip, "I'm flattered."
Mark stares at her. She cannot possibly be this stupid; his taste cannot be that bad. She gets good grades in Calc, she does extracurriculars, how can she be this dumb? Mark wants to tell her she's an egotistical twit, and explain in very small words how the only reason he likes her is because she wears low-cut tops and is the first girl, besides childhood friends, who's talked to him. He doesn't say anything though, just remains silent, and after a little while she picks her bag back up and stands.
"Anyway, I just wanted to let you know it's okay," she says. "We should still work together in Calc, if you want. I would've sat with you today, but I thought that might make my friends worse."
"It's okay," Mark says, as she stands up to leave. She stops, startled, and looks at him, but he looks back down at his homework. "I don't have a crush on you."
"Oh," she says. "Okay."
Mark nods and waits for her to leave.
At home he skips past his sisters, even though Randi tries to talk to him, and hides himself in his room.
He's just gotten the old clunky thing turned on when there's a knock on his door. He says, "Go away, Randi."
Mark goes still, and then he sits back slowly in his chair. "What do you want?" he asks finally.
"Can I come in?" Eduardo asks.
"No," Mark says, and pulls his headphones on.
He's interrupted a couple hours later by his mother pounding on the door hard enough to shake the walls.
"Mark Zuckerberg," she's yelling, "if you don't open this door right now I will remove the lock!"
Mark snarls at his computer screen but gets up and opens the door.
His mother glares down at him. "What are you doing?"
"Computer stuff," Mark says.
"Eduardo has been sitting out here since you got back from school," she says. "I'm ashamed of you."
Eduardo is on the floor behind her, sitting with a book open in his lap. Mark doesn't look at him.
"Nobody asked him to stay," he says, but his mother shoves the door open and says, "Go on in, Eduardo. Mark, stop it."
Eduardo doesn't stand until she starts down the stairs. "Hey," he says, unfolding his legs, but he doesn't hide a wince as he stands; his legs are probably asleep.
Mark hopes it hurts.
"I wanted to talk to you," Eduardo says quietly, sitting tentatively on the edge of Mark's bed.
Mark slams the door shut and glares at him viciously, ignoring his mother's yelled rebuke.
"I didn't mean for anyone to find out," Eduardo says, quietly.
"It wasn't Randi who told everyone," Mark says.
"I didn't tell everyone," Eduardo says, and cringes. "I told one girl. I didn't think she even knew you, she's a junior."
"She probably knows Cara," Mark says, because what, is Eduardo stupid?
"Yeah," Eduardo admits. "It turns out she did."
"Brilliant," Mark says. "Is that all?"
"I'm sorry," Eduardo says, and looks up at him, wide-eyed and sincere.
Mark snaps, "You know, I had to sit through Cara telling me it was okay. She was so gracious, dealing with the stupid freshman."
"I'm sorry," Eduardo repeats, fervent.
"You're a menace and I fucking hate you," Mark says. "Get out."
"Okay," Eduardo says, and skirts around him.
Mark is glad to see the back of him, but he's so pissed the rest of the evening that he can't get anything done.
Natalie's parents won't let her go to the party by herself. Mark doesn't understand how sending her to the party with two guys as escorts improves the situation, since it is the attendance of boys at said party in the first place that is making her parents wary. Eduardo says they trust them, which makes Randi, passing by, laugh so hard they can hear her all the way down the stairs.
Mark cannot wait for her to go to college.
So here they are, walking across half the neighborhood for Sara Jameson's Halloween party. Mark is thrilled.
Eduardo had tried to get him to go as something humiliating at first, like a wizard or Frankenstein. Natalie had voted for Einstein or Edison, which is less embarrassing but too overdone.
Mark had ended up going as himself, and is planning on saying he's something entirely different to everyone who asks, to prove to Eduardo and Natalie both that, beyond being unable to tell, nobody even remembers costumes, making wearing them a pointless endeavor.
The front door is open, which is insane - the heating bills to keep the house a livable temperature will be horrible at the end of the month, and Mark suspects it will give away the party even to Sara's parents, who she claims are stupid. Mark actually believes her, to some extent; they did produce her. Eduardo always brushes it off as teenage angst or rebellion or whatever phrase his mother had used that week to describe adolescent misbehavior.
There are actually a lot of people inside. It's a pretty sizable portion of their school, which is surprising; Mark hadn't believed those parties as shown on TV ever happened, but it appears some parties came close.
Natalie sees Sara across the room and takes off, ditching Mark and Eduardo. Eduardo sees Mark's face and says, "Don't worry, I won't abandon you." Mark shrugs his arm off and heads off too, determined to get away from Eduardo and his condescension for one evening.
A little less than an hour later, though, he's wishing he hadn't. He can't find Eduardo or Natalie, and some very drunk freshman girl is hanging on him, asking for his help to find someone since he looks so bored, can't he understand that she is too?
Mark does find her friends for her, and drops her into their waiting arms before going to find a back room to cower in. He can't be the first one to leave; Eduardo would never let him live it down.
He must have good luck, though, because the room he ends up trying to hide in is Sara's bedroom, and Natalie is in there with her, along with several other girls and a couple more guys, including Eduardo.
"Hello," Sara says, and smiles in a way Mark doesn't like. "Great timing. We were running a little low on boys."
"Come play," Natalie says, and pulls him down. She whispers in his ear, "I think we're playing some stupid game. Save me."
"Okay," Mark says, to everyone, and sits next to Natalie. Eduardo smiles at both of them.
"So, truth or dare?" Sara says. "Remember, no welching. This doesn't work unless we all commit."
Mark glares at Natalie, who shrugs at him and says, "Strength in numbers?"
Sara goes first, proclaiming it's her right as hostess, and picks some guy from Eduardo's grade. She dares him to take off his shirt and draw a mouth on his bellybutton, which is incredibly stupid but not as bad as Mark feared. The guy, in turn, dares his girlfriend to take off her shirt, which everyone shows a lot more interest in, and then she moves on to her best friend, who elects to tell the truth about where she lost her virginity (her bedroom, which is unsurprising) and with whom (her then-boyfriend, just as unsurprising and also uninspiring).
The game goes on for almost half an hour, and Mark is starting to relax. He and Natalie are virtually nobodies, which means they're safe.
And then Sara says, "Eduardo."
Eduardo tilts his head and says, "Dare."
She smiles, sitting up. He's been called twice before, and both times he chose truth, which was boring. Mark knew the answer to the first question - who was your first kiss with? - and didn't care about the second - who do you hate the most at our school?
"I dare you," Sara says, and then looks around as she attempts to build suspense. "To make out with someone in this room."
Eduardo blinks at her, raising his eyebrows slowly. Mark almost laughs. Every girl in here has sat up, suddenly interested, and it's not hard to guess who Sara is hoping he'll choose.
"Make out?" Eduardo says. "That's pretty broad."
"Kiss," Sara says. "With tongue. For - oh, I don't know, how long?"
"One minute," one of her friends pipes up, and then giggles behind her hands.
"Alright," Eduardo says easily, and Mark rolls his eyes. Of course he's not going to argue.
Natalie elbows him sharply, and he looks over at her. She's staring across at Eduardo, so Mark looks over.
Eduardo is staring at him.
"Oh, no," Mark says, out of long-honed instinct.
"I'm not the only one suffering through this," Eduardo says cheerfully. "Come here."
"Bite me," Mark says.
"We don't have to go that far," Eduardo says, and almost all of the guys in the room snicker.
"Why don't you kiss Natalie," Mark complains.
"Hey," Natalie says.
"She's like my sister," Eduardo says, and makes a face. "No offense," he says to her, quickly.
"None taken," she says, nodding quickly.
"Then what am I?" Mark asks.
"If you won't come here I'll come to you," Eduardo says, and crawls over.
Mark starts to scoot back, but Natalie's fingers twisting a vicious pinch into his upper arm catch him.
"Take it like a man," Eduardo says lowly, when he gets to him, and leans into Mark.
"Wait!" one of the other girls yelps, and Eduardo pulls back again. Mark almost sighs in relief. "I have to start the timer," she says, and pushes buttons on her watch. "Okay," she says cheerfully. "Go ahead."
Mark makes a noise that probably sounds miserable, judging by the too-amused smile on Eduardo's face as he leans closer again.
Mark has already leant as far back as he can get, so eventually Eduardo's mouth finds his. He brushes his lips over Mark's mouth once, twice, before pulling back again.
"This isn't working," he announces to the room at large, and then he's sitting in Mark's lap.
Natalie starts giggling frantically next to him, and she finally loses her grip on Mark's skin, which is no help at all because Eduardo is in his lap and he cannot get away.
Still grinning, Eduardo grabs Mark's face and kisses him again. There's no escape this time, and Mark can't jerk away without ending up on his back under Eduardo, which he knows would be infinitely worse. Mark doesn't mean to open his mouth - he's not even sure why someone would, except Eduardo keeps, like, sucking at his lower lip, and then his mouth is parting, and Christ, Mark is never going to leave his room again, because Eduardo is licking across his lip. Unconsciously, Mark tries to twist away, but when his head tilts Eduardo somehow takes that the wrong way, how is he being such an ass, and licks all the way into Mark's mouth.
Mark squawks, flailing, and ends up falling backwards anyway.
Everyone in the room starts laughing, even Natalie, the little traitor, and Eduardo, too. He's laughing so hard that when he kisses Mark again, because time is moving backwards or something and it somehow has still not been a minute - Mark doesn't actually believe this is being timed at all; he thinks it's become a free-for-all on the remaining shreds of his dignity and self-respect - he misses, so their mouths are smearing together wetly. He does bite, and Mark makes another sound, because what the hell?
The watch goes off, a shrill obnoxious trilling, and Mark tries to sit up and shove Eduardo off, but Eduardo is still sucking at Mark's lip, and when Mark moves he jerks, biting down.
"Fuck," Mark says, and everyone is still laughing, including Eduardo, but Mark pushes his fingers against his mouth and comes away with blood.
"Well," Sara says, "this game is boring." She looks pissed, and everyone leaves the room in various pairs, though Natalie stays with Mark in the middle of the floor.
Even Eduardo leaves, pulled away by the same guy who got his girlfriend to strip, and when everyone's gone Natalie leans over and says, "Mark?"
Mark shakes her off and stands up, touching his lip again lightly.
They leave as soon as Natalie grabs her purse from the front hall, and she holds Mark's hand on the way home. Mark lets her, because her hands are warm, and what's a little violation of personal space now?
"I'm sorry for making you come," she says, hesitantly, at her front porch.
She touches his lip, ignoring his wince. "You should put ice on that. It looks kind of like you got into a fight."
"Yeah," Mark says, and leaves her under the circle of the porch light.
His mother does think it's from a fight, after all, and she won't believe him when he says it isn't, because there's nothing else he can tell her it's from. After her lecture she gives him a towel full of ice and puts him in front of the TV with his sisters, who are all asleep.
Right after midnight Mark hears Eduardo's knock on the front door. His mother lets him in, asking him in concerned, hushed tones if he knew who Mark had fought with, and Eduardo says, quite honestly, that he has no idea what she's talking about. Eventually she gives up and goes upstairs, letting Eduardo find Mark in the living room.
One of these days Mark is going to train his parents to pick up on his psychic cries for help. His mother should be attuned to these things, but she always abandons him at the worst possible time.
Eduardo is kind of laughing to himself when he comes in, but he stops abruptly when he sees Mark. "Did you really get in a fight?" he asks, eyeing the ice.
"Are you stupid?" Mark snaps. "No. Someone bit me."
Eduardo snorts and starts laughing again.
"You can leave," Mark says.
"I'm sorry," he says, and repeats it when Mark glares at him. "Really," he says. "And thanks. I did not want to make out with Sara Jameson."
"Glad to be of assistance," Mark bites out, trying not to move his mouth too much. It's pleasantly numb, and he doesn't want to disturb it. "Next time, go fuck yourself."
Eduardo says, "What are you watching?" settling in next to him, and characteristically doesn't notice the way Mark ignores him the rest of the night.
In the morning Mark has a purple bruise around the teeth marks. There is no way he's going to be convincing his mother it wasn't a fight. Eduardo sort of chortles every time he sees it, even if he tries to make up for it by providing Mark with offers of ice cream and half-assed apologies with no real intent behind them. Mark might have appreciated the ice cream, if it weren't the middle of fall and nearly freezing outside. It takes a week for it to fade, too, and at school he has to ignore the teasing both from those people who know what it's from and those who think they do. November comes, and Mark is indescribably grateful. By the time the bruising fades Eduardo has already forgotten what it was from, and so has everyone else.
Mark is fucking tired of covering for Eduardo.
"Yes, he'll be here all night," Mark lies, while Eduardo's mother sighs down the line at him. "Are you sure you don't want to talk to him? I can go get him." The offer isn't actually an attempt to make the story more convincing; Eduardo said it would, and Mark believes him, but he's only saying it because he hopes Sandra will take him up on it eventually, and then Mark will have no choice but to rat Eduardo out.
It's only what he deserves.
"No, thanks, honey," Sandra says. "Just tell him to turn his cellphone back on, would you?"
"Sure," Mark lies again.
They say goodbye and she hangs up, and Mark goes back to his homework.
It's well after three a.m. when Mark's own cellphone lights up with a text, alerting him that Eduardo is outside and would like to be let in. Mark goes back to his homework for another half an hour, because Eduardo is not going to risk knocking or ringing the bell and getting himself caught by Mark's parents.
Finally Mark yawns and stretches and wanders downstairs.
"Asshole," Eduardo says, shivering, when Mark opens the back door. "I've been out here for almost an hour."
"Half an hour," Mark corrects. "Did you bring food?"
"I didn't have my car," Eduardo reminds him. "He picked me up. Sorry," he adds belatedly, when Mark makes a face.
"Whatever," Mark says. Eduardo follows him upstairs, and they both tiptoe past his parents' room. If his mother were awake that'd be enough of a giveaway - they don't bother to be quiet any other time.
"So what have you been doing all evening?" Eduardo asks, sitting on Mark's bed and stripping off his sweater.
Mark grabs his textbook off his pillow, holding it up pointedly, and then sets it on his desk.
"I didn't see it there," Eduardo says mildly. "That's all?"
"No," Mark says. "I also went out and hooked up with some guy I only met a week ago, and then I took advantage of someone who has better things to be doing to keep myself from getting in trouble for it."
"A date is not hooking up," Eduardo says, disgruntled, and then, down to boxers, climbs his happy way into Mark's bed, claiming Mark's favorite pillow.
"A date doesn't last until one in the morning," Mark says, and watches as Eduardo flushes. "I knew it," he says.
"Shut up," Eduardo says. "It wasn't like we—"
"I don't want to know," Mark says loudly. "Go to sleep or something, but shut up. And your mother is going to yell at you again for leaving your phone off."
"You told her I was over here, right?" Eduardo asks worriedly.
"Yes," Mark says. "Like every other weekend."
"This is only the fourth time, Mark," Eduardo says, sounding irritated. "It's not like I'm out every night."
Mark snorts, and boots up his computer.
But still, four times is pushing their luck, and the fifth time is the breaking point.
Eduardo's mother asks where Eduardo is, because he's not answering his phone again, and despite how much she threatens to take it away, she still prefers being able to reach him sometimes to never being able to get ahold of him. But Mark says he's over, and then later that night she apparently remembers something she needed to borrow, and when she comes over and gets talking to Mark's mom, it doesn't take them long to figure it out. Mainly because - and yes, Mark was eavesdropping, he is pretty certain Eduardo's going to get found out this time, and he wants to be there to hear it - Eduardo's mom asks what the two of them have been doing, that Eduardo needs to be over here all the time.
Mark's mom only has to say, "Over here?" and that's that. Mark goes to the kitchen and grabs soda, because he's about to be called in and interrogated and he doesn't want to be empty-handed for it.
Sure enough, he's only just cracked the can open when his mother yells up the stairs for him.
"Here," he says, coming up behind her, and watches both of them jump.
"Sit down," his mother says, and then they all sit on the couches and stare each other down.
"Where's Eduardo?" his mother says, after a while. She sounds irritated - Mark hasn't lost a staring contest with her in years, but for some reason she still tries to wait him out.
"I don't know," Mark says, because he doesn't. Eduardo doesn't tell him, because he says it'll give Mark some sort of plausible deniability. Mark knows their mothers better than Eduardo does, but he also doesn't actually care where Eduardo goes, so he never asks.
"Mark," his mother says.
Mark takes a drink. She takes the can from his hands.
"I don't know," Mark repeats. "He doesn't tell me where he goes."
"Nobody knows where he is?" Eduardo's mother says, voice rising in pitch. She's more prone to dramatics than the rest of them.
"Fine," Mark's mom says, ignoring Sandra. "Who is he with, then? Or when is he getting home? He's been staying here, hasn't he?"
"He'll be back late," Mark says. "He turns his phone off. I just wait for him to get back."
"Who's he with?" his mom asks again, because she's great at figuring out what Mark doesn't want to tell her.
"His date," Mark says cagily.
His mom eyes him, sitting back, but Sandra makes a loud exclamation and says, "And why does he need to hide that? We've let him go out before!"
Mark shrugs at her, ignoring his mother.
"Tell us when Eduardo is on his way over," his mother says, interrupting Sandra's rant about teenagers and avoiding curfews. "Sandra, how would you like to stay over and watch a couple of movies until your son gets back?"
They agree to lie in wait for Eduardo's arrival, and Mark edges back upstairs. Before he's completely escaped, though, his mother calls, "Mark, bring your phone down! I don't want you warning Eduardo."
He relinquishes it and returns to his computer, and thinks longingly of those teenagers with mothers who aren't so determined to be cunning.
Eduardo returns home shortly after two, which is earlier than last time but still more than late enough to guarantee he won't be leaving his house for the next week. Mark came down around midnight and joined the moms, because he has no way to know when Eduardo will get back and he wants to be there for this.
Eduardo walks in unsuspectingly, and then stops short when he sees his mom. His eyes dart to Mark, hovering behind both moms, and then he says, "Let me preface all of this by saying that I'm sorry for lying to you."
"That's not going to make me less angry with you," his mother tells him, tone dry. "But good try."
"And technically," Mark's mom adds, in an icy tone that makes Mark want to back away, "Mark was the one who did most of the lying. That should be his apology."
Mark does take a step back despite himself.
"Let's sit down," Eduardo's mom says lightly, and then grabs Eduardo's arm tight enough to make him wince and steers him into the living room. Mark hurries in front of them, trying to avoid the same treatment from his own mother.
"Care to explain?" Eduardo's mom asks, once they're all seated and she's arranged herself into the best position from which to level a glare at Eduardo.
"I was on a date," Eduardo says. He straightens his shoulders, very deliberately.
"Where?" his mother asks, and follows it up with lots of plaintive questions about why he has to stay out so late and why can't he leave his phone on and why doesn't he just tell them these things?
Privately, Mark thinks she kind of sucks at this whole lecturing thing, though judging by Eduardo's expression, as a guilt trip it's working just fine. He does a remarkable job holding up, though, surviving longer against her heartbroken speeches than Mark's ever seen him last before. He's also refusing to admit very much, which Mark's mom, at least, is picking up on, because her fingers keep tapping against her leg impatiently at the points in the conversation where, Mark knows, she would normally press for more information.
Eduardo survives, though. They're both released with the punishment of yard work all weekend, and Eduardo promises to drive errands for both of them all week, but they get sent up to bed finally.
They are so close, Eduardo has gone the whole night without giving anything away, and then when they're at the foot of the stairs Eduardo's mom asks, as a complete afterthought, "What's her name?"
"Ethan," Eduardo says, and then freezes.
Eduardo hasn't looked away from his own feet yet, so Mark very slowly looks over. His mother looks mildly amused, while Eduardo's mom is blinking at him slowly, since she has the same coping mechanisms as her offspring.
"Okay," she says, after several more long seconds. "Fine."
Mark shoves Eduardo forward, and he darts up the rest of the stairs. Mark follows him up more slowly, trying to decide if he's got enough energy to find this amusing or if it will have to wait until tomorrow.
Eduardo wakes him up sometime ungodly early, like nine, and immediately starts going on about how he has to run away from home.
"You practically live here anyway," Mark says, and tries to bury his head back under his pillow.
"I'm not talking about here!" Eduardo says. "They could find me here! I need to go somewhere else."
"You got found out because you were going places you aren't supposed to," Mark says, yawning. "You should try staying put this time."
"But what if—" Eduardo starts.
"It's fucking Saturday," Mark says, because that was his patience threshold, right there. "I'm going back to sleep, go talk to yourself in the bathroom."
He only gets fifteen more minutes of sleep. Then his mom knocks on the door, telling them to get up and get moving, they have to spend the day shuttling his sisters around.
Eduardo says, "It's better than raking leaves?" with a twitchy expression that makes Mark suspect he's still considering the whole running-away thing.
"You're overreacting about this," Mark tells him.
"Easy for you to say!" Eduardo says. "You didn't accidentally come out to your mother at four in the morning!"
"That was coming out?" Mark says. In the back seat, his sister starts to giggle.
Eduardo looks at him incredulously. "What did you think it was?"
Mark shrugs. "I thought coming out was supposed to be a big deal."
"This is!" Eduardo says, and when Mark makes a puzzled face he deflates and says, "Whatever. It's not as if you'll ever have to deal with it."
Mark says, "I might."
Eduardo goes quiet, darting looks at him every couple of seconds, and finally he says, "I can't tell if you're being sarcastic. For the record, I don't think any of this is funny, so please don't fuck with me."
Stung, Mark says, "I'm not."
"You're—" Eduardo says. "You don't like guys."
"I don't like anyone," Mark says, which is not strictly true, but it makes Eduardo smile, so whatever.
"But really, you have to go home eventually," Mark says, and chews on his straw. "You'll have to get clothes, at least."
"I'll buy more," Eduardo says, and drags Mark around the mall for another two hours before his sister is finally ready to go.
Mark really is going to kill him.
They're sent straight into the backyard to help Mark's dad as soon as they get back. He works them until dark, cheerfully ignoring everything weird going on, and then releases them just in time for dinner. Then they have to shower, and Eduardo makes Mark go first, and then takes almost an hour himself, and when he comes out Mark says, "My mother brought us up plates of food. She says she's wise to your plan and you can't avoid everyone forever."
"She also said," Mark adds, and hands Eduardo the other plate, "that if our water heater goes out she's blaming you."
Eduardo has to go home that night. His mother calls, and Mark's mother kicks him out as soon as he's done eating, and when he's done clutching at Mark as if they were five again he goes home.
Mark is all prepared for something interesting to happen, and he stays up until two in the morning waiting to see if Eduardo will sneak back over seeking sanctuary, but it all sort of dies down. Eduardo will never tell him what exactly happened, but he doesn't freak out. The only thing Mark can tell has changed is that Eduardo dumps Ethan. He says it's because Ethan was a dick about everything, and, disappointingly, that is that.
Eduardo comes home for winter break absurdly early, like at the beginning of December. Mark only knows he's back because he comes home from class one day - finally driving, his mom gave him her old car when she got a new one - and Eduardo is in the living room, talking to Mark's dad. Mark drops his backpack more loudly than he probably should, and they both turn and smile at him.
"Hey," Eduardo says, looking at Mark weirdly, and Mark stares back.
"What are you wearing," he says, "it looks ridiculous."
Eduardo blinks, looking bemused, and Mark just stands there awkwardly, waiting for Eduardo to respond.
"Okay, how about we all go start dinner, impress your mother when she comes home?" his dad says, and shepherds them into the kitchen.
Mark stares dourly into the pantry, but obediently pulls out the pasta when instructed. His dad is asking Eduardo questions about school, and Mark listens despite himself.
They get shoed away eventually, and Eduardo sits down in one of the kitchen chairs. Mark wavers before sitting down across from him.
"So how's school going?" Eduardo asks.
"Fine," Mark says suspiciously.
"Make any new friends this year?" Eduardo says, smiling sweetly.
"No," Mark says flatly. His dad, over by the stove, snickers to himself.
Eduardo makes a disappointed face. "I'm sorry to hear that. Have you tried joining clubs?"
"No, mom," Mark snaps, and Eduardo finally drops the facade of concern and starts laughing.
"Aw, poor thing," he says, in a near-perfect imitation of his mother, and reaches across the table to try to pinch Mark's cheek.
Mark jerks away so hard his chair shrieks across the floor.
"Glad to see college hasn't changed you, Eduardo," Mark's dad says, always one to contribute. "I was worried for a minute when I saw the suit."
Eduardo sounds a little sheepish when he says, "I think it has, actually. Mark just brings out the worst in me."
"The same is true in reverse," his dad says cheerfully. "One of you go get the garlic, would you?"
Mark gets up, and wonders bitterly what it would've been like to grow up with parents that liked him best.
Pasta doesn't take long to cook, of course, so as soon as it's done it gets put in a container and stuck in the fridge, because dinner won't actually be for another two hours or so. Eduardo is left at odd ends, because Mark's dad insisted he stay to eat with them and say hello to everyone else, which means Mark is at odd ends, because Eduardo is looking at him expectantly.
"Mark's girlfriend is coming over, I think," Mark's dad says, because he enjoys tormenting Mark and has undoubtedly noticed the awkward silence.
"Is she," Eduardo says, raising his eyebrows, and then he follows as Mark hightails it upstairs.
Eduardo smiles and sits on his bed. "So you have a girlfriend now."
"Yes," Mark says testily.
"Who is it?" Eduardo asks, cocking his head. "Anyone I know?"
Mark mutters her name as quietly as he's capable of, hoping Eduardo won't hear him.
"Natalie?" Eduardo says, and looks astonished.
"Yes," Mark says, and adds, "Don't be a dick."
"I wouldn't," Eduardo says, frowning at him. "Why would you even say that?"
A couple minutes later Natalie's knocking on his door and peeking her head in.
"Hey," she says softly, and then her eyes catch on Eduardo. "Oh my god, hi!" she says, and comes in to hug him.
"Hello," Eduardo says, hugging her back. He makes an incomprehensible expression at Mark over her shoulder.
"You've actually changed," she says, releasing him. "I wasn't sure if you would. Or if you wouldn't."
"I'm not the only one," he says.
Natalie flushes. "I just cut my hair off," she says. "I don't get why everyone keeps commenting on it."
"It's not just—" Eduardo starts, with a weird expression, darting a look over at Mark, but the front door slams downstairs.
"Are you eating with everyone?" Eduardo asks instead, and Natalie says, "Well, I don't usually invite myself, but sure," and then they both drag Mark downstairs.
"She got hot," Eduardo says, as he's leaving that evening.
"I noticed," Mark says.
"I wasn't expecting that," Eduardo says.
"I don't think anyone was," Mark admits, and then shoves Eduardo the rest of the way out the door.
Eduardo is around all the time. Logically, Mark knows he used to be around all the time before, too, when he wasn't a couple hours away. Mark remembers how much time they always spent together before. He just hasn't been around much - at all - in the recent months, so Mark had lost the habit of accounting for his presence.
But he's back to be around all the time, and it's weird.
"He's weird," Natalie corrects him, nodding, and they go back to their careful observation.
They're all at the annual Christmas party, this year being hosted at Mark's house, because his mother says she feels guilty, since they have no young children anymore but haven't offered to host it before. Mark thinks they get a free pass, since they're Jewish, but his mother had glared at him and said, "It's about the spirit of the holiday, Mark," and refused to talk to him about it anymore.
Mark also thinks, if it's about the spirit, that Eduardo's parents could've volunteered, since they don't have any children at home anymore, period.
Eduardo, when Mark had complained to him, had blanched and said, "Oh, god, can you imagine my mother planning a party for a hundred people?"
Natalie had started laughing, and Mark had cringed too, and eventually admitted that yes, okay, maybe it would be better to leave Eduardo's mother out of things.
Still, Eduardo had spent the last three days at Mark's house, helping out with preparations as if he felt guilty.
Now they're probably about halfway through the party, and Eduardo hasn't sat with them for even five minutes. Instead he's going around socializing - and not in the way his parents always made him do, where he shook everyone's hand and waited to be dismissed; not even in the way Mark's mom requires, where she makes all of her children speak to at least three neighbors (and Eduardo's or Natalie's parents didn't count) for ten minutes each before they were allowed to run off and hide.
No, Eduardo is actually enjoying himself. It's the most horrifying thing Mark has ever seen.
"Is college really that big of a deal?" Natalie asks, doubtfully. "I mean, Randi didn't come back all that different."
"I'm a little worried now," Mark concedes.
"It's probably just him," Natalie says.
"It would be just him," Mark says darkly.
From across the room, Eduardo catches Mark's eye and smiles. Mark eyes him suspiciously.
Sure enough, after another minute, Eduardo gestures for Mark to come over.
Mark shakes his head.
Natalie elbows him. "You have to go," she hisses. "Now Mrs. Whatsherface is looking at you, and they obviously want to talk to you. If your mom finds out you ignored them she'll kill you."
Grumbling, Mark hops off the stool and proceeds across the room. Nobody ever sees Mrs. Whatsherface except around holidays. If Mark's mom hadn't sworn she lived six blocks behind them, Mark would've thought she just crashed these things for the food. Most people don't even actually know her. And, since they never see her, she begins every meeting with the exact same words:
"You can't be little Mark Zuckerberg, can you?" she exclaims, reaching for him.
Mark stays stiff as she tries to hug him, and glares at Eduardo over her shoulder, who looks amused.
"And I thought Edward here had gotten older!" she continues.
Eduardo makes a pained face; Mark smirks.
"Technically, he has," Mark says, when he's released. "Everyone does."
That was his attempt at a polite reply, but the cutting motion Eduardo makes with his hand says it apparently wasn't good enough.
Mark shuts his mouth again.
"Oh, you!" Mrs. Whoknows says. "Still have that sense of humor, I see."
"Yes," Mark says.
Eduardo says, "We were just talking about Harvard. I told her you were looking to go there, too."
"You think you can get in?" Mrs. - Mark thinks it's Denton. He is fairly sure it's Mrs. Denton - asks, nudging him playfully.
"They took him," Mark says, tilting his head at Eduardo.
Mrs. Denton laughs too loudly, while Eduardo gets this look on his face Mark doesn't understand. It's almost like he's actually upset.
She goes on to ask Mark about his school, and his lifelong plans, and other boring, traditional, invasive questions. Mark expects Eduardo to sneak off, now that he's subjected Mark to this torture, but he hangs around quietly until Mrs. Denton releases them.
The ulterior motive becomes clear as Eduardo, for the rest of the evening, drags Mark around with him while he talks to every person in the room. Mark gets loose only once, when he says he has to go to the bathroom and Eduardo has to let him go. By then, though, Natalie has completely disappeared, and Mark isn't going to go stand in the corner of his own kitchen like a coward, so he faces down Eduardo and his insane socializing schedule with a mostly-brave face.
The only positive side is that they get out of helping with clean up - Mark's mom, after the last few people leave, grabs both Mark and Eduardo and thanks them very sincerely for their newfound maturity. Eduardo smiles and tells her it was no big deal; Mark is terrified that the look of pride in her eyes may mean she now expects this sort of behavior to be a regular occurrence.
Upstairs, before Mark can tear into Eduardo for the hours of torture he just inflicted on them both, Eduardo sprawls over Mark's bed as if he's twelve again and says, muffled, "Thank god. I hate doing things like that."
Mark just stares at him.
"I mean," Eduardo says, turning his head and looking at Mark, "it gets so boring after you have the same conversation four times."
"What, but you—" Mark says.
Eduardo just looks puzzled.
"Why?" Mark asks, gesturing vaguely toward the stairs and downstairs living room.
Eduardo smiles at him, crinkly-eyed. "We have to join the ranks of adult society sometime," he says, but he sounds wistful.
Mark sits down. "No," he says. "I refuse."
Eduardo laughs and laughs, and Mark, surprisingly, doesn't mind the waste of the evening quite so much anymore.
Hanukkah used to be more exciting. Mark remembers, as a kid, the over-the-top enthusiasm for every new present that was revealed, and how he always waited anxiously to be allowed to go over to Eduardo's house and show him. Of course, Eduardo was never as jealous as Mark was hoping he'd be, and he usually broke or lost or belittled Mark's presents until Mark broke some of his, just to make himself feel better, but at least it was something to do.
Instead, he and Natalie and Eduardo spend most of their time in his room, doing pretty much nothing. Eduardo walks in on them making out once, and then looks very embarrassed and refuses to meet their eyes the rest of the day. Natalie is really uncomfortable, too.
By the time New Year's rolls around Eduardo is so bored that Mark almost sympathizes with him, which is a dangerous sentiment, because it means he gives in when Eduardo wants to drag he and Natalie to a party.
They drive almost half an hour to get there - which, if Mark's mom ever finds out, they're all dead; she thinks they were going to the other side of town - and there's way too many fucking people, and almost all of them are already drunk.
On the way, Eduardo stops at a liquor store, because Eduardo has a fake ID.
"Oh my god," Natalie says, scolding, and Eduardo looks embarrassed and says, "I'm in college!" as if that is any sort of defense.
Mark actually imagines it would come in handy, but Natalie looks scandalized all the rest of the way there.
The party is not a high school party; everyone there is older, and there are a lot of drugs available. But it is still actually pretty boring.
Natalie doesn't think so, judging by the way she ditches Mark about five minutes in. Eduardo also disappears after a while, and Mark is considering getting pissed off when he gets pulled into an argument about cross-platform functionality in site design, and he is just so pleased to meet someone who knows what the words mean that he forgets about Eduardo and Natalie entirely.
Until Eduardo is dragging him around by his shoulder and scolding, "There you are! I lost you." He drapes an arm around Mark sloppily. "You shouldn't run off," he continues. "What would I tell your mother?"
The two guys Mark was talking with snicker, and Mark feels his face start to burn. "I don't care," he snaps. "It's not as if I'm your responsibility."
"Of course you are," Eduardo says sadly. "Who else's would you be?"
"You're drunk," Mark says, realizing why Eduardo is acting so weird. Mark has never seen him drunk before.
"I am," Eduardo says, and starts tugging Mark away. "Let's find Natalie. You were supposed to watch her."
"Right," Mark says.
"Mark," Eduardo says. He props his chin on Mark's shoulder, and does a very good job at not tripping as he walks along with him. Mark does a very good job of ignoring the way Eduardo's fingers are digging into his stomach, and the way every word smears Eduardo's mouth wet and irritating across his neck.
"There's Natalie," Mark says. "Why don't you go sit with her."
"That's supposed to be your job," Eduardo informs him. "But I will fill in your absence."
"Have you ever had anyone record you when you're drunk?" Mark asks, on a whim.
Eduardo narrows his eyes at him. "Don't get any ideas." He ruins it by smiling at the end. "I'll let you record me if you let me record you the first time I get you drunk."
"Why do you think I'd let you get me drunk?" Mark asks, rhetorically, since Eduardo is already settling himself next to Natalie.
He can't find the guys again though, and in the interim most of the people in that area of the house have gotten a lot less intelligent and a lot more high, so after casing every room - and realizing he's not entirely sure he'd recognize them again anyway - Mark gives up and tries to work his way back toward the front of the house.
The house is really crowded now, people pressing three thick on the stairs and up against the banisters, everyone staring at the big screen TV.
"Ten!" everyone starts chanting, and Mark winces and tries to push his way through.
Somebody tries to pass him a party hat, which he drops on the floor, and somebody else tries to grab him, but he makes it to the living room just as the count reaches one.
And the next second it's the New Year, and Mark is treated to the sight of Eduardo's tongue in his girlfriend's mouth.
Everyone around them goes stupid, kissing everyone in reach, but Eduardo and Natalie don't even pretend to break away from each other; it just goes on and on, until the last of the cheers have died away and people start filing outside to look at the fucking stars or something.
They don't stop, in fact, until someone starts whistling at them, and even then Eduardo tucks his face into her neck and laughs. Natalie meets Mark's eyes, somehow, and she flushes, pretty across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose.
Mark heads outside with the rest of the drunken morons, leaving them to it.
Natalie comes by the next day. Mark lets her in and they go up to his room wordlessly, ignoring his sister's greeting from the living room.
"So," he says, and waits.
Natalie bites her lip, looking uncertain.
"You made out with Wardo," Mark prompts.
"I think we should break up," Natalie blurts, and then sucks her lip back into her mouth.
Mark blinks at her. "What?"
She winces. "Sorry."
"No, what?" Mark says. "You're dumping me after making out with my best friend?" He eyes her warily. "You know he's gay, right? You two couldn't—"
"Shut up, Mark, god!" Natalie says. "Of course I know that. It's not because of him."
"Then what?" Mark says. He pulls out his desk chair, sitting heavily, and Natalie, after a second, sits down on his bed across from him.
"Well, it's a little because of Eduardo," she says. "I mean, I don't like him or anything, but—"
She trails off again, staring at the wall, and Mark says, "But."
"But kissing him was just like kissing you," she says. "And I mean, I don't like him, so it should've felt different. But I don't think I want to date you."
"You don't think," Mark repeats flatly. "What do you think?"
"Don't be an ass," she says, glaring.
Mark just stares at her.
"Look," she continues weakly. "I still want to be friends."
She lifts her chin up. "I'm serious!" she insists. "I've known you for forever, you're one of my best friends."
"So we'll be friends," Mark says.
"I want to be," Natalie repeats. "I mean, maybe it was stupid we did this in the first place. Maybe—"
"We've been dating for almost six months," Mark says. "You expect me to believe this just occurred to you now?"
"I just don't like you!" Natalie says. "And when I told him, Eduardo said—"
"You told Eduardo all this?" Mark says. "Why the fuck—"
"I was drunk," she snaps. "And he was there."
"As we've established," Mark mutters.
"Okay, you know what?" Natalie says, and then takes a deep breath and stands up. "I'm going to go. Call me or whatever, if you want. I was trying to be nice about this."
Mark says, "Good job," caustically, and refuses to watch as she slams the door behind herself.
Eduardo hauls himself up around one p.m., appearing from the guest room Mark dropped him in last night like a zombie from a grave. Mark hopes, more than anything, that he's suffering from the worst hangover in history.
"Nice of you to join us," Mark's mom says, and goes to make him a sandwich.
"Thanks," Eduardo says, smiling sheepishly before wincing. "I'm sorry, this probably seems inappropriate."
"Hey, that's what your freshman year is for," Mark's dad says. "I don't remember half of mine."
"Edward!" Mark's mom scolds, while Donna starts giggling.
Eduardo sits next to Mark, nudging him with his elbow and saying lowly, "Hey. Are you hung over?"
"I didn't drink," Mark says, and stands up. "I'm done," he tells his mom, and sets his dishes in the sink.
"You're welcome for lunch!" she calls after him.
Mark ignores her.
He knows better than to think Eduardo will leave him alone. He never has before, and he scents Mark's emotional agonies like a bloodhound and then chases them like a hyperactive beagle. Except Mark would probably be feeling more charitable towards him right now if he did have fur and a wet nose.
As expected, Mark's door gets nudged open by Eduardo, who's carrying a plate with his as-yet uneaten sandwich and a glass of milk, which he sets on Mark's nightstand.
"Not great hangover food," he says, making a face.
Eduardo watches him for a moment, and then says, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Mark says. He turns in his chair, facing Eduardo down.
"Something's wrong," Eduardo says. "Come on, what's up?"
"How much do you remember when you get drunk?" Mark asks. "I've never been around you when you drink before, so I have no frame of reference."
"How much do I - oh," Eduardo says. "Natalie."
"Yeah," Mark says, and waits.
"I'm sorry?" Eduardo tries. "I didn't mean anything by it. She didn't either! We were just both - there."
"I don't care about what you did," Mark says. "I care about what you said."
"Oh," Eduardo says, in a much lower tone. "Natalie already talked to you, I take it?"
"Natalie already dumped me," Mark says, and watches Eduardo flinch.
"I'm so sorry," Eduardo says.
"What did you say?"
Eduardo says, "Look, Mark—"
"No," Mark says. "She didn't tell me what you said."
Clearly hesitating, Eduardo stares around Mark's room.
"Eduardo," Mark says.
He falls back onto Mark's bed, breathing out loudly. "I just told her that she shouldn't date you if she wasn't sure," he says.
"Sure of what," Mark says, "We're friends, we get along, the sex is—"
"Stop!" Eduardo says. "I don't want to hear about you and Natalie having sex!"
"Well, we won't be anymore," Mark says bitterly.
"There's more important things than sex and just getting along," Eduardo says, pushing himself up onto his elbows and staring over at Mark, very seriously.
"Like true love and magic kisses?" Mark says. "I've always heard the rumors, but—"
"That's not what—" Eduardo starts.
"I know, it wasn't destiny," Mark says. "Obviously, how could we have missed—"
"You know what?" Eduardo snaps. "Yes."
Mark stares at him.
"Yes," Eduardo repeats. "Whatever you want to call it, and even if you think it's crap, if you're just in a relationship because you want to have sex and you get along with the other person, you might as well be friends and buy a fucking sex toy."
Mark just stares at him some more.
"It sounds stupid when you talk about it like that," Eduardo continues, more quietly. "Because we like to pretend we're in the real world. But there needs to be something like that, yes. Relationships are miserable if you're in them for any other reason than loving the other person."
"Well, you'd know," Mark says. "How many girls did you fuck to try to make yourself straight?"
"More than you've managed to get to look at you," Eduardo shoots back, and then looks uncomfortable. "Mark, come on, stop," he says. "I don't want to fight. I know you're upset—"
"I'm not," Mark says. "I'm disappointed."
Eduardo takes a slow, deep breath. "Okay, fine," he says. "Either way. I just don't want to say things we'll regret."
"I won't regret it," Mark says, narrowing his eyes.
"I will," Eduardo says. "Look, I'm just going to go. I'll see you tomorrow."
Mark doesn't manage to hold out over the rest of break. He stays angry with Natalie, mostly because she's angry with him, too, and they avoid each other. But Eduardo, regardless of Mark's temper, comes over every day without fail and just - waits. As if he has nothing better to do until Mark forgives him.
Mark doesn't forgive him, but he eventually has to speak to him again. And to Eduardo, that's the same thing.
Mark, unsurprisingly, does get into Harvard.
Equally unsurprisingly, his mother is an invasive bitch who asks Eduardo to watch over him, as if Mark were a sheep or Eduardo an angel.
Eduardo, while dragging Mark around campus as if he were an official goddamn tour guide and not the worst person in Mark's life, says quite serenely that he considers himself the second, actually, so Mark doesn't need to sound quite so derisive of the idea.
What is surprising is that Eduardo knows almost everyone Mark meets. Because Harvard? It turns out Harvard is not that large a university. And it's not just the people Eduardo introduces him to, because that would obviously be expected.
The first day of classes, Mark sits next to some girls who shyly ask him if he's interested in going to their sorority's something or other. Mark shrugs and says yes, and they ask if he's in any frats, and he says he's probably going to join AEPi because he's got a friend in it, and they ask if it's anyone they know, and Mark says Eduardo's name, and all three go, "Oh," in this long-drawn out tone like some heroine from a fucking romance novel.
After that they won't leave him alone, until they find out he's nothing at all like Eduardo, and then they can't get away from him fast enough.
And it keeps happening. By the middle of the second day of classes Mark has learned to avoid mentioning Eduardo, just in case, but by then it's too late.
"I don't know everyone," Eduardo says, hinting, when he somehow tracks Mark down in one of the dining halls. "I don't know your roommates."
"And you never will," Mark says flatly. Eduardo keeps trying to wrangle an introduction out of Mark. Mark is of the opinion that if he wants roommates so badly he shouldn't have gotten a single. Then he could terrorize his own.
Mark, however, actually sort of likes his roommates, and he wants to keep their relationships on the normal end of things, which for Mark means Eduardo-free.
He joins AEPi with Chris and Dustin, but he doesn't tell Eduardo; Eduardo skips all the freshman events, so he doesn't ever run into them.
And then one day Mark comes back from class and finds Eduardo in the suite, talking to them.
"Hello," Eduardo says easily, as if he feels no urge to be utterly ashamed of himself.
Mark says, "Get out."
"Hey!" Dustin protests. "No! He's telling us all about your embarrassing childhood."
"He is not," Mark says.
"I am, actually," Eduardo admits. "You realize how many horrible pictures our mothers took of us?"
Eduardo's computer out on the table, and the pictures must be on there, because Chris is ignoring the three of them, clicking through.
"I'm wiping your hard drive," Mark says flatly.
"Our mothers have back ups," Eduardo calls after him, as he dumps his bag in his room.
"You guys took baths together?" Chris suddenly says, half-laughing.
Dustin leans over, staring, and coos, "Naked babies!"
Eduardo starts laughing.
Mark says, "They took pictures of that?"
"They took pictures of everything," Eduardo tells him.
"That's like child porn," Mark snaps.
"Well, it's not like you're touching each other," Dustin says, still snickering.
"Ugh," Mark says.
He cannot get Chris and Dustin away from the pictures. Chris keeps slapping his hands away, which sounds as if it'd be pretty ineffective, but Chris actually has really good aim. Dustin is draped completely over Chris, and he kicks Mark anytime he gets too close, too. Mark finally gives up, retreating to the couch, where he gets out his own laptop and keeps a watchful eye on things, just in case it gets too bad.
"I sent you the emails, too," Eduardo says. "There's a lot of them. There are literally thousands of pictures."
"I've never seen any of them before," Mark says.
"Your mother said she and my mother have been working on putting them all together since I graduated."
"And they finished, and sent them to you, and you felt like you needed to invade my room and sabotage my life with my roommates," Mark says. "Logical course of action."
Eduardo looks at him, puzzled. "I wanted to show you. I came over looking for you."
"Right," Mark says.
"And it's not sabotage," Eduardo says, shaking his head at Mark. "They like you."
"They also like being assholes," Mark says.
"You're worrying too much," Eduardo says. "I barely know them, and I don't mind them seeing the pictures."
Mark would like to point out that they're not his roommates, but Eduardo almost certainly wouldn't get it. Instead he bites out, "I'm not worrying," and does his best to ignore the sounds of Chris and Dustin digging through most of his childhood.
He does have all the emails - a hideous amount. He hesitates over the attached folders of pictures for a long time, but when he sees that Eduardo is occupied with Dustin and Chris, he saves them all quickly and then puts his laptop to the side.
"Who's this?" Dustin asks suddenly.
"Natalie," Eduardo says, after a pause. "She also grew up with us. She moved in down the street when Mark was nine."
"Does she go here, too?" Chris asks. "Is that another friend Mark has been hiding from us?"
"No," Eduardo says, after another short silence. "She goes to UPenn."
Mark ignores all three of them, though he's pretty sure Eduardo is doing the thing where he stares at the back of Mark's head.
Natalie and he, by the end of senior year, were speaking to each other again. They were never quite friends, however, and Mark hadn't expected her to go to Harvard. She hadn't, after all, and it's not likely they'll ever spend much time together ever again. Eduardo, over the summer, saw her more than Mark did.
"Wait, wait," Dustin says. "Did she and Mark ever date?"
"Uh, yes," Eduardo says, sounding surprised.
"So Mark actually has had a girlfriend," Dustin says. "I thought he was making it up."
"Fuck you, Dustin," Mark says, turning around.
"Well," Dustin says, and shrugs.
"Yes, Mark has had a girlfriend. There will probably be pictures of them together later on," Eduardo sounds sort of vaguely amused, but he's watching Mark out of the corner of his eye.
"Who broke up with who?" Dustin asks.
Mark says, "It was mutual."
"She dumped you," Dustin says, and makes a sympathetic face.
Mark says, "Not exactly," and turns back to his computer.
"Did she dump him?" Dustin asks Eduardo.
"I think it really was more mutual," Eduardo says, uncomfortably.
"But—" Dustin persists, and then stops suddenly, hissing. Chris probably pinched him.
Eduardo finally leaves to attend to prior commitments. Chris and Dustin extract promises for him to return before he goes, and as soon as he's out the door they descend on Mark.
"Why haven't we met him?" Chris says.
"Because he humiliates Mark, obviously," Dustin says. Mark feels vindicated.
"He seems nice," Chris says.
"You two are really good friends," Dustin says. He and Chris stare at each other, and then turn and look at Mark. It's a little unnerving.
"What?" Mark says.
"I just never pictured you as the type to have a best friend," Chris says.
"You're kind of prickly," Dustin says.
"He's not my best friend," Mark mutters, and takes his laptop into his room.
Dustin still won't quite let the girlfriend thing go.
"But seriously," he says, looking through the pictures a week or so later. Eduardo has been over every day since, and sometime in there Dustin had weaseled the files out of him, so now Dustin and Chris have their own personal copies. Mark thinks it's kind of creepy; Eduardo says it's good to have friends who are interested in your life. "She was hot. Why did you two break up?"
"We weren't compatible," Mark says.
"Did she break your heart?" Dustin continues, teasing. "Did you write her love poems, did you buy her flowers? Did she abandon you to the cruel winds of fate?"
"You just used so many clichés I'm not sure I can handle it," Chris says. Mark snorts in agreement.
Part of the reason Chris and Dustin like having Eduardo around, even outside the blackmail material he gives them on Mark - and seriously, if Dustin threatens to print out the naked bathtub pictures one more time, Mark is going to ruin his life - is that he has an awful lot of older contacts who can provide them with everything from alcohol to weed. It's actually not difficult to get ahold of it; Chris and Dustin just appreciate the fact that Eduardo gets it for free.
Mark knows for a fact that he doesn't get it for free. He's never going to inform Dustin or Chris of this, however, because they would feel obligated to pay Eduardo back. They also wouldn't understand that Mark doesn't, because Eduardo has always done things like this, and there's no point fucking with the status quo now.
It has been fifteen years exactly, as of four o'clock today, since Mark met Eduardo the first time. He knows this because Eduardo had said, "Happy anniversary!" when he invaded their suite this morning, ungodly chipper and for all intents sincere, even when he'd had to explain what the fuck he was talking about.
Unfortunately, Dustin and Chris were in the room at the time, and now all day Mark has been getting obnoxious text messages containing hearts and crude sexual suggestions. There were also links to web pages about "the crystal anniversary."
Mark hates Dustin. Today, however, he hates Chris more, because there is a bouquet of roses that Eduardo just handed over, and it is not from Dustin.
"You two know each other?" Erica asks, surprised, and then leans over and pokes at the flowers. Mark crumples the card and says, "From Chris."
Eduardo smiles, takes the flowers back before Mark can trash them, and says, "Since before elementary school, actually."
"Aw, that's sweet," Erica says, glancing at Mark.
Mark frowns at her. "Not really," he says, and nudges Eduardo aside to unlock the door.
"He's ashamed of me," Eduardo tells Erica, widening his eyes at her.
"Not the word I'd use," Mark mutters, and lets both of them into the suite before he shuts the door.
"Hello," Dustin says cheerfully. "What's up, Wardo?" He eyes the flowers smugly.
"Oh, you know," Eduardo says. "We should catch up," he continues, to Erica.
"You know each other?" Dustin says.
Mark sighs loudly. All three of them ignore him.
"We worked on that commemorative history thing for the city last year," Eduardo says, and Erica adds, "What are the odds, right?" She still sounds awfully happy, and she smiles brightly at Eduardo.
Dustin looks endlessly amused, waggling his eyebrows at Mark. About halfway through last year, Mark had gotten tired of avoiding the questions about Natalie, and when Dustin and Chris and he had all been drunk he'd spat the whole thing out. Chris had been sympathetic. Dustin had thought it was hilarious, and called him demeaning names for a week.
Scowling, Mark stomps into his bedroom.
Erica really likes Eduardo. Eduardo really likes Erica. Mark would like to be able to see his girlfriend without his friends around.
"Come on," Erica says lightly, scolding. "I want to go out with them. And you like having Eduardo around."
"We'll spend the whole time arguing," Mark says. They do - they argue about what drinks are good or shitty, and who's hot, and whether Dustin will be able to pull anyone who is, and how many guys Eduardo is allowed to sleep with before Mark is allowed to call him a whore to his face.
"Nobody can argue all night," Erica says. "Besides, it's your anniversary."
"I hate him," Mark says.
Erica laughs quietly and kisses his cheek. "He said you'd come around."
So Mark and Erica's date becomes a weird, bastardized anniversary celebration for lifelong friendship or something. Eduardo buys them all beer, and he challenges Mark to a game of darts, which he loses because he starts trying to teach Erica to play halfway through, and none of her darts even hit the board.
She kicks Dustin's ass at pool, though.
When they're all pretty buzzed, Chris says, "Okay, back to the table."
"Do we have cake?" Dustin says. "We should have cake."
"We should stop at a bakery on the way back," Erica says. "Are any bakeries open this late?"
"No," Eduardo says, and looks apologetic.
Mark cannot believe these are the people he spends his time with.
"Anyway," Chris says. "Get on with it, Wardo, we need to get going soon."
"So let's go," Mark says.
"Not yet," Eduardo says, and grabs Mark's wrist.
Mark looks at his hand suspiciously. Erica tilts her head, too, and looks a little less amused than a minute ago.
"Mark Zuckerberg," Eduardo gets out solemnly, and then Dustin starts snickering, and Chris kicks him, and Eduardo starts smiling, and Mark says, "I'm leaving," and makes his escape.
Erica insists she can't stay over, so they all walk her to the station and see her off. Formally. They wait, on the platform, until they can't see her anymore. Dustin waves the whole time.
Eduardo decides he can stay over, and then he decides he can't stay on the couch, so Mark has to share his tiny bed.
"Mark," Eduardo whispers. "Come on. I know you're not sleeping."
"I am not whispering in the dark with you like a middleschooler," Mark says, except his voice sounds too harsh when Eduardo's face is less than a foot away.
"We were whispering when we were in high school, come on," Eduardo says. Mark can see his teeth when he smiles.
"Because you made me," Mark grumbles, but he's already unintentionally dropped into a murmur.
"I have this for you," Eduardo says, and fumbles over the edge of the bed until he comes up with a box. "I was going to give it to you in the bar."
"What is it?" Mark says, taking the box without conscious decision.
Eduardo rolls his eyes. "Open it."
It's a watch. It's a watch almost identical to Eduardo's, which means it was expensive, and it's almost identical to Eduardo's, which means Eduardo is being serious, because he always wants Mark to like the same things he does.
Mark bites his first reaction back, which is to ask if Eduardo is sure he doesn't want to return it before Mark finds a way to break it in the next two weeks.
For the record, Mark wouldn't actually give a shit about breaking the watch. But he values his time, and the effort Eduardo will put into making him miserable if he loses or ruins it is not worth it.
He says, "I don't wear watches," even though Eduardo already knows that.
"You don't have to wear it," Eduardo says, laughing a little. "I know your delicate wrists would bruise."
"Your wrists are smaller than mine," Mark says, automatically.
"It's an anniversary gift," Eduardo says. "For our fifteenth."
Mark says, "Am I supposed to apologize for not getting you something?"
"Don't be sarcastic," Eduardo says mildly. "I just wanted to get you something. This seemed fitting."
"Not to mention, you were going to give it to me in front of Dustin and Chris, who would've thought it was hilarious."
Eduardo says, "There is that."
"Which one of them went shopping with you?" Mark says, snorting. He puts the box on his dresser.
"Chris," Eduardo admits.
"I hate my roommates," Mark says, and then rolls onto his stomach and sleeps. He ignores the arm Eduardo drapes across his back, but only because he knows there's no other way for the two of them to fit.
Eduardo's around a lot after that. Mark isn't sure how often he even sleeps in his own room anymore - the only nights Mark can be sure he's not around are those when Erica is staying over and Eduardo says he doesn't want to intrude.
Erica is around a lot too, since she's much more willing to just come over and hang out when someone else is there. Eduardo tells Mark she's around more because they go out less, as if he's worried for them, but as far as Mark is concerned, if she's happy to just come over and hang out, there's no reason to do anything else.
Mark watches Erica and Eduardo together warily at first, until Dustin starts making fun of him for being worried about Eduardo stealing his girlfriend again, and then Mark deliberately ignores the two of them, just to prove Dustin wrong, and by the time he thinks about it again, ignoring them has become habit, so sometimes Erica is over and Eduardo is always over so sometimes they're both over.
Chris, whenever they are both over, spends most of the evening hovering over Eduardo. He says it's because he enjoys listening to Mark and Eduardo bicker; Mark doesn't believe him, because he hates when Mark talks any other time, but he can't figure out what's actually going on. Eduardo, when Mark asks, just smiles and says Chris worries too much.
"That's cute," Erica says one afternoon. She's sitting on the edge of the couch, leaning over Mark's shoulder and eating. It's kind of gross, and she keeps getting crumbs all over his keyboard, but he doesn't say anything because that might piss her off and Mark hasn't gotten laid in a while. Eduardo and Chris are in the kitchen, arguing vehemently about whether it would be okay, when throwing out Dustin's stash of half-eaten sandwiches, to keep a few of the ones that haven't gone bad yet or whether they should all get tossed.
"Chris isn't Eduardo's type," Mark says, which may or may not be true. Mark only knows what Eduardo's type was in high school, which was a long time ago. But he doubts Eduardo migrated from crushing on delinquents who regularly engaged in illegal activities to liking prep school boys.
"I don't think it matters," Erica says. "And come on, don't you think it'd be cute if they got together?"
"No," Mark says.
"Well, it would be," Erica says. "And this way you won't have to worry about whether or not you'll like Eduardo's boyfriend."
"I've never worried about that," Mark says, completely honest.
"Then let's bring them to that charity party tonight," Erica says. "I'll fill my quota for people and it'll be fun."
Mark blames Dustin for all of this. If he were here there would be nobody to be his date, and Chris and Eduardo would feel bad, and they would refuse to go, and then Mark would be alone with Erica.
Instead he is at the party, sitting at a table with a cup of the worst punch he's ever tasted and being ignored.
Eduardo and Chris are across the room, talking to someone Chris knows. They've been standing together all night.
"Sorry," Erica says, coming back from the bathroom. "Long line."
Mark shrugs. Across the room, Chris nudges Eduardo's side with his elbow, subtly. "Do you really think they'd make a good couple?" he asks her.
She says, "Hm?" and then looks over. "Oh," she says. "Yeah."
"Why?" Mark asks.
Erica looks surprised. "I haven't thought about it," she says.
"Because if you're basing it on aesthetic considerations, that is both shallow and lazy."
Erica frowns at him. "Cute can refer to more than just physical attractiveness."
"Then what were you using it to refer to?" Mark asks.
"I don't know, Mark," Erica says, annoyed. "I said I hadn't put that much thought into it."
"I have," Mark says. "I've been watching them all evening, and I haven't seen any particular traits that engender confidence at the idea of a relationship."
"Well, that's not disturbing," Erica says. "Let's go over here now."
She drags him off, starts introducing him around as people come up to her to talk about every possible inane topic, from classes to what BU's dining hall serves for breakfast. It's like being out with Eduardo, the way people actually come up just to talk to her, but Erica won't let him leave the way Eduardo will.
"Where are Chris and Eduardo?" Mark asks, after half and hour and too many stupid girls have passed.
"I don't know," Erica says, frustrated. "Could you please come meet Alex, she's one of my closest—"
"They went outside," Mark says. "Why did they go outside? It's freezing."
"Mark!" Erica says, but he pulls away and heads toward the doors.
They're sitting on a bench right outside the door, and Chris is talking about something which he has very strong opinions about, judging by the gesticulating and the frightened expression on Eduardo's face.
"Hey," Mark says, interrupting.
"Getting some air," Eduardo says, and stares pointedly at Chris.
"I thought maybe you needed space to make out," Mark says.
They both gape at him.
"Erica thinks you'd make a good couple," Mark says. "Girls are usually right about these things."
"So you—" Eduardo coughs. "Why'd you follow us out if you thought we were—"
"To get proof," Mark says. "Dustin would be disappointed otherwise."
"Dustin," Chris says skeptically. And then he says, "Actually, you're right, if we were, Dustin would be disappointed if you didn't spy."
"But we're not," Eduardo says.
"Obviously," Chris says dismissively.
Eduardo looks uncomfortable. Mark waits.
"Where's Erica?" Eduardo says, shaking his head.
"Talking to friends," Mark says. "She wanted me to meet them."
"Did you?" Chris asks.
"I will," Mark says. Any other answer and Chris would probably kill him.
"Come on," Eduardo says, while Chris looks irritated at him. "Let's go find her."
But they get back inside and she's gone.
"Okay," Chris says, after they've scanned the room. "I'm going to get someone to check the bathroom. You two keep looking."
Eduardo goes one direction around the room and makes Mark go in another. Mark isn't sure why they're putting so much effort into this - it's not as if she's gotten kidnapped. Mark gives up on finding her after about ten minutes and decides to find Eduardo and leave. Erica will probably get angry, but it's her own fault for disappearing.
Mark does find her though, because she's standing with Eduardo, slightly apart from the group of girls she was trying to drag him towards earlier. She's frowning, talking very quickly, and Eduardo's leaning toward her. She has her hand on his arm.
Eduardo catches his eye and disentangles, nodding and smiling at her. She nods back, and then glares at Mark for a minute before turning to her friends.
"She's angry," Eduardo says apologetically when he gets to Mark. "She said we should just go home for now."
Mark lets himself be led out, but he doesn't like the way this is going.
Mark is not wholly oblivious. Thus, he is not entirely surprised when Erica texts him that night and asks him to meet up the next evening. He meets her at this shitty diner she likes, because they have amazing pancakes or something, and he's actually not late but she's still there before him.
He sits down, and says hello, and she stops spinning the coffee cup between her hands and says, "I think we should break up."
Mark says, "I just got here."
Erica rolls her eyes. "Sorry for dragging you all the way here. Next time I'll do it over text."
Mark says, "Why?"
"I was being sarcastic," Erica says.
"No, why should we break up," Mark says.
"We're not a good match," Erica says.
"Are you supposed to complain a lot first or something before you break up with me?" Mark says.
"I don't do that," Erica says. "You're taking this really well."
"No," Mark says. "I'm just trying to decide who to blame."
"It's not either of our faults," Erica says, reaching across to him.
Mark puts his hands in his lap. "No," he agrees, and leaves.
He gets the text right as he gets on the train.
if you really don't know why we're breaking up you should ask eduardo
The dorm is empty when he gets back - Chris and Dustin and Eduardo are all probably out. He grabs a couple of beers from the fridge and sits at his computer.
The first thing he does is take all the pictures of her and put them in a separate folder. He's got more than he thought he would - Dustin always takes pictures and emails them to Mark, and a surprising number have her in them. She also sent him pictures of herself, because she said she didn't want him to forget who his real girlfriend was when he was too busy worshipping his computer.
He buries them all in a file several subfolders deep.
As he's clicking around, making sure he's got all of them, he ends up digging into the folders with the childhood pictures. They're ordered by date, and there's too many of Mark, red-faced, fighting with Eduardo.
He wonders why their mothers never bothered to separate them, when they obviously made each other miserable. He has to click through a couple of years' worth of photos before he finds a picture where neither of them is upset or angry. Even then, it's a picture where they're both asleep.
He keeps digging through, and really, he cannot tell why they're friends - if one of them isn't upset in a picture the other one is.
About halfway through, the pictures start to include Natalie. Mark stares at her, smiling in between he and Eduardo the first summer after she'd moved into the neighborhood. He skips all the way to the end, and there they are - photos from that Christmas before she'd dumped him. There's one he's never seen before, where she's leaning against his shoulder and he has his laptop on his knees. Eduardo is on his stomach on the floor in front of them, head in Natalie's lap. He's talking, and Natalie is smiling down at him, ignoring the book she's holding. They look completely engaged in each other. Mark might as well not be in the picture.
Mark clicks out so hard his mouse creaks. Then he opens up a new project file.
The door to the suite slams open, Dustin heralding his arrival with the usual lack of courtesy. Mark stiffens, leaning around to stare at the front door, but it's only Chris and Dustin.
"Hey, Mark," Chris says. "We weren't expecting to see you here."
"Oh no," Dustin says. "Did things not go well? Did she refuse to put out? Did you accidentally call one of her friends a whore again?"
Mark ignores him. They wander into their room, but it's not long before Dustin wanders over. He asks what Mark's doing, and Mark tells him he's putting some of the baby pictures online, and Dustin talks about how that's a great idea, and how if he chooses the right ones it will probably increase everyone's chances of getting laid.
Mark doesn't tell him he's only picking the embarrassing ones, because he doesn't want to deal with Chris's disapproval right now.
When the site's ready Mark emails it to everyone in his three hundred capacity eight a.m. lecture and kicks Dustin out of his room so he can pass out.
If it weren't for the growing hits count on the site, Mark wouldn't know people were looking at it. Nobody says anything to him, which is not unsurprising but still a little disappointing. Mark was hoping for a bigger reaction than this.
But the site traffic keeps growing, and he knows people are seeing it. If he hadn't been sure, Eduardo would've confirmed it that afternoon when he catches Mark after class.
"Can I talk to you?" Eduardo says, and pulls Mark down a side hall.
Eduardo leans against the wall and sighs, looking away from Mark. "Why'd you put them up?"
Mark says, "Why not?"
"People have been asking me about it," Eduardo says quietly. "People I've never met have been asking about it."
"You said they were cute pictures," Mark says. "You said you weren't ashamed of them."
"They are," Eduardo says, "and I'm not, I just—" he stops and finally meets Mark's eyes. "I still didn't mean for the entire internet to have access to the most embarrassing moments of my childhood."
Mark says, "Yeah, I know it can be humiliating."
Eduardo stares at him. "Is this - did you make the site because I showed them to Chris and Dustin? That was over a year ago!"
"No," Mark says.
"And showing the entire school is not the same as showing your roommates," Eduardo continues, voice rising. "Even once you ignore the fact that I showed them all the pictures. You only put up the ones of me, you're not in any of them!"
"I didn't put the site up because you showed them to Chris and Dustin," Mark says, more loudly.
"Then why?" Eduardo sounds lost.
Mark says, "What do you think?"
Eduardo just shakes his head slightly, looking unbelievably confused.
Mark scowls and turns away. It'd be nice if, for once, Eduardo had the dignity to admit to what he did.
A couple of days pass, and the dorm settles into a stilted quiet. Mark hasn't seen Eduardo since that night, and he hasn't talked to anyone besides Dustin, either. Chris is angry and avoiding him. Dustin is still speaking to him because he doesn't think the pictures were that embarrassing, and, in his own words, said pointedly at Chris's back as Chris stormed out of the living room upon Mark's entrance, "definitely not anything to freak out over."
So Mark lets Dustin drag him shopping for - something, Mark only knows it involves a lot of stores and Dustin having to ask every employee in every one a question. He is incredibly bored. He's used to shopping with Eduardo, who is both more efficient than Dustin and also lets Mark just sit in one spot if his opinions on something aren't wanted.
Mark sort of wishes he were shopping with Eduardo instead of Dustin.
Since he's in the area, he decides to go see Erica again.
She gets this pinched expression when she opens the door for him, and he rocks back on his heels, tucking his hands into his pockets.
"Hello," she says.
"Hey," he says back.
"Well, I guess you can come in," she says.
Mark doesn't say anything, just lets her shut the door behind him.
"I'd ask how you've been, but I already know," she says.
"What does that mean?" he asks, frowning.
She snorts. "Are you here to get something to use to trash me online, too?"
"What?" Mark repeats.
"I saw the site, Mark," she says. "Which shouldn't surprise you. Everyone saw the site."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Mark says.
"Why are you here?" she asks.
"I wanted to talk to you," Mark says.
"We're not getting back together," she says flatly.
Mark bristles. "I don't know what Eduardo said to you, but—"
"Why are you such an ass about him?" Erica asks, exasperated. "You talk about him like he's a horrible person, but he's nicer than anyone else who likes you."
Stung, Mark says, "Nice enough to steal my girlfriend."
Erica rolls her eyes. "He didn't steal me. We never even talked to each other when you weren't around!"
"You dumped me after talking to him at the party that night," Mark insists.
Erica throws her hands up and says, "I dumped you because you're a terrible boyfriend!"
"I am not," Mark says. "Why?"
"Because you don't make time for anyone else," she says. "And what free time you do have, Eduardo takes up."
"That's not my fault," Mark says automatically. "He's always around."
"That's my point, Mark!" she says. "What does that say?"
"I don't like what you're implying," Mark tells her, narrow-eyed.
"I'm not implying anything," Erica says. "I am telling you, I broke up with you because you're too busy for anyone except Eduardo."
"He's always around?" Mark repeats. "You were the one who insisted on going everywhere with him!"
"For about two weeks!" she says. "Because I thought he was cute!"
Mark says, "You—" but she interrupts.
"And you were paranoid the whole time, but when I wanted him to be gone you suddenly stopped paying attention!"
"So it's my fault?" Mark says.
"He's your friend," she shoots back. "But even when you didn't want him to come out with us, if he was going somewhere you wanted to go, too! You're not little kids anymore, Mark."
"He usually forces me to come along," Mark snaps. "I hate it as much as you do."
"Um, no, you don't," Erica says, rolling her eyes again, and she backs him out of her room.
Eduardo is in the dorm with Chris. It looks like they just stopped by so Chris could grab something, because Chris looks irritated when he sees Mark. He's very firmly on Eduardo's side, which is unfair - there shouldn't even be sides. Chris is his roommate. But Mark knew letting Eduardo be friends with every person he knows would bite him in the ass someday.
"I need to talk to you," Mark says, since Eduardo is already here, and continues into his bedroom.
Eduardo follows him a second later, looking hesitant. Mark shuts the door and leans against it, because the lock is faulty and he wants Dustin to stay the fuck away right now.
"What?" Eduardo asks, after Mark just looks at him.
"I've been told," Mark says, slowly, "that I may have been unreasonable. I was misinformed about something, and I took it out on you."
"Are you trying to apologize?" Eduardo says, raising his eyebrows disbelievingly.
"No," Mark snaps. "I'm just saying I overreacted."
"Overreacted," Eduardo says. "Right. What did you think I did?"
Mark keeps his mouth shut.
Eduardo looks at him carefully, and then says, "Where were you just now?"
"Boston," Mark says.
"Did Erica take you back?" Eduardo asks.
"No," Mark says. "That wasn't what we talked about."
Eduardo's mouth tightens into a line, and he says, "So you thought I was the reason she broke up with you."
Mark says, "Well, there's precedence."
"It was once," Eduardo says. "It wasn't even on purpose! And I apologized!"
"As if Natalie is the only thing you've ever done to me," Mark snaps.
Eduardo stares at him. "Really?"
Mark shrugs. "You've been picking on me my whole life."
"Picking - what are you talking about?" Eduardo says.
Mark says, "Where do you want me to start? The very first day I met you—" and Eduardo says, "Jesus, you never let anything go," and Mark says, "Neither do you," and Eduardo snaps, "Then why have we been friends for seventy-five percent of your life?"
Mark says, "It's not as if you let me have any choice."
Eduardo sits suddenly, landing heavily on the end of Mark's bed. The clothes piled on it when Mark left have migrated to the hamper, which means he was in here earlier. Mark grits his teeth.
"I had a choice," Eduardo says.
"Aren't you lucky?" Mark says. "I wish you'd made a different one."
"You could've left," Eduardo says. His voice sounds weird, and Mark hasn't seen this expression before - he's halfway between puzzled and angry. "It's not like this is all my fault. You came to Harvard after me, after all."
"You moved in next door first," Mark says, childishly. "And I wasn't going to let you keep me from attending the best school in the country."
"It was all about the school," Eduardo says.
"Of course," Mark says, and then they just stare at each other.
"That's it?" Eduardo says, after a while.
"I like being friends with you," Eduardo tries.
Mark doesn't say anything.
"I pretty much just like you," Eduardo says.
Mark snorts. "Obviously. Otherwise you might've actually left me alone years ago."
"That's not what I mean," Eduardo says, and gives him a look.
Mark says, "Oh, fuck you. You think I can't tell when you're screwing with me? It's been a decade and a half."
"Alright," Eduardo says, and then stands up. "I guess I won't bother you anymore."
He leaves the dorm, very quietly, and doesn't even stop to say goodbye to Dustin and Chris. Mark stares at the door when he leaves, a little surprised.
"Very nice, Mark," Chris says reprovingly.
Mark ignores him.
"You shouldn't say things like that to your best friend," Dustin adds.
Mark ignores him too, and shuts his bedroom door.
It's very quiet without Eduardo around. This isn't actually surprising - without him, Mark doesn't have regularly-scheduled interruptions in the afternoons, and nobody who tells him his room needs to air out and opens the windows just so he'll nearly freeze to death. The rest of the week is amazingly productive.
Then suddenly it's Thursday and Mark is sort of tired of the inside of his room. Dustin and Chris have been pretty absent recently, but he hears them come in, Chris laughing like an idiot, possibly because of something Dustin said but more likely because of something Dustin did, and he trails out of his room.
They both look at him as if he were distasteful.
Mark stares back and says, "What?"
"Have you talked to Eduardo yet?" Chris asks suspiciously.
Mark waits, but no, that was it. "Really?" he says. "What does it matter to you?"
Dustin says, "We're not talking to you until you talk to Eduardo," and Mark snorts, because he sounds about five, but both Chris and Dustin look absolutely serious.
They do refuse to talk to him the rest of the evening.
He goes home that weekend. It actually really sucks to be the only one in the suite who gets ignored, because it means he has to be careful when he goes to the kitchen or the bathroom, or else he runs into one of them, and it's intensely awkward. They just stare at him. Dustin looks almost hurt; Chris looks baleful. You'd think it were one of them he'd gotten rid of.
His mother picks him up at the station. She's suspiciously quiet, too, and Mark finally snaps, "He talks to everyone in my entire fucking life, doesn't he?"
"Don't curse at me," she says. "And yes, I've talked to Eduardo's mother."
Mark settles against the window, staring out at the snow.
He drops his backpack on his bed and then tugs out his laptop, setting it on his desk. That's pretty much the majority of the unpacking he has to do, so he lazes around for half an hour before boredom drives him back downstairs. That's the problem, and the reason he never visits home - there's nothing to do.
His mother is on the phone when he comes down the stairs, and he only catches her saying goodbye quickly.
"Who were you talking to?" Mark asks suspiciously.
"That is none of your business," his mother says briskly. "Now, what do you want for dinner?"
Mark says, "I don't know," because she never actually listens to his input anyway, and, true to form, she pulls a casserole out of the fridge. They sit down to eat, since his dad has some late meeting or something, and she waits until his mouth is full to say, "You know, I thought you'd grow out of this childish resentment of Eduardo eventually."
Mark nearly chokes. He swallows rapidly, and then gulps down half a glass of water, during which his mother continues, "You've known him almost your whole life. I doubt you remember a time you didn't know him. How can you hold a grudge that long? It's very disappointing."
"Hey!" Mark says.
She stops, and tilts her head at him patiently.
"You act like this is all my fault," Mark says. "As if he's never done anything to me."
"Yes, dear, you're a martyr here," she says, and rolls her eyes. Mark bristles. "Don't look at me like that," she says. "You were as awful to him as he was to you. You stole his things, told all the neighborhood kids mean things about him, and said even worse things to him."
"He always started it," Mark says, and then bites his tongue, because he refuses to say anything that immature ever again.
His mother sighs, and stands up to take the dishes to the sink. Mark brings his over, too. "When you're children, Mark, it doesn't matter who starts it."
She turns on the faucet and fills the casserole dish, setting it to soak. "And it only got worse when you got to middle school. I thought you were finally getting over it by high school, but you two had periods where it was terrible."
"I remember," Mark says.
"On both your parts," she adds, pointedly.
She eyes him appraisingly, and says, "Okay, then. Now that you've got a little perspective, care to tell me what you two are fighting about?"
"Don't you already know?" Mark says, but quails under her glare. "I thought he did something, so I got even. Then we had a fight about it."
"Did he do what you thought he did?" Mark's mother asks, but the quirk to her mouth says she already knows the answer.
Mark thinks a good rule for life would be to avoid being best friends with the child of your mother's best friend. He and Eduardo have no secrets. "No," he admits, because she won't budge until he does.
"So what now?" she asks.
"I apologize," Mark says, obediently and by rote. Then he catches himself. "No," he says. "I'll apologize for the site, but Erica was right about spending less time together."
"Less time together?" she says.
"He's always around," Mark says, frowning. "That's why she dumped me."
"Why didn't you just make time for her without Eduardo around? I'm sure he would've been happy to let you two be alone."
Mark shrugs. "I didn't know it was a problem. I'm used to him."
"Used to him?" she asks. "How often are you two together?"
Mark blinks at her. "I don't know."
"How can you not know?" she says, and smiles at him. "You're hopeless."
"Thanks," Mark says darkly.
She smiles at him, patient. Mark shuffles his feet and tells her, "He also said he likes me."
"Hmm," she says, and nothing else.
Mark stares at her expectantly. "Well?" he says.
"What do you want me to say?" she asks.
"Anything," Mark grumps.
"I'm sorry to hear about Erica, honey," his mom says, and tugs him forward for a hug. Mark sighs and holds still. "She sounds like a very smart girl."
"I've barely told you about her," Mark says, eyeing her. He can't believe she really has nothing to say about Eduardo.
"Maybe," she says, and then kisses his cheek. "Don't stay up too late!" she calls, as she walks down the hall to the bedroom. "I'm making you get up tomorrow to come to the craft fair with me."
"Ugh," Mark says, and heads upstairs.
The craft fair is the dullest thing Mark has ever done in his life. His mother drags him out of bed at nine, and they're at the fair by nine thirty. They don't leave until twelve. When they get back he flops onto the couch, turns on the TV, and naps until four.
He only wakes up because his dad slams the door too loudly on his way in from the back yard.
"How was the fair?" he asks Mark, stomping the snow off his boots.
"Ugh," Mark says feelingly, and his dad laughs.
"Yeah, I haven't gone with her since that first time, either." He comes over and shoves Mark's feet off the couch, sitting down. "What are you watching?"
Mark hands over the remote silently.
After flipping channels for a while, and feigning nonchalance very badly, his dad says, "So I heard you and Eduardo had a fight."
"You told me when I was a teenager that you were never going to do what mom put you up to ever again," Mark says. "Impressive dedication to the cause."
"I just can't hold up against her," his dad says, sheepish. "She gives me this look, and if that doesn't work she gives me a worse one, and if that—"
"I get it," Mark says. "Mom is worried."
"Mom also thinks you should go for a walk," she says, coming in with a basket of laundry.
"We walked around all morning!" Mark protests.
"And then you slept for four hours," she says, and drops the basket on the coffee table right in front of him, clearly intent on taking his spot. "You need exercise to wake your metabolism back up before dinner."
Mark gives up and goes outside.
"Take a couple trips around the block!" she calls after him, just as the door slams, and Mark waves wordlessly back.
Walking is really boring. He stares at his feet, careful not to look to either side, because when he gets back she'll ask if he enjoyed himself, and he needs to be careful he doesn't, because she can smell a lie.
There are feet crunching ahead of him around the corner, and he moves to the side, so he doesn't run into anyone.
"Mark?" Eduardo says, sounding shocked, and Mark jerks his head up.
"Hi," he says, inanely, and Eduardo echoes him.
"Why are you—" Eduardo starts, then he quirks his mouth in a half-smile. "Did your mother randomly send you outside for exercise, too?"
"They are meddling bitches," Mark says, by rote, and then says, "I didn't know you were home this weekend."
"You either," Eduardo says, watching him carefully. This is the part where Eduardo starts telling him about the trip home, what interesting people he saw on the train and what horrible or wonderful food his mother is trying out now.
He doesn't say anything. Mark shifts awkwardly.
Finally, Eduardo says, "I should get back home. Dinner soon."
Mark follows him automatically, and stares at his feet again so he won't have to see what Eduardo thinks about it. It's just habit, too many years of automatically falling into step.
When they walk past Mark's house and cross over to Eduardo's, though, Eduardo stops and says, "Mark."
"Did you mean it?" Mark says, looking up.
Eduardo looks pained. "Yes," he says.
Mark nods mutely. He's obviously missed, over the years, how the teasing turned into something else. He doesn't know what to do with this Wardo, who says these things but actually means them now.
"I'm sorry," he blurts, before Eduardo can go up the front steps. "For the pictures. It was petty."
Eduardo turns back around and says slowly, "It's okay." He shrugs, self-deprecating. "As you said, I've done worse."
Mark says, "When you were a kid. I'm not six."
"Well, sometimes you are," Eduardo says, nose wrinkling the way it does when he's trying not to smile.
"Very funny," Mark says. "And also, fuck you."
Eduardo does smile at that. It fades quickly though, and he takes another step toward the house. "It's kind of cold," he says. "I think I'm going to go inside."
Mark hurries to join him, and despite the surprise flaring in his eyes, Eduardo lets him in.
Mark stays at Eduardo's house that night, the first time in years. Sandra doesn't act at all surprised to see him - she was probably spying through the front window again - and there's enough food for him, too. He lets Eduardo pick the movie and demeans his taste the entire way through it, and later they both cram into Eduardo's bed. Mark nearly falls out twice and wakes up with a sprained neck, and he remembers there was a reason they always stayed in his room - the bigger bed matters.
Eduardo smiles at him when he wakes up.
"I really am sorry," Mark says.
Eduardo yawns and stretches. "For what?"
"The pictures," Mark says. "It was immature. I lashed out."
"Is that what your mother said?" Eduardo asks, sounding inordinately rude.
"Forget it," Mark says.
"Hey, no," Eduardo says, and touches his shoulder. "Thank you. But it's okay."
"Okay?" Mark asks.
Eduardo makes an amused sound. "I don't care about the pictures, Mark."
"But—" Mark says.
"I was upset because you wanted to hurt me, not because the way you went about it was all that effective," he says.
"You don't have a problem with embarrassing childhood photos being strewn all across the internet?" Mark asks doubtfully.
"I know you've never understood this," Eduardo says, and wraps his arm around Mark's shoulder, pulling him closer. "But people like little kids. They're cute. And we were very cute little kids."
Mark says, "Not really," and Eduardo sighs and says, "It's too bad you didn't put up any of the ones that had us together. Those are especially adorable."
"We were usually screaming and fighting in them," Mark says.
"That's why they're cute," Eduardo says, and Mark gives up trying to understand him.
"Whatever," he says.
Eduardo deliberately shoves him onto the floor. Mark swears at him briefly before running for the bathroom to steal all the hot water, because it's fucking winter and it's fucking cold.
Eduardo really doesn't hate him, though, because there are some extra clothes - he's always got extra clothes lying around, Mark isn't sure where he gets them or why some of them always fit Mark, but whatever - so Mark doesn't freeze again when he comes out.
He ventures downstairs, and it's just Eduardo and his mother in the kitchen, and though she gives them both a weird smile, she leaves them in peace.
Mark's mother is not nearly so nice. She's a nuisance, actually.
"I'm glad to see you two made up," she says, when they come over to ask if she needs anything from the store. Eduardo's mom is sending them anyway, and Eduardo says it's only polite to offer.
"Whatever," Mark says. "Shopping list."
She writes it up with only a few knowing looks, which Mark ignores.
They head back to school together the next morning. Eduardo comes with Mark to his dorm, since apparently Chris has been sending him worried texts all weekend.
Chris and Dustin both look surprised to see them together, but they recover quickly, and Dustin applauds them - literal applause - until Chris smacks the back of his head and shuts him up. Mark personally finds the condescending look of pride that Chris gives them far more irritating than Dustin's sense of humor, but Eduardo smiles back at Chris and Mark recognizes a losing battle when he sees one.
Erica, to Mark's surprise, is perfectly willing to forgive him. Eduardo says something to her, and she starts coming around. Eduardo is careful around her, but only in a way Mark can tell, and everything is actually okay. They don't start dating - she doesn't offer, and Mark doesn't ask, and Mark is surprised to discover he doesn't mind.
They start going places together, all three of them unless Chris and Dustin come along too, and it's just like before but without the occasional awkward moments. Mark kind of misses getting laid, but he survives.
And then one night Erica comes over early, before anyone but Mark is home, and she plants herself firmly on his bed and says, "Okay, seriously, you have to admit, true love has something going for it."
"What?" Mark says, and turns to look at her.
She very obviously does not roll her eyes. "You and Eduardo," she says. "Everyone is right, admit it. First loves and destiny and all that."
"No?" Mark says, blinking.
She gives him a disgusted look. "Listen, Mark, it's not as if I'm asking you to describe how awesome the sex is. I just think you should admit when you're wrong."
"We're not having sex," Mark says.
Erica says, "While I'm very sorry to hear that—"
"We're not together!" Mark says loudly, before she can get going again.
"Uh," she says, staring at him. And then she says, as condescending as he's ever heard her, "Yes, you are."
"No," Mark says stubbornly.
She sighs and says, "Whatever you say."
Mark just scowls at her some more. He hates arguing with her - it's impossible to do correctly. Eduardo will just keep bickering back until one of them wins, which is more efficient - none of this underhanded shit - and much more satisfying, since Mark is usually the one who wins.
After another few beats of silence, she stands up and says, "You know what? I'm going to go."
She must pass Eduardo and Chris on the way out, because Eduardo comes in frowning and asks, "Why's Erica leaving? The play starts in forty five minutes."
"Something came up," Mark lies.
Eduardo narrows his eyes. He really wanted Erica to come to the play, Mark knows, because Erica actually likes theater and won't fall asleep on his shoulder. Mark has actually only done that once before, but it was definitely in his plans for tonight.
"What did you do?" Eduardo says warningly. Behind him, Chris edges quietly into his room and shuts the door. Mark decides to follow his example. He doesn't get the door shut before Eduardo slips in after him, though.
"Why'd she leave?" Eduardo asks insistently.
Mark starts rearranging the cords on his desk.
"Mark," Eduardo says, more loudly, and he's beginning to actually sound upset.
So Mark says, "She just started going on about stupid shit."
"And you said something to hurt her feelings?" Eduardo asks.
Mark grunts, shaking his head. "She insisted we were dating. I told her we aren't."
Eduardo doesn't say anything for a long time, and eventually Mark runs out of cords to coil up. He turns around, and Eduardo is just leaning against the doorway with this unbearably patient expression.
"Oh, fuck," Mark says.
"I'm sorry," Eduardo says, sounding amused.
"Fuck," Mark repeats, with an expression he hopes conveys more clearly just how much he blames Eduardo for all of this.
Eduardo's mouth twitches up. "I was going to tell you, but you're cute when you're being stupid."
Mark says, "Three months," with as much disgust as he can muster.
Eduardo doesn't move, and when Mark finally looks back over at him, his face is sad. "Hey," he says. "Technically, you're right. It's probably not dating if everyone involved isn't aware of it."
"Fuck you," Mark says. "Three months."
"I'm sorry?" Eduardo offers, sounding hesitant.
"We haven't even been getting laid,," Mark says. "What is wrong with you?"
Eduardo's mouth hangs slightly open for another couple of seconds, and then he starts laughing.
"Wardo," Mark says.
"Mark," Eduardo says, but he's still grinning. "You have the weirdest coping mechanisms."
"This isn't a coping mechanism," Mark says. "You aren't even using the term correctly."
Eduardo sighs tolerantly.
"It's a priority," Mark says. "A normal one."
Eduardo raises his eyebrows, looking patient.
"Stop looking at me like that," Mark says. "And it was an oversight on your part, because having sex would've made it clear that you thought we were dating. I thought we were ignoring your inopportune emotions until they went away."
"We are dating," Eduardo says. "You're the only one who wasn't aware of it. And my emotions aren't inopportune. Yours are just as bad."
"My awareness, as you pointed out earlier, is crucial," Mark says, ignoring the rest.
Eduardo shrugs. Mark tightens his mouth and stares at him.
"Stop worrying," Eduardo says. "We've been dating already for weeks. The adjustment period is over."
"I'm not worrying," Mark says.
"No, you never worry," Eduardo agrees.
Mark narrows his eyes, and Eduardo says, "The play is in half an hour."
"The play," Mark repeats flatly.
"Come on," Eduardo says. He's looking at Mark, bright-eyed. "I really want to see it."
"You are the most awful person I've ever known," Mark tells him.
"Let's go," Eduardo insists. "You can sleep on me the whole time."
"That was once," Mark snaps.
Eduardo pulls him out of the dorm onto slushy streets toward the theater, and Mark lets him because true love is a bitch who makes you follow your best friend to terrible performances of The Importance of Being Earnest.
He does fall asleep, of course, because Eduardo is warm and Mark likes the way he smells, and also really hates plays. He wakes at intermission to Eduardo kissing his forehead. He twists away and Eduardo snickers quietly and kisses his cheek.
Mark turns and catches his mouth, and then they're kissing for real. And it is so much better, now they're both done with puberty and don't taste like stale root beer. This time Mark doesn't pull away when Eduardo licks behind his teeth, and Eduardo doesn't bite Mark accidentally as the kiss ends.
"Does that clear things up?" Eduardo asks.
"It doesn't count," Mark says. "I kissed you."
"We're in the theater," Eduardo says, regretfully, as Mark tries to kiss him again.
Mark breathes out loudly but doesn't bother trying to argue. Still, Eduardo leans in again and licks across Mark's lower lip, biting gently before pulling away again. His eyes are laughing, and Mark says icily, "That actually was painful, you know."
"Your lip was swollen for a week," Eduardo says, grinning. "Your mom was so mad at you."
"I hate you," Mark says, very calmly, and tries to stretch himself into complete awareness while Eduardo laughs at him.
Right as the second half of the play starts, Eduardo whispers, "Was that your first kiss? Back then?"
"No," Mark hisses back.
Eduardo grabs his wrist, running his thumb over the back of Mark's hand. "I'm glad," he says lowly. "I wanted it to be."
"Ugh," Mark says, but Eduardo looks so pleased with himself that Mark doesn't bother trying to sell the lie.