hold a little in your hands
No-one who lives near it really pays much attention to the amusement park.
Not because it doesn't attract notice; nothing which is that loud and that bright and has that many people going in and out of it all the time could possibly fail to be noticed.
And you can't ignore it, even if you want to, what with cars and children and bus tours, God, you can't exactly ignore it, even if you try.
Mark has tried, on and off, most of his life, and failed.
The best anyone can do, and he'd already worked this out by the time he was in his first year of high school, is just tune it out.
Tune it out, like he has to when someone's playing music too loud next to him on the bus.
One of those daily irritations that he can't ignore, exactly, but he has to live with somehow, because it's either find a way of coping, or it's give in, give up, let himself be taken over by the desire to throw the whole thing out of the window and make the tinny skritching noises stop.
Not that he's ever done that, but he's wanted to, he's thought about it; if he's honest, he still wants to, still thinks about it, even though it's not the school bus now and it's usually some harmless stranger sitting too close — so it was and so very much is easy to imagine how satisfying it would be.
Back then, he needed to have something better going on in his head, something constant, reliable, engrossing, so his attention could just skate and skim over all the things that would otherwise make him insane.
Now he doesn't need it, it's just there, but it still works as a defense mechanism.
And he always did, always does have something better going on in his head, so really that wasn't too difficult.
y[n] = -ay[n-1] - ay[n-1] - ay[n-3] + ... + x[n]
It still isn't difficult, not to think about, anyway, but now it's more complicated.
And it matters. It's going to matter to everyone. What he's done with that simple, almost stupid little bit of code, one of the first rules everyone has to learn, it's going to matter.
And without money, no-one is going to care.
Back then, back before he needed to pay attention to the things he assumed would always be peripheral, he could drown out his family, the people at school trying to talk to him, even the teachers unless he really had to, so pushing aside the park, the constantly moving people, even whether it was on-season or off-season — that was all pretty easy.
Used to be.
Was really, really, really being the operative term, because now he's back, with the lights in the distance and the sounds that are always in the back of his head even when they're not really there.
Oh God, the tinny music and the laughter and the car doors slamming, and always, always, someone shouting a name, high and clear, voice made sexless, indeterminate, stripped back to childhood by the distance and the sunlit air.
The joy and the delight of it.
The things he will never feel, singing within it.
He's always tuned it out.
But now — now he's back and so are they.
The voices and the connections he can't understand and the lights that glow and turn and flash in colors he can't see properly, can only guess at, and he's back among it all.
He's back, back with the familiar and the forgotten, and he's back having learned one useful thing at college that's stuck with him more effectively than any single fact his classes tried to hammer into him, and that's this sad truth: you can be the best at the thing you love most, you can be better than anyone ever and the whole world can know it, everyone you care about in some way can acknowledge it, and without money to keep yourself going it doesn't mean jack shit.
He needs money, and for that he needs a job, and because he's ignored everything, because he's let it wash past him, over him, by him for so long, because he's narrowed the world down to I can do this and it will work and refused to let anything else matter, he's out of options.
He's out of options except the one of coming home, where he can at least be sure of a roof over his head and food in the fridge and no-one cutting off the power at weird times.
And isn't it sad that for all that he's got, ready to revolutionize the world, living in his head, no-one will give that house room?
He supposes at least it has the advantage of not being given a crappy-sloganned t-shirt and being reminded to wash and brush its teeth as though it were still six.
Being an idea, basically, is a thousand times easier than being its living, breathing, parent-dependent host.
And now nothing's in the distance and nothing can be pushed aside and however important what's in his head should be, he can't let it drown anything out any more.
He can't, because he needs money, (not a lot, not in the grand scheme of things, but more than anyone he knows has to spare) and if he doesn't get it, what's in his head might as well not even exist to him, because it will never, ever be anywhere else except in his head, and what good is that?
It turns out that even when you let the sounds in, they're still as hollow, still as distant, still as tin-sounding.
They're just louder.
He never knew he could hate anything so much.
But as much as he hates the job — and he does, oh God, he really does, each hour of every day, he so does — it's not quite as easy to hate the people he has to work with.
There's Dustin, who he's known forever and tried not to know for just about as much of forever, but who's also weirdly kind and sweet and actually likes being stuck with the kids and their stickiness and screaming.
Dustin, when he's working, seems to be fairly reliable, and also, even more oddly, turns out to be the go-to guy who somehow always has whatever garish, incomprehensible cartoon character band-aid that's essential to those same kids right now on hand, carried in his pockets just for patching up invisible scrapes and bruises.
The visible cuts and bumps and other varieties of idiotic self-mutilation that kids are so great at finding (chewing gum, small girls and hair are things Mark's definitely close to developing a phobia about) tend to need the first aid station and/or preferably someone who isn't Dustin to deal with them, so it works out.
There's Sean, never more than casual about any of it, always sure of his welcome when he wanders in (a week, a day, a couple of hours late) picking up the money to use for his next project, for whatever he does when it's not summer and he's not there.
Casual, confident, undentable Sean, with his easy superficial charm that somehow no-one can hate, even when they try hard.
Sean who can make people feel like they got a refund even when they haven't, like they won the biggest prize even when he's fobbed them off with something much smaller or lesser or too old to really be given out to anyone; reaching it down off the display with a wink and a 'Careful with that now, it's the last...'
Sean, with an eye out for the prettiest girls, never quite eyeing them up, though, never so crass, though his pick-up lines suggest he'd be that crude and more.
Sean of the invisible line that he walks perfectly, always the first one to happily take the phone-camera from whoever asks him; who gets shots that somehow don't make people look insane and hot and cross and bored, but instead as if they've had the fictional perfect day; that their tiredness is earned, that it's a memory to treasure.
Sean who always makes people look as though they are and can be and should be loved, when he takes photos. It's as if he has a special lens all his own that he slides over the camera's eye.
No-one knows what Eduardo does.
Fixes things, Mark supposes, or maybe just stops them from killing each other on the particularly bad days when five kids really have managed to hurt themselves, and Chris's superhuman calm and ability to greet people and get them to park in areas that aren't going to lead to a bloodbath when someone tries to drive off have finally deserted him, and Mark's color-blindness actually has turned out to matter in the games section, no matter what Thiel told him on his first day, and Dustin has a hangover and can't find any aspirin and the drinks machines are out of Mountain Dew and Sean has dropped someone's horrendously expensive new phone-camera-computer-hybrid in the middle of a discarded and disintegrating stick of candy floss.
Eduardo sorts out the first-aiders and gives Chris an extra break and rigs the lights on Mark's control panel so that they flash rather than change color to tell him something's gone wrong — and said very quietly 'hey, no-one noticed why, don't worry' and stood a little too close and still Mark somehow never flinched — and makes the owner of the phone-hybrid laugh by explaining to him that actually whisky is the best way to clean off these things, seriously, you wouldn't believe the difference it made to his DVDs after someone got melted marshmallow on them, and that was a collector's edition, you'd never believe it, he says, I know, sounds crazy, but honestly, try it out, if it doesn't work Sean will reimburse you...
It always does work, of course.
Eduardo has Tylenol in his stupid bag and is always happy to give out two (but no more than two) to anyone who asks him.
He can't do anything about the drinks machines, or at least says he can't, but the 'only one drink running out in every single machine' thing doesn't happen all that often, so Mark suspects he make phone calls or leaves memos or whatever he needs to do to make sure that gets sorted, too.
Eduardo comes in exactly on time and leaves on time and never socializes and never really engages, but he's always there when you need him, and Mark thinks he's probably someone else who just needs the money for something bigger that's in his head — or really, hopes he is, because Eduardo doesn't look like someone who needs money, not for anything, and why else would you give up a summer to do something like this?
But he's not going to break his pattern and say hello, and Eduardo doesn't talk to anyone unless he has to, so it's all irrelevant and Mark certainly doesn't waste his time wondering about what he's like under all that cheerfully polite efficiency.
He doesn't need to, anyway, because there's Dustin.
Dustin is the first one to wave cheerfully when Mark gets there, and always manages to procure him drinkable coffee, and is always the one to hang around because it still takes Mark for-fucking-ever to close down.
He's still pretty sure that the shutters which are supposed to slide over the fronts of the games booths stick just for him, so he can be stupidly late by just the right number of seconds during which everyone else has left in already.
Not that he wants to hang around with them, or anything, it's just —
Yeah, it's nice that Dustin always seems to have something that keeps him held up as well, even if it's obviously an excuse, because his sector shuts down an hour before anyone else's.
And Dustin gets it, he gets that Mark hates how he smells like old burned onions and other people's sweat (which are pretty much indistinguishable by the end of the day) and everything feels clammy and wrong even if it's been dry and air-conditioned and so it's not really so bad to work in.
He gets it, somehow, Dustin gets it, he gets that Mark feels like one more forced greeting, one more fake attempt at pleasant smiling, and he'll start shouting.
Shouting, or worse, because desperation is one thing, they can all get like that, even Sean, who's been there for years, a glittering bright fixture of off-season possibilities, even Sean can get to that point and go hard-faced and sullen, shutting them all off and going somewhere else as soon as he's closed down his rides.
Desperation's something they all know well, particularly on the days when it rains and the kids whine and the lights seem somehow duller and the music seems ominous rather than just cheesy.
But despair —
Mark feels that more than he ever wants to admit.
Despair is when he doesn't care if people are still around and they're all going to go off for a few hours and drink too much, talk complete shit and go from there into outright lies; go to that lovely hazed and unspoken of place where they can pretend Sean's not charming his way under the bra-straps and into the bed of his latest conquest; where they can pretend that Chris isn't looking anywhere but at the girls' visible charms (and until he chooses to say something, they pretend just as well that they don't know where he'd like to be looking, because that's Chris's knowledge to share, not theirs to know, not until he says it to someone, out loud and obvious); where they can pretend that Eduardo isn't conspicuously absent, where they can pretend that Dustin isn't shot down by sweet, long-legged Stephanie every time he opens his mouth and says something to her that he thinks is cute.
Where they can pretend Mark cares.
Despair's the point when Mark can't lie, or bullshit, or close his mind, or fake an interest, or anything, because he knows if he opens his mouth something hard and cutting and hurtful's going to come out of it, and he doesn't want it to.
Despair's the point when he just wants to sit very very still somewhere for a while, just so the horrible, hateful thing that sits on his chest all the time gets a little smaller, small enough that he can move under it, small enough that he doesn't have to worry about it squeezing something more shameful than spite out of him.
Small enough that he doesn't have to be scared he's going to cry if he moves or even breathes wrong.
Dustin doesn't really wait for him on those nights so much as he wanders back, forgets something, needs something, has to tell Mark something quickly before he's off again — only that part never happens, and he just sits there, small and quiet at Mark's side, careful not to touch until Mark's back in a place where he won't hurt anyone, even himself, if he has to acknowledge someone else's existence.
If he's got a friend at all, Mark guesses Dustin is probably it.
Which is why it shouldn't be as much of a surprise as it is, when on one of those nights, after Eduardo's gone off with his ride, with lovely Christy, who he keeps introducing to people like if he doesn't he'll burst something just from the effort of keeping her name inside his mouth; tiny gorgeous Christy who probably knows all about why Eduardo's wasting his time doing this summer job when he obviously doesn't need it; smart, brilliant Christy who's headed for something awesome even if she laughs it off and won't say what; perfect, perfect Christy whose confident walk even Chris's eyes will follow —
On one of those nights, when Mark's scared to even move his arms enough to finish shutting the stupid electronic locks down, Dustin breaks this really very sensible rule they've got, and puts one hand, splayed out like a starfish, in the centre of Mark's back, and says quietly,
"It's just the summer, dude. You'll be back at college soon. Away from him."
Mark doesn't cry, because he never does, but his breath feels too hot for his throat, and he holds his keys too tightly, and he stays as still as he can, while the overheated, damp air goes in and out of his lungs and refuses to do him one bit of good, and Dustin's fingers soothe in tiny little attempts at consolation over his spine.
"You'll be okay," Dustin says, and Mark might just love him a bit for that, for not saying that it will be okay, that things will be okay, for not saying something stupid that would force him to turn around and deny platitudes with all the whip-striking force of his ridiculous sense of miserable pain.
Because of course he'll be okay. Of course he will be.
Dustin's just stating the obvious.
After a bit, Dustin hands over his soda cup, which is full of what Mark thinks might have started out life as paintstripper before Dustin found the fake-milkshake syrups and added a bit of all of them to it, and Mark takes a disgusting-sounding gulp from it.
They both pretend that his coughing fit and wet eyes are the result of the drink.
It doesn't make it better, or even easier, knowing Dustin knows, but it makes it sort of dealable with.
Even though Mark doesn't have talks with him — or really even talk with him at all, not about anything Eduardo-ish, anyway — it's sort of nice to know, that there's someone around who doesn't think he's stupid, doesn't think he's aiming too high or even aiming at all.
He can't help seeing Eduardo, he can't help liking him, he can't help being attracted to him, and it's, yeah, nice, it's really nice, that Dustin takes that as just being part of what makes him Mark.
And Dustin's smart, really smart. Mark talks about what he's trying to do with his ideas and social networking and computers; Dustin gives him, in return for one whole drunken night of pouring out everything he'd ever thought about, something way better.
Dustin goes off and reads some books and comes back with ideas of his own.
Dustin's smart, and Dustin wants in, and more than that, Mark wants him in, Mark likes how Dustin can listen and disagree and then come back with everything Mark's said and a way to use it that doesn't make everyone want to kill them.
Dustin starts talking about a transfer. Mark starts talking about quitting college. Dustin starts listening to him and actually thinking about doing the same thing.
If they can get the money together.
If they can swing it so it sounds at least to their parents like they know what they're doing (they do, but they're also too damn young for anyone to believe them, and they don't want to cut off all escape routes by sounding as sure and definite and certain as they feel, and alienate everyone around them with all that certainty).
Both of them start talking about finding someone to fund them, because this could work, this will work, and they know it, they've got something, they could have something real.
Knowing it takes them through July and through not-sleeping and through days that all blur into one, and when Mark surfaces enough, he's happy, he's dizzy with happy, with knowing, with having someone beside him who feels that same sense of rightness, and it's worth it, it's worth it, he doesn't know how they'll do it, but we will, he thinks, we will, we can, it's going to happen, we can make it happen.
Not I can do this but we are doing this, a thought that is made of glitter- and bubble-silly delight at possibilities.
It's a thought that drowns out even the sounds of the amusement park, that word, the proof positive that might not be what he'd ever imagined, but is something so real he can feel it under his fingertips, cushioning him from pain when he types for so long that his skin abrades and aches.
And then it's the middle of August, and it rains.
It rains, and it rains, and it's not supposed to do this, not this heavily, not this persistently, and things go wrong with just about every ride, and no kid wants to be dragged around somewhere in the wet, and the silly giggling teens are more sulky and demanding, and the smell of onions doesn't get washed away, it gets worse, and Sean takes off more and more, and then Dustin gets some kind of cold that no-one wants to be around and gets told to go home and stay home until he at least resembles a member of the human race, and Chris is actually starting to shout at people in the car park, and one of Mark's booths develops a leak, and the giant stupid toys bleed bad dye jobs onto each other, and fuck and forget despair or desperation and certainly fuck fellow-feeling, because they all just want to die.
Mark thinks that if they all hurled themselves into a furnace one evening, Thiel would somehow find the money to provide cheerleaders and definitely the gasoline firestarters.
And then Eduardo doesn't have a ride home, and he shrugs it off with a faint grimace, like, what can you do, man? Girls... and most people nod and laugh and are fairly sympathetic, except for Mark, who can't do any of that, not just because of what he feels about and for Eduardo, but because he knows three things.
1. Eduardo doesn't feel like that about girls, and especially not about Christy, and even if he did, he'd never show it, because it would be disrespectful, or some such bullshit.
2. Subordinate clauses aside, Eduardo doesn't feel like that about Christy.
3. Eduardo hasn't got a ride home and no-one has any fucking clue where he lives, and it's raining.
And the other, not list-worthy things, are all stupid but probably add up to one coherent point, if Mark could be bothered to put that much effort in, stuff like how yeah, Chris has a ride home, but it's with his mom, and if you've just split from the love of your so-far life, the last thing you want is someone's mom giving you a ride home while unsubtly third-degreeing you; and Dustin, who can smooth everything over and make it all seem obvious and fine and no problem, is home and busy being sick and snotty and disgusting; and fuck knows what's up with Eduardo and Sean, but somehow Mark can't see Eduardo getting on the back of Sean's motorbike even if both he and Sean were separately paid, and that —
— pretty much leaves him to go make the offer, which.
He is not, not, not good at this.
He is, in fact, pretty much a walking transmission error, when it comes to being a friend.
After that moment of stunning self-analysis, he's really not even surprised that, over an hour after everyone, even Thiel in his office — seriously, does the guy have no life but number-crunching? — has shut down, locked up, and gone home, he's out there in the stupid scrubby little excuse for ' green land' that surrounds the amusement park, supposedly so people can take family breaks and then come back in (count of facilities that anyone's managed to get so far: three picnic tables and five benches in incredibly weird positions) because he just knows Eduardo's going to be sitting out there.
Sometimes he thinks Eduardo's got to be part German, the way he clings to all his idiotic romanticism. Get wet, stare out into the dark, mourn your life.
God. What a waste of breath, time, effort and continuing existence.
Then again, Mark gets like this for no good reason at all, at which point his method of coping seems to be that he stares at reinforced shutters that won't close properly, drinks milkshake-syrup infused paint-stripper, and lets Dustin rub his back while he does it, and he doesn't even do any of this over a proper relationship ending, so he can't really comment.
He also can't find Eduardo.
Wet, exasperated, and not lost exactly, because he knows precisely where he is, but not in the mood for finding the quickest way back to the car park, either, he sits down on the least saturated-looking bench, and lets the leaves drop clumps of water onto his head.
It's almost soothing, looking out at the park through the wavering branches and the wet; at the dark shapes against the deep navy of the sky (he knows that it's navy in the same way he doesn't know when something's scarlet); at the way the world's become like cardboard cut-outs.
He realizes it's Sean's birthday at almost the same second the man himself appears, silent and dripping, and sits down beside him.
"Hi," he says, stiltedly.
"Hi," Sean says, and grins at him in the dim light. It looks a little sleazy, but then doesn't Sean always?
"What," Mark says flatly.
"It's my birthday," Sean says, and Mark sighs.
"Yeah, I just remembered, sorry I didn't get you a card, happy being older day, sucks to be you."
Sean scratches at the gathering water along his wet hair line, looking a little nonplussed, and then laughs. "Okay, thanks, much appreciated." He's wearing a jacket. Mark, still in his stupid park-issued and now sodden t-shirt, feels a moment of brief, if intense, resentment.
"Why are you here, Sean?"
"Looking for you," Sean says easily. "Thought you might like some advice from someone who likes to keep trying."
Sean grins at him. "Yeah, so, want the advice? No, never mind, here it is. Don't give up, Mark. Don't let anyone tell you to give up. Not on anything. And when you start making it, when you want someone around to get you money? You remember — money for myself, hell no, I can't keep that. Money for an idea that's someone else's? I can spin it like a dryer and get them what they need. And I'd do that for you. You need investments, trust, share options, not gifts. I can help."
"Er, Sean." Mark swallows down everything he wants to say, and finally manages to spit out, "You work here. You can't seriously think I'll take you seriously, even if you —"
"Everyone needs cash in the bank, Mark, and everyone needs a place they know they can be found."
And that makes — a weird kind of sense. Mark nods, slowly.
"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, okay. I mean, you —"
Sean puts his jacket around them both. It's nice. Easy. Dry. Undemanding, like Dustin's hand on his back.
"When you're ready," Sean says, warm and comfortable, "I'll listen."
His kiss is long and gentle, and it's not really a surprise because it's got nothing to do with desire — which would have been a surprise, and a very unwanted one, too — and nothing twists up with want inside Mark's throat when their lips meet, when their tongues meet, and he doesn't want to cry or scream or fight the universe.
It feels a bit like Dustin's hand on his back, like the fingertips making little warm circles, waiting for Mark to come back to himself.
And because he can see the similarities, he doesn’t freak out, and he doesn't pull away.
Sean kisses him again, perhaps as a reward for not punching him in the face and running off, and his arms are still warm, and he's not grabbing, and his lips are curved under Mark's into a smile that isn't smug at all.
"When you're ready," he repeats, and Mark knows what he means, and at the same time knows that he isn't ready, not for this, not for all these other things Sean's putting out there, along with his kiss; offering up as a different kind of possibility, something he could have too, laid out there all free and easy for him to take if he wants; no, he's not ready for that, not from or with Sean, at least — but he is ready for some of it.
He knows that he does want some of what Sean's offering; the easy parts, which strangely don't involve the physical, the comfortable parts, which sort of do involve the physical but mostly kind of don't, unless you include Sean's weird bro-ish-but-not tendency to wrap himself all over the people he gives a shit about — no, Mark's interested in getting those parts that make sense and need words to be explained.
Not just the dry, soft-cotton lining-warm shelter of Sean's jacket, but his willingness to listen; his experience, however cracked it might be; his strange ability to appreciate what's in front of him for its own sake.
Just as he knows no-one like Dustin, he knows no-one like Sean, and it's good, it's a good thing, people knowing him, it's a strange thing but a good thing.
He sighs a little, grateful for whatever this is, and pulls back just far enough to still be under the warm cover of Sean's jacket and have the space to look away.
What he turns out to be looking at is Eduardo, less than ten yards away and photo-negatived into nothing but the huge darknesses of his eyes and mouth and the night-bleached skin of his face.
"I—" says Mark.
"Sorry to interrupt," says Eduardo in an odd voice, and takes off again, through the wet scrubby bushes.
The rain has stopped.
The stars are coming out.
"Fuck," Mark says fervently.
Sean starts laughing.
Sean is a terrible human being in all respects, but he's also a fairly decent one in times where most people would just give up and fuck off home.
"Saverin!" he yells, staying put under the clouds and stars and presumably thinking he looks and sounds like some mythical figure, summoning a god or hero.
Actually, he just looks like a total douche, slightly damp and close-cut hair curling in insane little tendrils against his skull where it's drying out.
"Sean, he's not going to —"
"Oh yeah he will," Sean says, surprisingly grim, and discards his usual lethargy to rabbit-jump and skid down the pathetic little slope of attempted lawn to where Eduardo's tall figure can be seen, phone clearly in hand, standing in the middle of the deserted car park.
Mark, torn between running away and hiding until they've both gone, and then going back to his car and phoning in to claim a sudden onset of Dustin's cold; and, alternatively, sticking around to see what happens, finds himself doing neither, but instead is hurriedly slide-slipping far less gracefully that Sean had, down towards the increasingly shabby and disrepaired asphalt of the car park, with nothing in his head but the vague thought of stopping this from becoming any more of a disaster.
Eduardo stares at him as he rushes to a halt beside them both.
"Mark," he says in the same odd voice as before. "Sorry, I just — I need — I needed — I — a ride home."
It's as though Sean doesn't even exist.
"Good plan," Sean, who defies all attempts at cosmic belief, interjects before Mark can do anything except stare back.
Eduardo glares at him. Sean shrugs.
"Man up, Saverin," he says. "Everyone's got a reason they're here. Time for you to tell Mark yours."
"What?" says Mark feebly.
Sean grins. It's nowhere near as reassuring as the feel of his arms or lips or the warmth of his jacket had been.
"Tell him," he repeats, and oddly, he seems to be talking to both of them.
Then he just walks off, towards his bike, as though neither of them existed.
"Okay," says Mark slowly.
"Um," says Eduardo.
Mark looks with enormous dedication at the cracking patch of asphalt in front of his feet.
"I just made three hundred thousand dollars on predicting we were going to get wet," Eduardo says in a rush. "Um, I mean, on the weather. I bet on the weather. And oil futures, because they — yeah, anyway. And it — yeah, it worked. And then Christy dumped me."
"I think I'm going to change the online world because Dustin can code," Mark says, equally blankly. "Not that I can't code, but — yeah. And, um, we need money."
"I'm working here. In New York. In an empty apartment that's probably going to be all anyone will let me have, soon, because my father's off in Miami and he thinks I've got an internship and I hated it and I couldn't — but I couldn't not work, not be around people, I hate being nothing, being useless, and I —"
And Mark gets it, the silences that fill in what Eduardo hates explaining; the reasons for his being here, even when it started with the rain; the need to be around other people, even when those people are him and Dustin and Chris; the reasons for the way Christy's looks at him changed, the reason she's left.
They're not so dissimilar after all, him and Eduardo, except that he keeps his soul and his beliefs in his head, and Eduardo keeps his in his heart, and it's a lie, it's a lie to say people wear their hearts on their sleeves, because they don't, not at all; they keep them locked away, safe and secret, the way people keep the thoughts that make them want to jump up and throw some innocent passenger's music out of a window all locked down, shut firmly away.
They're the same, him and Eduardo, they're the same, and oh, god damn Sean, god bless Sean, which is it and why does it matter?
Sean, knowing what they both needed; not him for Mark, not Christy for Eduardo.
Maybe the love's there, but who cares? Sean saw the bigger picture, expert photographer Sean, he saw something that didn't even need to be faked.
He swallows, because if they get the big truths out of the way, Eduardo and his weather money, Mark and his coding, maybe they can — maybe — maybe —
It's worth the jump.
"Sean says I need investors. That — oh. That's why he. With you. And me. Because he knew about your money, and me, and —"
"And you what?" This close, Eduardo doesn't look like a negative at all, he looks blurry and soft and a little worried. He looks like he could care, and not just about Mark's idea.
He never, ever, looked like this when he was talking to Christy.
Eduardo puts his hand on Mark's back, and it feels nothing like Dustin's careful little fingertip soothings. It feels warm, and it runs through Mark's spine; it runs along all the nerves that go out from that adamant bolt that keeps him upright; it runs outward and outward; it runs between the muscles of his chest, his ribs, his sternum; it runs and glows, that one point of pressure is unraveling things he never knew were so aching and so bound.
"He thinks we could make a good team," Mark says, quiet and tentative, so as not to disturb the thing in this throat, the one that needs paint-stripper and Dustin's hand to push down and make it all manageable. "Like... it's different from when I came back, when I thought it was just me, I, I, I mean... all of us. You know? I mean you've seen us, I know you don't much care, or don't want to be involved, but nor did I, not at first, and — but Sean gets it, I don't know how, but he does, it's like, like Dustin needs Chris to tell him how, and I need Dustin to tell me how, and I need to be there to do it, for anyone to do it, for it to get done at all, but, but —"
He can't stop talking. It's not tentative any more, it's a stream, a torrent, a fountain overflowing; it's all the things he's always wanted to say to Eduardo and couldn't, couldn't because why would he be interested?
And now he can't not say them, not even in the face of Eduardo's parted-lip-silence, because otherwise he'll never get another chance, and he'd rather know he'd wasted his time than spend the time he's got running before him, all the time that he's not yet coded or understood; all the time that's still to come; all the time that he'll spend eating his heart out — and he will, he's self-aware enough to know he will — all the time to come that he'll spend wishing he'd at least grown a spine, had the courage to man up, like Sean said, and at least tried to put all the things he thinks and longs for and wants into real words.
The time he's been given only once of, and is now. Not something that might be there in the future; not gone, faded, taken away from him by the past, or by someone else, or by some action that means nothing to one of them and everything to the other; but one moment, one chance, one time, once, once and now.
And he can do this.
"I realized, you know, how, like, when you look at me I want more, how I see you smile sometimes, like I matter, or might matter, and I think yeah, yeah, it's not stupid, it's not impossible, it's — I could do more, I want to do more, and I think, I think, maybe I need you to tell me yes, because — I think, yeah, maybe, you know, especially now, after what you said about the weather, the money, the way you see things, I — yeah, anyone who made money on weather and still needs people is good at faith, and I think we need Sean to keep telling us we should —"
"Oh my God, Mark," Eduardo says, "are you saying you want us to get together so we can form a business team?"
"No!" Mark yells. "The opposite!"
It starts raining again, belligerently.
"Um," says Eduardo, and now he does look lost, and a little afraid, and this is all going wrong. "I'm — sorry, I don't —"
"I want you," Mark says bluntly. "Since you — fixed my control panel, you know, the one in the booth, Dustin only jokes about me being a robot, I don't actually have one and you didn't fix it, but yeah, since then, I guess, or maybe that was when I worked it out. But — I want you to work with me, too, and, and I'm just saying I might find it hard, sometimes, if you're working with us, not to, not to —"
Words, mercifully, fail him.
Eduardo's eyes are very bright, but he doesn't look upset.
"I noticed you too," he says. "But there was Christy, and I didn't want to be that guy, you know, and — but it turns out she knew anyway. That not having you meant more than having her. So, yeah." His smile is more of a wince. "I — you'll need to tell me about your idea."
"Yeah," Mark whispers. Croaks. Mouths. He's not quite sure. It's a sound, and vaguely acquiescent-flavored.
He'll take what he can get.
"And, and I was listening to you, and I realized something. Not the idea, though, I think I get what you mean."
Mark looks at him.
"I don't speak to you. I don't, I know, but I, I listen. And I realized. Seeing you with Sean. Seeing you without Sean. Seeing you."
Mark just keeps looking at him, unsure of where this could possibly be going.
"I realized I love you," Eduardo says and his face sort of crumples, a helpless smile, a rueful preparation to try and smooth it over, all slammed into his mouth and his eyes at once; every line drawn tight into its own personal warfare of hope and resignation tied around themselves.
Mark takes in a deep breath.
It tastes of old onions and burnt sugar and dried sweat, of faintly rotted apples and of over-used electrics. It smells of the weird plasticy residue that all the park's t-shirts still carry even after six or seven washes.
And it smells like Eduardo — a little tired, a little expensive (cologne, now faded; leather, from Christy's car; cigarettes, his or someone else's, but still there, all of it).
It smells like salt, old and dried and almost negligible, because one of them has been crying.
Ridiculous, ridiculous to cry when this is the best thing to have ever happened, all of it, all of it such a promise, such hope, such a possibility, such a reality, a future, a truth —
"I love you too."
He can taste the tears, now, coating their faces as they mix with the light and swirling rain-spray that's already coating them again, and is half-sure they're not just his, but it doesn't matter, doesn’t matter, just as nothing Eduardo's hiding will matter, not in the end.
Secrets aren't important. Lies are.
And they don't have a single one between them, as they hold on, as they kiss, as they breathe, as they accept that for all this and because of all this, they have a future.
"I know," Eduardo says ruefully.
"And you work at an amusement park?"
Eduardo actually blushes. "I wanted to meet people?"
"You're ridiculous," Mark says. He means I'm glad you did.
The look on Eduardo's face suggests he might as well have said both those things out loud.
"I hate it here," Eduardo says. He's shivering a little. Mark doesn’t think it's because of the rain.
"You'll be all right," he says, like Dustin did to him that night. He knows it's not enough. "It'll be all right," he says then, helpless and torn and so very angry at whatever it that lives in these walls, these floors, under this peaceful well-kept silence, that makes Eduardo look so cold and white and unhappy. "Hey. Wardo. We're going to be all right. It's a stupid apartment. We'll all — you know, when we finish at the park, when we get money, when we — we'll get a place. And it — it'll be full. Of us, and stuff, and work, and I'll probably shout a lot at Dustin and then Chris'll shout at me, but—"
"Oh my God," Eduardo says. "I think I'm giving up my degree to live in a hovel."
"No, just with slobs," Mark says easily, grinning at him because Eduardo's going pink again, and —
"You called me Wardo."
"Um." Mark swallows, thinks back, comes up blank. "Yes? Probably? I just — you're not — I mean, you're, you, I think of you as, I—"
Eduardo sort of lunges at him, then, and it's not really a hug so much as a grab, but that's okay, that's fine, because it's him, and when it turns into more kissing, and a lot less shaking, and wet clothes are getting peeled off all over the foyer, Mark just stops trying to work it out.
They've got time, he's starting to realize, starting to believe. They've got time.
Mark blinks at him. "Um. Okay. Why wouldn't you? I mean, obviously, why would you, but, yeah, no, why not?"
Eduardo sighs. His hand is very tight in Mark's. "I didn't really — I mean, with Christy, I didn't — I let her, and we — and she was lovely, and I just — it was all this thing, and I dreaded it, and —"
"Oh." That, at least, Mark understands. "But you didn't love each other. You were just pretending."
"So, being in love? That makes all the difference?"
"That's what I've been told," Mark says in his driest voice, and Eduardo laughs. Too short and too shaky, but he laughs, and pushes the door open to his room.
He runs one hand over Wardo's ridiculous, still-damp, slightly sweaty hair, afraid to speak, in case he's hurt, unhappy, disappointed —
What if I don't want to see you again?
Wardo's eyes are open, huge and dark, and he can't read them. Had he been frightened? Was he still? Coming means nothing, you can bring yourself off in seconds if you have to, Mark knows this, it's irrelevant, they're young and male.
He's not a bad lover, but he's not that experienced. Has he, somehow, despite what they'd said in those few frantic minutes and seconds, caused pain?
Pain might be forgiven though, and there is worse than that to imagine.
To imagine disappointment in those dark eyes, none of the pleasure he himself had felt, still feels, none of the peace to be found that is rolling through his own body now in heavy, delighted waves.
He leaves his hand where it is, buried in thick, soft hair, bites his lip.
Waits while Wardo looks up at him.
"Mark," he says at last, and his voice is very small, and he is smiling, and smiling, and pulling Mark down to kiss him more.
And the thing that lives as a boulder in Mark's body, the ever-turning heaviness that tries to squeeze out all the hurt and the pain and the longing into unforgivable words shifts once more, shifts too far for control, and what it sets free is nothing at all, in the end; nothing but a small sound of delight as he wraps his arms around Wardo and pulls them together, holds them together, and realizes even as he says —
"I didn't believe it was possible to be this happy."
"I think I'd like to invest in this idea of yours and Dustin's," Wardo says in lieu of a real reply, and this time it's Mark who starts shaking, and can't stop, and Eduardo who says all the right, stupid things that sometimes, everyone needs to hear.
It all comes down to the important ones, anyway.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
It's astonishing how long it takes it all to be arranged: Dustin and Mark leaving college, Chris and Eduardo transferring to Stanford, Eduardo moving his money around in odd and proper and sensible ways, Thiel turning out to be an unexpected and very amused business angel in his spare time, Sean using his contacts to set them up — and getting hit by several different people for laughing at them all while he does so — and to move out to Palo Alto.
One house, because that's all they can afford.
One bedroom for Mark and Eduardo, because that's all they need.
More futons and fridges and pull-out couches than anyone had ever imagined, because "Interns!" Sean points out, and oh, true, wow, yes.
"Gaming centers," Dustin says solemnly, and they can't really argue with that.
"My money," Eduardo says woefully, but it's obvious he doesn't care.
"Servers," Mark says, and now he doesn't mind the distant voices at the periphery of his consciousness, because they're as (and sometimes more) important as the ones flooding his mind.
That's okay. It's all okay.
The season doesn't really end until the end of October anyway.
It's more money. It's cash, like Sean said, and you always need that.
And on their last night, Eduardo tells Mark the color of every single light that glows past them as they watch the ferris wheel go by.
"You're lying to me," Mark says, laughing, when Eduardo says "Red!" yet again.
But Wardo just hums into the side of his head, contented and amused, and says —
"Wait until you hear Thiel yelling about what Dustin and Sean did to his fireworks."
And Mark laughs, and links their fingers together, wrapped in the cool grass that will soon have its last cutting; breathes in the sugar-sweat onion-tasting air that they'll soon leave behind.
He watches the lights that are to him all shades of blue and greenish-yellow and bright white-gold, and thinks of how far they have all come; thinks of careful, sensible Chris with his activist's heart, and Dustin with his odd sweet kindness, the strangest friendship imaginable that he somehow can't imagine anything breaking up or dividing; thinks of extravagant, wilful Sean, who has found his cause, at least for now; thinks most of all and best of all about Eduardo, who came among them as the observed of all observers, looking not for a heart to encompass his own, but instead for a mind and a will and a passion strong enough to match what he already had.
He thinks about himself, learning to trust the high clear sound of love, calling as it has through his childhood, as it still does now, through his window, along the street, carrying across and through clear sunlight, sexless and ageless and filled with joy.
The sound he had once set out, with all possible determination, to tune out, and now will never be able to ignore again, because it had always been and is still in the things he has learned to love; it is in Eduardo's hopeful eyes, in Chris's banked-down, determined stoicism, in Dustin's easy friendship and endlessly open soul.
The sound Eduardo's laugh holds within it, when Mark uses the key to his apartment and misses the locking mechanism at least five times before he can get the handle to pull down completely.
He'll never be able to block it out again, not with all the speed of his mind, not with every algorithm in the world, not with every running code ever invented flashing across the pure blue of his mental horizon.
The sound of every possible kind of love, honest and forthright and free from mistrust.
Hello! Hello! Over here!
"And here I am," Mark murmurs, and Eduardo, who always knows what he means, lifts their linked hands from the grass, puts them to his mouth, and whispers "yes," into the tiny hollow of their palms.
"I love you."
It had been there from the beginning, it is past and future both, and yet it still remains, he can still hear it and he thinks he always will, even when he leaves.
He never wants to block it out again.