Eduardo was their name.
(“Their,” because Madame scolded him for claiming a name that was not solely his. It belonged to someone else too. Madame said that Eduardo wasn’t really his name, because he had borrowed it from the real Eduardo, who lived in the world outside these cottages, and therefore was the real Eduardo.)
(Eduardo was not a “he,” but a “they.”)
They knew that Eduardo existed in two halves: One here, the other “Outside.” But Eduardo knew that one day they will be completed. One day, when they were old enough, each pieces of this half would join the other, and they would become one.
Eduardo was happy. Soon, they would be completed. Soon, Eduardo would solely exist Outside. One day, Eduardo would be “he.”
(Sometimes Eduardo felt something sharp clawing at their chest, thinking about how everything was “theirs” and not “his.” Eduardo wondered what it felt like to have something that was “his.”)
Eduardo dreamed a lot about the world Outside. Eduardo didn’t know what Outside looked like, but to Eduardo, it was glorious and beautiful and unattainable like a dream balloon floating away at the distance, hovering on the skyline. If Eduardo closed one eye, they could pinch the shape of the balloon between two fingers.
Eduardo never had a balloon, but they had seen pictures of balloons floating between the worn pages of old children’s books, hanging over the horizon like colorful bubbles of hope and future.
Eduardo wanted to hold a balloon so badly. It didn’t have to be their own. Eduardo just wanted to know what it felt like to dream.
Eduardo learned that they were all replaceable.
There was this boy named Greg, the same age as they. When Eduardo were six, Greg fell off a tree and snapped their neck.
When Eduardo were eleven, there was another five-year-old Greg as a replacement. Eduardo knew that if they die, there would be another Eduardo as a replacement.
The Donors left one by one.
Eduardo wondered what it felt like to be completed, to become one with the being in the Outside. (Because none of them, none of the Donors were ever a “Real” being. They existed in meaningless halves, waiting to complete their Originals.)
Perhaps when this heart and these lungs and this blood pulsed with life in Eduardo’s other body, Eduardo could finally become a real person. Eduardo would no longer be a “they,” but a “he.”
Perhaps Eduardo could finally have a balloon once they completed.
Eduardo sketched balloons on their cottage walls. He waited. The colorful bubbles soared like hope on the dab gray wallpaper.
Eduardo wanted to have Meaning.
Perhaps Eduardo would have Meaning once they were completed.
One day, Eduardo will have a balloon. One day, Eduardo will have many balloons.
One day, Eduardo will let them go one by one to float on a clear, cloudless blue sky.
The men in dark suits came one day to Eduardo’s cottage. They took Eduardo away.
They stuffed Eduardo in a windowless van and cuffed their hands together. Eduardo sat in the darkness as the van rolled forward toward the unknown.
Eduardo traced the shapes of balloons on their palm and tried not to be scared.
When the van stopped, the men in dark suits came again and pushed Eduardo through a sterile hallway. They put Eduardo in a sterile room with nothing but four blank walls. Eduardo felt cold. They gave Eduardo a blanket. They told Eduardo to wait.
Eduardo curled in a corner and waited. Eduardo wondered if it was their turn to be completed. Eduardo should be happy to be a part of a real person, but all Eduardo could feel was a deep regret and a overwhelming fear. Eduardo didn’t want to give up life yet, even though it was never “his” own life to begin with.
Ridiculous. Eduardo should be ecstatic to be completed. Eduardo will finally have Meaning.
Eduardo will get a balloon. Eduardo will be able to dream.
But when the door opened, there were no dark men in suits. There were no doctors in cold white coats like the ones that took Roger away for donation. There was no Madame that came and berated Eduardo for things that Eduardo did wrong.
There was only a boy, no older than Eduardo, clad in a soft blue hoodie, cargo shorts, and flip flops. They had light curly hair that framed a sharp, tired looking face. They walked toward Eduardo’s corner, casting a shadow over Eduardo when they stopped in front of them.
“I’m Mark,” they said.
Oh, Eduardo thought. This Mark was not a “they” but a “he.” This Mark was a real person. Eduardo almost felt envious.
“We are Eduardo,” Eduardo replied, feeling small somehow, like Mark was towering over him. Mark was real, but Eduardo wasn’t. Eduardo didn’t have a real name, only a borrowed one from the Original. Eduardo didn’t have enough Worth to speak to a real person. “We’re sorry,” Eduardo felt compelled to add.
Mark frowned, studying Eduardo with an intensity that made them squirm. Mark’s eyes were very blue. Blue like the sky.
The shadow that fell over Eduardo retreated as Mark moved to sat on the floor in front of Eduardo. Eduardo attempted to scoot away because Mark was so much more than this lowly Eduardo who wasn’t even the real Eduardo, but Mark stopped them with a hand on their arm.
“Eduardo is your name,” said Mark.
“Yes,” Eduardo replied, not daring to make eye contact with Mark when Eduardo was so worthless. “Eduardo is our name.”
“No,” Mark said firmly. “Eduardo is your name. Your own name.”
Eduardo did not understand.
“Say it,” Mark’s grip became tighter. “Say: ‘My name is Eduardo.’”
Eduardo swallowed a lump in their throat. “I can’t. It’s our name.” Eduardo was a borrowed name. This Eduardo didn’t deserve to own that name, but the Original did.
But Eduardo really wanted it. Eduardo wanted this name to be his. Not “theirs,” but “his.” Something that solely belong to one. Eduardo wanted to taste the independence with the roll of this name on their tongue.
“My,” Eduardo began, feeling a strange courage running through their—no, his, his own—body. “My,” he repeated, relishing at having something that was his own. “Mine.”
“My name is Eduardo,” he said.
My name is Eduardo. My name is Eduardo. I am Eduardo.
“Yes,” Mark said. “Your name is Eduardo.” There was something sad in his voice.
Eduardo looked at Mark, looked at the light reflecting on his curls, looked at the blue of his eyes. He felt like he was holding a thousand balloons in his hand.
Mark said he was going to take Eduardo home. Eduardo tried but failed to clamp down the excitement running through his bones.
“You mean, your home from the Outside?”
“What?” Mark frowned, but then, as if he understood without Eduardo telling him, he nodded. “Yeah. Outside.” There was something heavy in his voice as he turned away from Eduardo stiffly.
Oh, Eduardo thought, feeling ashamed of himself. He reminded Mark of the obvious difference between them. Mark was real and Eduardo wasn’t.
But then something warm wrapped around his hand, and Eduardo realized that it was Mark’s hand. Mark’s shoulder bumped against his. Mark’s hand was cold, but the grasp on his hand was steady and strong, as if his grip could somehow anchor Eduardo into something solid and real.
Eduardo squeezed his hand back. He wanted to be real too.
Mark’s home was a bright and airy place. Mark showed Eduardo to a room with a large window facing the backyard sitting beneath a blue, cloudless California sky. When the wind blew the thin yellow curtains fluttered like sheets of sunlight.
“You can have this bedroom,” Mark said.
“It’s,” Eduardo swallowed, eyes tracing the white linen of the large bed and the high ceiling and the soft carpet and the afternoon light filtering though the glass. “It’s….”
“It’s yours,” said Mark.
“It’s mine?” Suddenly it was very difficult to look at Mark because his eyes were stinging. It was his. This room was his.
Eduardo asked Mark for color pencils. Mark bought a set for him, one with hundred of colors squeezed in one box.
Eduardo took them and drew colorful balloons on his walls.
Mark spent most of his time in his home office. Mark said Eduardo was free to wander around the house however he wanted.
After a few days of exploration, Eduardo finally decided to walk into Mark’s office. It was dark. The curtains and the windows were shut.
“Why am I here?” asked Eduardo. He was grateful that Mark came for him, but this freedom wasn’t his. He wasn’t a real person. He didn’t deserve to see the Outside world with his own eyes.
“I’m not an Original,” Eduardo whispered softly. “I’m not supposed to be here. And you’re not my Original.”
“No, I am not,” Mark nodded, the laptop light illuminated his small form hunching over the office desk with a cool blue.
“Where is my Original?” asked Eduardo. “Does he…does he need…” Does he need me to complete him?
Mark paused. The room fell into an eerie silence without the steady sound of typing. “No, he did not.”
“Oh,” Eduardo said, shuffling his feet.
“Eduardo,” Mark said, and Eduardo looked up at Mark, who refused to meet his eyes. “The other Eduardo,” he clarified. “He’s….” Mark took a breath, and Eduardo wondered if it was physically painful for Mark to think about this.
“He’s dead,” Mark lifted his chin as if the gesture would give him more courage to withstand the weight of his words. His tone was clipped, sharp, to the point. He was almost emotionless if not for the light tremble of his hands. “It was a bad car accident. There was nothing the doctors could do. He left all of his possessions to me in his will. That is why you are here.”
“Oh,” was all Eduardo could manage. He didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know what to say.
What was he supposed to say when he realized that his purpose in life was to replace someone else?
Eduardo was as replaceable here as he was before.
“I am here to replace him?”
He chuckled sadly. “No. You are not here to replace Eduardo.”
Before Eduardo could say anything, Mark continued. “Because Eduardo is irreplaceable.”
Every night, Eduardo would watch the rough sketches of the balloons on his wall before he fell asleep. Every night, he tested the taste of freedom on his lips, repeating, “I am Eduardo. My name is Eduardo” until he almost forgot what he was.
(He was with Mark now, and Mark said Eduardo could be whatever he wanted to be. Eduardo only wanted to be himself.)
Tonight, however, Eduardo could not get the thought of Mark and the Original Eduardo together from his mind. Eduardo felt something ugly twitching within him, but he clamped it down when he thought about how sad Mark looked when he mentioned the Original Eduardo.
Eduardo wondered if he should feel guilty, because if it wasn’t for the Original Eduardo’s death, this fake Eduardo wouldn’t have been a real person.
Eduardo wondered if he was stealing the Original Eduardo’s life, if he was stealing the Original Eduardo’s bedroom, if he was stealing the Original Eduardo’s Mark.
But all Eduardo could think about was how sad Mark had looked. He wished suddenly that he could be the Original Eduardo, because may be then Mark wouldn’t look so sad.
But the Original Eduardo was irreplaceable.
Eduardo shouldn’t feel jealous, but he did.
The balloons on his walls looked fake. Felt fake. Were fake.
Eduardo shifted to his other side so he didn’t have to look at them anymore.
Mark saw Eduardo’s balloons once, when he passed by the hallway and Eduardo’s door was open. He didn’t say anything. He watched the colorful circles floating up the wall and didn’t say a word.
The next day, Eduardo woke up to several buckets of paint by his door, each color matching the balloon on his wall. He gingerly picked up the set of paintbrushes and the sheets of plastic covering.
Eduardo painted the balloons on his walls. He kept the windows open to air out the room.
It took a long time, but when he was done, the balloons seemed real. He looked at them and felt something deep within him coming to life.
Eduardo watched Mark a lot. He watched the hunch of his back over a laptop, the long fingers flying over the keyboard, the tilt of his pale neck when he stretched….
But Eduardo’s favorite part of Mark was his blue eyes. Blue like the sky. Blue like the sea at a distance. Blue like the water that tickled his toes and licked at the tiny pebbles. Eduardo knew because he watched Mark a lot.
Mark would take him to places and stood back while Eduardo ran to explore with delight, but Eduardo always watched Mark even though Mark thought he wasn’t. Mark didn’t look like he enjoyed the trip, but Eduardo knew, knew because he watched Mark a lot, knew when he saw the tensed slope of Mark’s shoulders melting and the coil of his back unwound, and, one memorable time that became Eduardo’s favorite, Mark’s tightening his lips to prevent a smile from breaking over his face. Eduardo knew.
They went to the beach today. The air was misty and the sky was milky white, but Mark was wearing a blue hoodie, the one that brought out his eyes and sharpened the bright color of his curls, so Eduardo felt as if Mark was carrying all the missing colors for him anyway.
They flopped down onto the sand, listening to the waves dancing over the shore.
Eduardo wanted to watch Mark, but he realized that Mark was watching him this time.
“What is it?” asked Eduardo.
“You smile a lot,” Mark replied.
“You don’t,” said Eduardo.
“Why should I?” asked Mark. “And why do you?”
Why did he? Eduardo thought, but he didn’t have to think very hard because the answer was obvious all along.
“Because it feels great to be alive now. Because it feels great when you’re here.”
“Oh,” said Mark, looking at Eduardo in amazement, and Eduardo didn’t know why, but something was fluttering within him.
Eduardo knew that he shouldn’t do it, but he couldn’t help himself. “Did the Original Eduardo smile a lot?”
Mark stiffened, and for a moment Eduardo thought that he had screwed everything up, that he had broken a line that they weren’t supposed to cross.
But Mark answered. “Yeah, he does, but not for reasons like yours. He smiled a lot at business meetings. Or at his wife.”
“Oh,” and that was all Eduardo could managed.
They were sitting in the backyard under the bright sun today, lying on soft grass that Mark took care of every week. Eduardo knew because he always watched Mark from his window, watched the sweat beading his face, the wet droplets sliding down his neck to hide in the grove of his collarbone or stain his cotton T-shirt.
Eduardo liked this Mark, the Mark that took care of himself but didn’t say no when Eduardo went outside and asked if he could help, the Mark that told Eduardo, “I’m glad that you came out with me,” even if Eduardo didn’t understand because the work wasn’t hard, but Mark looked at him like nothing else mattered but the fact that Eduardo was by him, and Eduardo felt something warm fluttering in his chest.
Eduardo liked the Mark that was lying on the grass with him right now too, the Mark that was all soft edges, and even though Mark probably would never admit to that, Eduardo knew.
Eduardo liked every pieces of Mark that Mark was willing to show him.
“I never thought about how great it was to be alive,” Mark admitted.
Eduardo smiled. “What did you think about life, then?” He usually enjoyed watching the sky, but chose instead to watch Mark instead, especially how he could see the reflection of cloud floating in the limitless blue of his eyes.
“Painful,” said Mark. “Repetitive. Unpredictable.” He turned to Eduardo, and there was something in his gaze, something in the curve of his cheeks or the curve of his eyelashes perhaps, or was it everything, because Eduardo saw it in the softness of his hoodie too, and the tender lines of his fingers, the slenderness of his wrist, and most of all, the gentleness of his eyes hidden underneath a blank expression.
Eduardo knew because he watched Mark a lot, and saw that Mark watched him too.
Eduardo reached to Mark’s wrist, curling his hand gently around it, caressing the steady beating pulse of life. “And?” Eduardo felt that Mark wanted to say something else too.
“But it feels great to be alive,” Mark answered, and Eduardo could feel Mark’s pulse racing underneath his thumb.
Mark remembered Eduardo’s words, that day at the beach. Mark remembered Eduardo’s words and kept them close to his heart.
Eduardo pulled Mark’s wrist up to his lips and kissed that pulse. He smiled at Mark.
Mark didn’t smile back. But he didn’t pull his hand away.
Mark passed by Eduardo’s room one time and saw the painted balloons on his wall. More solid and confident. Eduardo didn’t bother to close his bedroom door anymore.
Mark didn’t say anything.
The next day, Mark stopped by Eduardo’s bedroom again and handed him a large paper bag. He didn’t say anything then either. Eduardo took the bag from him, not knowing what it was, but he thanked Mark anyway. Mark walked away without waiting for Eduardo to see what was in the bag.
Eduardo remembered the colored pencils that Mark brought him because he asked and the paint that Mark brought him because he didn’t ask.
Eduardo opened the bag. He was surprised and not surprised.
Eduardo began to draw other things with the sketch book Mark gave him.
He drew and drew and drew, trying to capture every piece of this life that he was privileged to have.
Mark said he had a business trip coming up. He was going to be gone for two days. He couldn’t take Eduardo with him; Eduardo had no legal identification as a citizen belonging to any country.
The day he left, Mark hovered at the door, torn.
Eduardo smiled. “I’ll be fine.”
Mark looked at him. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” said Eduardo, but there was something else too that Eduardo couldn’t figure out, something that was bothering Mark. Eduardo took a guess.
“I’ll still be here when you get back,” Eduardo chuckled, but there was no humor in his tone. I won’t leave you like the Original Eduardo.
Something melted in Mark’s eyes, and, before Eduardo realized what was going on, Mark rose on his toes and gave Eduardo a quick brush of his lips against Eduardo’s cheek.
Mark pulled away quickly. “Be safe, Wardo,” he mumbled before leaving in a haste. Eduardo couldn’t read the expression on his face, but he did see the flush that rose up the back of Mark’s neck.
Eduardo touched the spot where Mark’s lips were a moment before.
Be safe, Wardo.
Eduardo's cheeks felt hot.
Eduardo tried to capture Mark’s image on paper.
Eduardo really wanted Mark to come back now. He wrapped Mark’s echoed of Wardo around his shoulders before drifting off to sleep.
Mark came back, exhausted but happy to see Eduardo. He was so tired that he didn’t even try to hide his smile.
Eduardo wrapped his arms around Mark and didn’t want to let go.
Mark asked him one day, “Would you like to meet the other Eduardo’s father?”
Eduardo was scared, but he was also curious. “Yes.”
Eduardo could see the features on Mr. Saverin’s face that matched his own.
He tried to meet the man’s eyes without being afraid.
Mark told him things about Mr. Saverin. Eduardo learned that he was from Brazil and moved to Florida. Eduardo learned that he was into business. Eduardo learned that he returned to Brazil after his son’s death. Eduardo also learned that the Original Eduardo wanted to make this man proud of him, that the Original Eduardo became a businessman and married a woman from a nice family to make this man proud of him. But most of all, Eduardo learned that the Original Eduardo never made his father proud of him.
However, Eduardo tried to focus on the fact that this seemingly cold man flew from another country just to see a copy image of his son.
They didn’t speak to each other, even though Mr. Saverin looked like he wanted to say something.
Dinner passed in a melancholy peace.
Eduardo remained silent because he didn’t know how to be the son that Mr. Saverin missed.
Eduardo waited until Mark left the room to find his car keys to speak. Mark was going to drive Mr. Saverin to the airport.
“I’m sorry that I couldn’t—,” Eduardo couldn’t finish. I’m sorry that your son died and I’m still alive. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be him.
He wondered what Mr. Saverin saw when he looked at this clone of his son. He wondered if Mr. Saverin was accusing this clone of being an imposter in his mind.
Mr. Saverin didn’t say anything at first. Then, he sighed heavily. “Don’t be.”
Another moment passed between them before Mr. Saverin continued. “I’ve never told my son this, and I wished I had, but,” He gave Eduardo a pat on the shoulder. “Just live happily.”
“Thank you,” said Eduardo.
Mark came back, car keys in hand. “Are you ready?”
Just when Mark and Mr. Saverin reached the door, however, Eduardo spoke without thinking. “You too.”
Mark looked confused.
Mr. Saverin didn’t say anything at first, didn’t even look Eduardo’s way, but Eduardo could feel that something changed.
“Thank you,” He turned to Eduardo at last, his eyes warm. “I will try.”
They were sitting on the couch. Mark was working on his laptop while Eduardo sat by him, leaning back against the armrest and tucking his feet under Mark’s thighs. They shared a blanket because it was chilly and neither of them wanted to turn on the heater. Eduardo didn’t mind. He liked the feeling of Mark’s body heat soaking through the fabric to his skin.
“Mr. Saverin is nice,” said Eduardo.
Mark paused. “He looks better than before.” Mark resumed typing.
“Do you speak to him often?” asked Eduardo, curious.
“No,” Mark replied. “Last time I saw him was at the funeral. He almost punched me.”
Eduardo didn’t ask for an explanation because he was worried that Mark might withdraw from him. It was always like this. Any mention of the Original Eduardo did just that.
“We talked a little,” said Mark. “In the car.”
“What did you talk about?” Eduardo wiggled his toes and Mark jerked a little. He wondered if Mark was ticklish.
“He told me to let go,” Mark said with a shaky breath. “I told him I don’t want to.”
Mark got sick. Really sick.
It began with little sneezes, then loud ones, and before Eduardo knew it, Mark began to cough uncontrollably. And then one morning, he didn’t get up at all.
“Mark, Mark,” Eduardo called out frantically because Mark’s skin was burning and he didn’t know what to do. Eduardo clutched Mark’s hand tightly because he didn’t want to let go of Mark. Not now. Eduardo remembered the boy Greg who died and was replaced. Eduardo remembered numerous others who left and someone else took their place as if their existence didn’t matter at all.
But Mark wasn’t replaceable. There was no Madame who could come and check, no men in black who came with a stretcher to take the sick away, no other clone made to replace the body that was lost, no sense of nonchalance because that was how little life was worth, because Mark mattered.
“Eduardo?” Mark whispered groggily.
“I’m here,” said Eduardo. “I’m here for you.”
Mark didn’t respond, but he squeezed Eduardo’s hand as tightly as his exhaustion would allow. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you don’t have to be sorry. If there is anything I can do—” Eduardo began.
But Mark interrupted him. “I’ve known all along.”
Eduardo was confused. “Known what, Mark?”
“I should have picked you up from the airport,” said Mark. “You shouldn’t have to take a cab to get here.”
“I don’t understand,” Eduardo said. What was Mark saying?
“I knew you wanted to surprise me. I knew that Dustin and Chris were in on it. I knew when your flight was going to land…I should have…but I wanted to wait for you to come to me…I—”
“Mark, it wasn’t your fault,” Eduardo didn’t know what was going on, but he wanted Mark to stop blaming himself. Mark was breathing way too fast and way too heavily, and Eduardo needed him to calm down.
“Did it hurt?” Mark asked suddenly.
“No,” Eduardo answered. “It didn’t.”
Mark calmed considerably at his response. He didn’t say anything for awhile, content to just look at Eduardo with his glassy eyes.
Then, “That doesn’t make it better.”
Mark closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
Eduardo was wiping Mark’s forehead with a wet hand towel when Mark’s cell phone rang. Mark didn’t even stir at the sound.
Eduardo had never used a cell phone before, but he had seen Mark used it. He didn’t even want to touch it, but it kept on going and he wanted Mark to have some peace when he slept, so he placed the towel neatly on Mark’s forehead and picked the phone up. Eduardo fumbled for a while before he finally got it to open, sighing in relief when it stopped ringing.
“Mark,” a voice said through the phone. “Where are you?”
Eduardo put the phone to his ear like he’d seen Mark did. “Hello?” the voice asked again.
“Hello,” Eduardo greeted.
There was a pause.
“Who-who is this?” the voice asked shakily.
“This is Eduardo.”
There was an even longer pause on the other side. Eduardo would have thought that the other hung up if it wasn’t for the occasional heavy breath that brushed against the phone speaker. He waited patiently in silence.
Then, a different voice spoke. “Hello there. Who is this?”
“This is Eduardo.”
Eduardo thought that this person was going to freeze like other did too, but he surprised Eduardo. “This is Chris,” the voice said. “I’m one of Mark’s closest friends.”
The voice hesitated, as if he was waiting for something, recognition, maybe, but Eduardo had never met any of Mark’s friends, so he didn’t know who this Chris was. So all Eduardo said was, “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Eduardo,” Chris said calmly. “May I speak to Mark?”
“Mark can’t talk right now. He’s….” Eduardo choked on his words because he couldn’t hold the panic in anymore. Mark was sick and he didn’t know how to help.
“What’s wrong with Mark?” Chris asked.
“I…I don’t know. He couldn’t…..he wouldn’t….he won’t wake up.”
“We’ll be there right away.”
Eduardo didn’t want to lose Mark.
Maybe Mark had a clone too. A clone that could give. A clone that could save him.
Mark’s friends did come.
Chris and Dustin.
Chris explained that Mark will be fine because he only had a cold, but they’ll stay with him today until Mark’s fever was under control. Eduardo nodded even though he didn’t understand.
Dustin didn't say anything.
Mark got progressively better once he sipped some soup and took medicine.
It was strange. Eduardo had the cold before, and Madame locked him in the infirmary where people in white coats made sure that whatever he was sick with, that his organs were still intact. He was given adequate food and medicine until he was better.
But Eduardo always had the impression that real people Outside were different from him. Dependant on their other halves, halves like Eduardo, to save them. Physically weak, but somehow better than him. Worth more than him. Somehow, that made being a clone something to be proud of, because even though they were not worthy of being people, they were saviors of something bigger than themselves.
But real people like Mark got sick too. And real people like Mark got better. Real people like Mark were made of the same flesh as halves like Eduardo, but why were they better than halves like Eduardo?
“Eduardo?” Mark asked with a raspy voice.
“I’m here,” Eduardo still had Mark’s hand in his. Mark’s skin was dry and rough, too warm for him to have recovered from the fever, but Eduardo clutched his hand tightly nevertheless. It was a selfish thought, but it occurred to him that if Mark had a clone, then Eduardo never had to let him go.
If Mark had a clone somewhere, he never had to leave Eduardo. Eduardo would never lose Mark. Mark would always be healthy and alive. Mark would always be with him, perhaps watching with guarded amusement as Eduardo ran his feet across the waves, beating on the sand like heart pulses, and shouted out, “Mark, the ocean is alive.” Mark would always be with him, stretched out on the grass and looking at the glassy blue sky while Eduardo’s shoulder was next to his. Mark would always be with him, blue screen of the laptop brushing light softly on his face; Eduardo’s feet tucked underneath his thighs. Eduardo didn’t have to lose any memories of Mark, any pieces of Mark, any moment with Mark because Mark would be with him forever.
It was a selfish thought. It made Eduardo felt disgusted with himself, but it didn’t matter if it kept Mark with him.
“Can I have some water?” Mark asked.
“Sure,” Eduardo helped Mark propped up on the pillows and handed him the glass of water on the bedside table. Chris left it. He said that Mark would want it.
Mark sipped the water gratefully, the unfocused cloudiness in his eyes fading away. Eduardo was clutching his hand so tightly it must have hurt, but Mark didn’t mention it. He would like to imagine that Mark didn’t want to let go of him either.
Mark seemed more like he was back to himself now. Eduardo was glad.
Only then did Eduardo thought about the other guests in Mark’s house.
“You friends are here,” he said. “Chris and Dustin.”
Mark handed the glass back to Eduardo, and Eduardo could feel the rising tension from the slight shake of Mark’s wrist.
Eduardo waited for a response, but Mark didn’t say anything, just slid back down into the bed and pulled the blanket over his shoulder. He turned onto his side so that he didn’t have to face Eduardo.
Eduardo was a little hurt because he didn’t know what he had done to upset Mark like this.
“Do you want to talk to them?” he asked.
“They don’t want to talk to me,” Mark replied, and left it at that.
Eduardo wanted a clone of Mark to exist.
He wanted to buy more time.
He was willing to sacrifice another for Mark’s life.
He wondered what kind of person he was to think like this.
Could he even call himself a person?
Eduardo needed Mark.
He needed Mark here with him.
Perhaps he was selfish. Perhaps he was a bad person. Perhaps he wasn’t even a person at all.
Human life was so fragile.
Chris and Dustin were in the kitchen. Their conversation halted immediately as soon as Eduardo walked in. Eduardo tried to appear as if he did not hear their almost-argument.
“How is he?” Chris asked.
“He’s doing better now,” Eduardo said. “Thank you for coming by.”
“It’s not a problem,” Chris said.
Chris just looked at Eduardo strangely, as if he was trying to find someone else there, a shadow perhaps, but was disappointed when he couldn’t find that person. Eduardo remembered when he first met Mark and when he first met Mr. Saverin, how he had wondered if they were looking for the Original Eduardo when they looked at him. But this was different. There was something about Chris’ look that made Eduardo felt sad.
Dustin didn’t even look Eduardo’s way. He didn’t even try to meet Eduardo’s eyes the whole time he was here, and the most he’d said to Eduardo was a “Hello” when he first arrived.
"Do you guys want to speak to him?" Eduardo asked.
"It's best that we let him rest," said Chris.
But Dustin spoke. "He doesn't want to talk to us."
"Dustin!" Chris frowned. "You--"
"It's true. Don't try to tell me that you don't think so too."
Chris didn't say anything at that.
"Mark said the same thing about you guys," said Eduardo.
“What?” Dustin looked at Eduardo at last, concern for his friend over-weighed any discomfort he had over Eduardo.
“He said you guys didn’t want to talk to him,” said Eduardo. A pause, then. “You guys should talk to him. Mark might not directly show it, but he do need—”
Eduardo didn’t quite know how to describe it, how to describe the brightness that lit on Mark’s face when Eduardo joined him in his empty office and watched him worked, how to describe Mark’s soft exhale when Eduardo moved to sit next to him on the couch, how Mark might not say a word, but he did find comfort in the presence of another.
Dustin nodded, breaking his gaze from Eduardo.
Chris looked at the window, into the blue sky outside.
Chris and Dustin went upstairs to check on Mark.
On the way, Dustin paused before Eduardo, and Eduardo was pleasantly surprised when he said, “Thanks” before heading off.
Chris hesitated before he said. “We needed that, thank you.”
“Oh, it’s not—I didn’t—” Eduardo began, but Chris said gently.
“No, you did. Thank you. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Mark may need us more than we thought.”
Chris smiled softly at him, patted his shoulder once before following Dustin upstairs.
They were good people, Mark’s friends.
Eduardo waited downstairs.
Chris and Dustin were gone for a long time.
Chris and Dustin came downstairs with suspiciously red-rimmed eyes.
Eduardo would ask them if they were okay, but he went upstairs to check on Mark instead.
Mark was propped up on his pillow. He was looking at the view outside the bedroom window.
Today was a beautiful day.
Eduardo watched Mark silently. The room felt suffocating; he felt a strange pressure building in his chest, emotions stretching his lungs tight.
Eduardo walked to Mark’s bed and gently settled himself on the mattress. Mark was still facing the window, back toward Eduardo, but Eduardo just wrapped his arms around Mark and pulled Mark against his chest, an ‘I’m here for you’ without words.
Eduardo thought that Mark wasn’t going to respond or even push him away, but he was surprised because Mark turned his body to Eduardo’s embrace, face buried in Eduardo’s shoulder.
Eduardo could feel a warm wetness at the base of his neck as Mark's grief slid down his collarbone.
Mark fell asleep again after dinner.
Chris and Dustin crashed in the living room after watching a movie. Eduardo didn’t join them. There was a feeling of shared peace between them that he didn’t want to intrude.
Besides, he would rather stay by Mark to make sure Mark was alright.
Eduardo was sitting uncomfortably in a small chair when Mark woke up in the middle of the night, whispering groggily. “Wardo?”
“Mark,” Eduardo was by Mark’s side at an instant.
But Mark didn’t say anything. He just tugged at Eduardo’s arm and Eduardo followed, lowering himself to the bed until his head was on the pillow next to Mark’s.
Mark went back to sleep after that, but Eduardo understood and slept by his side.
“I didn’t cry at his funeral,” said Mark. Eduardo looked at Mark’s expression and knew that not even Mark understood it either. “I’ve always felt guilty about that,” Mark whispered as Eduardo listened silently. They were still in bed, Mark’s too-warm legs tangling with Eduardo’s.
“Are you supposed to cry at funerals?” Eduardo asked.
“I guess. It’s to express how sorry a person is to lose someone,” Mark shrugged.
Eduardo didn’t need Mark to cry to know how painful it was for him to lose the Original Eduardo. It was there as the invisible heaviness on his shoulders, the dead silence that he must have kept between Chris and Dustin, the guilty way he looked at Eduardo sometimes.
“Don’t be guilty,” Eduardo said. “I don’t think there are rules to how you’re supposed to feel.”
Grief was a strange thing. It came and went whenever it wanted.
Eduardo didn’t want to imagine how it would feel if he was to lose Mark.
Because he never wanted to let go.
Mark was irreplaceable.
Eduardo never thought of death in that way before.
He didn’t want to imagine or accept the fact that Mark would be gone one day, too.
Eduardo didn’t want to think about death ever. It never occurred to him back in that Place what it meant to be a clone, what it meant to be completed. Death was almost a privilege. Something that made him special. A piece of identity that was his own.
But everyone had to complete at one point.
Eduardo wanted to live now.
Chris and Dustin left in the morning.
Chris thanked him and waved good bye.
Eduardo thought that Dustin was going to give him the cold shoulder as he had done, but he didn’t. Dustin slapped a hand on Eduardo’s back and gave Eduardo a smile, one that made Eduardo think they could be friends. Eduardo just blinked with confusion for a moment. He looked at Chris for help, but Chris just shrugged in that Don’t Ask Me About The Strangeness of Dustin kind of way. Eduardo didn’t know what about this moment particularly that made him smile, but he did.
Mark walked up to his side and wrapped an arm around Eduardo, placing a hand on his hip. He couldn’t read Chris’ and Dustin’s expressions as a response to this, but he could sense their grudging acceptance, which was good enough for him.
But he could also sense the tension in Mark’s touch, like he was afraid.
“We’ll catch up with you two later,” said Dustin, and that was enough. A silent agreement of acceptance.
Chris didn’t say anything, but he did give them a reassuring smile.
Chris and Dustin were nice people. No matter how strange or painful or quirky they might find Eduardo, they were willing to accept anything for Mark’s happiness.
Eduardo wanted that. He wanted people. He wanted love.
They were watching TV on the couch, a short episode of some comedy show because staring at the screen for too long made Mark tired. Mark was leaning against Eduardo’s shoulder, breathing heavily because his nose was stuffy. Eduardo was watching Mark from the corner of his eyes instead of paying attention to the TV, checking on Mark every second to make sure he was okay.
“Chris and Dustin said it wasn’t my fault.”
Eduardo tucked a curl behind Mark’s ear and waited patiently for him to gather his thoughts. Eduardo knew that when Mark was ready, he would tell him.
“They thought I hated them for Eduardo’s,” Mark hesitated. A loud silence followed, where the word hung heavily between them.
Eduardo squeezed Mark’s hand, telling him that he knew what Mark was trying to say.
Death wasn’t something Eduardo wanted to accept either.
Mark swallowed and squeezed Eduardo’s hand back.
“I thought they hated me,” said Mark. “Because it was my fault. Eduardo was coming to see me, but I waited for him instead of picking him up. I knew he wanted to be a surprise, but I should have gone anyway.”
Eduardo let go of Mark’s hand and wrapped his arm around Mark’s shoulder instead. He imagined Mark, pacing in his office, waiting for a doorbell that will never ring, for a sound of approaching car in the night that will never come. For a person who will never arrive.
“It wasn’t your fault,” said Eduardo. “You didn’t cause that accident.”
Mark didn’t say anything at first. He pursed his lips, turning away from Eduardo as if he couldn’t bear to look at him. “That’s not it. You don’t even know me.”
Eduardo felt a pang of hurt and annoyance at that accusation. “I may not know everything about you, but I do know the important parts.”
Mark pulled away from Eduardo. “Oh really?” He narrowed his eyes.
“Did you know then, that I hurt Eduardo so much he had to flee to another country? That I hurt him so much he couldn’t bear to look into the face of his former friends?” Mark gave him a challenging look. “Hurt him so much that he hated me?” At this Mark chuckled weakly, but it came out as a wheeze, a heaviness that made his eyes wet and his shoulders shaking. “Hurt him until his final moment.”
Eduardo swallowed. He didn’t know any of this, didn’t know the depth of Mark’s shadows, the guilt and the pain and the mistakes that Mark carry on himself.
“I’d hurt you too,” said Mark. Eduardo reached for Mark, but Mark jerked away from him. “If I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.”
“You’re already hurting me,” said Eduardo, and Mark was stunned to silence. “I can’t watch you this hurt without feeling hurt too.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m not hurt. It meant nothing to me if you suffer,” Mark said coldly. “If being around me pains you so much, then why don’t you just leave then?”
“You know I can’t leave,” said Eduardo.
“I’ll help you leave. You need documentations? Papers? They will be done. Nothing I can’t do.” Mark rose from the sofa and turned his back on Eduardo.
Eduardo wondered if he was reading Mark wrong. If he was seeing Mark as more than what was there. But deep in his gut, Eduardo knew that what he had seen before was true. He just had to trust himself. Trust Mark.
“That’s not what I meant,” said Eduardo, desperate to stop Mark from running away. “I can’t leave because I don’t want to.”
Mark became very still.
Eduardo let out a soft sigh. He moved forward slowly, hand hovering over Mark’s, not sure if he should touch him. If at skin contact, Mark would flee.
“Mark, please look at me.”
Mark didn’t move.
“I’ll still be here when you turn around.”
Mark didn’t say anything, didn’t move, but Eduardo could feel the atmosphere around them changing. Eduardo’s words did something.
A silence stretched between them.
Then, so softly that Eduardo almost didn’t hear him, Mark whispered. “Will you?”
“I will,” Eduardo reached for Mark’s hand and intertwined their fingers together.
Slowly, Mark turned around, emotions so clear that Eduardo almost didn’t understand why he even doubted his instinct in the first place. Eduardo tugged Mark closer and rose onto his feet to pull Mark into his arms.
“See? I’m still here.”
Eduardo wondered if this was what living meant. To love, but also to hurt, to be hurt and to hurt others. To hold on tight to what he had even though death could split them apart.
Eduardo only wanted the good parts of living, but living wasn’t like that. Living meant that he had to embrace it all, the good and the bad.
Living was wonderful.
Eduardo wanted it.
Eduardo had forgotten about the balloons.
“What do they mean?” asked Mark. Eduardo didn’t ask why Mark was in his room for fear that Mark would leave. Eduardo remembered how Mark used to hover around his door, afraid of crossing that invisible boundary.
“I don’t know,” Eduardo replied. “Dreams. Hopes. Maybe something more. I remember really liking balloons when I was back there.” Eduardo never talked about those days, not to Mark. It wasn’t a big deal, but there was something about the memory that made Eduardo felt ashamed, as if he wasn’t good enough for what he had now if he was reminded of who he really was.
“You don’t draw them anymore,” said Mark. Eduardo had said that he was going to fill the whole wall with balloons, but he never finished.
“No,” said Eduardo. “Not anymore.”
Eduardo wondered what that meant, that he had lost this part of himself.
“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming,” said Mark.
Not if they constantly remind you of what you can’t have, Eduardo thought, but didn’t say aloud.
Mr. Saverin called. He was getting married.
He sent them an invitation, but he also wanted to invite them personally.
“I didn’t know that Mr. Saverin isn’t with his wife anymore,” said Eduardo.
“No, he isn’t,” said Mark. “They divorced after their son’s death.”
Eduardo didn’t know what he could say to that.
Eduardo felt like he was living in the shadow of someone else, even though that person wasn’t in this world anymore.
But this— this life, this face, this body—wasn’t his own.
He never had anything in the first place.
Every time he took a step forward, it felt as if he was being knocked back.
They were sitting in the kitchen, Eduardo drawing, when Mark asked if he could see Eduardo’s sketchbook.
“Not right now.”
Eduardo was reluctant because he knew what was in there and he didn’t want Mark to see, didn’t want Mark to know the emotions that were threatening to burst out of his chest every time he looked at Mark. These feelings were his alone, and he didn’t want the Original Eduardo in Mark’s memory to take them away from him.
“Did you love him?” Eduardo couldn’t help himself but ask. Then, realizing what he just said, he clenched his fists, bracing himself for the answer that he feared. “The Original Eduardo.”
Mark, confused by Eduardo’s sudden divergence, said slowly. “He was my best friend.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“Yes,” said Mark, looking away. “But he didn’t love me back.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.” Eduardo said. There was no way the other Eduardo would not have loved Mark. This Eduardo loved Mark so much it hurt. This Eduardo would give away all the balloons in the world, give away the cloudless blue sky, give away anything to be by Mark’s side.
Eduardo didn’t have anything now. No hopes. No dreams. Only a bottomless hole of want that sucked away everything and constantly reminded him of what he couldn’t have.
“I,” Mark pursed his lips. “I told him. He’ll probably say that it’s disgusting that I….He doesn’t….He had a wife.” Mark smiled bitterly, sad, but he held his chin high, as if he didn’t care that it hurt. “He probably hated me.”
Eduardo didn’t think that Mark was disgusting. Mark was bright and beautiful and he was still wonderful in spite of flaws. He was so bright that Eduardo wanted to kiss him, breathing him in, pulling his body flushed against his until all Eduardo could hear, see, and feel was Mark.
Sometimes Eduardo wished that Mark was his Other, his Original, so that they could complete as one person, so that Mark was made of Eduardo. So that Mark would always belong to Eduardo and Eduardo to Mark. So that Eduardo would beat with life within Mark forever.
But even that wouldn't be enough because Eduardo wanted to see Mark live with him, wanted every single second that he got to spend with Mark, wanted every smile and every tear.
Eduardo didn’t think that the other Eduardo hated Mark. He left everything that was the remainder of his life to Mark. But all the material possessions that he left in his will were useless because Mark didn’t want any of that. Perhaps he wanted to possess Mark anyway he could. Perhaps he wanted Mark’s heart even after his death.
This Eduardo wouldn’t do that. Mark deserved more than leftovers. But Mark deserved more than what Eduardo could give him.
“It’s not your fault that he didn’t love me back,” said Mark.
“No,” said Eduardo. “I’m sorry that I can’t be him for you.” That much was true. This Eduardo wasn’t real. This Eduardo could be replaced, but the Original Eduardo could never be replaced.
The only thing Eduardo could do now was to fill in the space that the Original left behind.
“Wardo,” Mark breathed softly in his ear. “I don’t want you to be him.”
“I—” Mark clutched at Eduardo’s arms tightly. “You. Just you. I want you to be just you.”
Eduardo looked at Mark, looked at the way Mark eyes focused on him, only him, and then Eduardo felt something burning at the back of his eyes and tightening his throat, because for the first time, Eduardo hoped that Mark saw him as Eduardo, as an entity different person from the ghost of his Original. He never thought that he could be anything but a piece of someone else, never complete, never whole, never his own person. But Eduardo wanted it, wanted to love and to be loved, wanted the happiness and the pain of living as his own self.
Mark wanted him to be who he was.
It was there all along, wasn’t it? That desire to be real, that frustration that he wasn’t. That need to be an individual. A person.
“Just me,” said Eduardo.
Eduardo repainted the rest of the balloons on his wall. He gave them a blue sky. A sun. A reminder of the limitless horizon.
Eduardo dreamed. He hoped.
One day, he will grow into someone irreplaceable.
Mr. Saverin’s wedding was in April, the first full month of spring. It was a lovely wedding. Mr. Saverin and the new Mrs. Saverin looked really happy. Eduardo wished them all the best.
The former Mrs. Saverin was there too. She was with someone. She seemed happy as well, her face glowed with dimples and laughing lines. She shook Eduardo’s hands and hugged Mark.
“I’m sorry,” said Mark, and Eduardo was startled. Eduardo didn’t think Mark would say it to her.
Her face softened into something else, something warm and kind with a tint of sadness. She squeezed Mark’s hand and gave his shoulder a light pat.
Eduardo even saw her giving Mr. Saverin a hug later, a well-meaning smile on her face.
Mark said that they had a very bad split-up at Eduardo’s funeral, but they made up and were still in contact.
The wedding was lovely. The weather was lovely.
It felt like a new beginning.
“I bumped into Eduardo’s wife the morning after the wedding,” said Mark.
“What happened?” Eduardo didn’t know this. He spent most of the following morning sleeping in the hotel, so he didn’t notice when Mark went out.
“We….spoke,” said Mark. “It was nice. She was a good person. I didn’t know they were divorced.”
“What else did she say?”
“She told me that he knew it before he died,” said Mark. “Eduardo knew that I loved him.”
“He knew it all along.”
They visited the Original Eduardo’s grave.
Mark touched the gravestone, caressing Eduardo’s name with his finger.
“Thank you,” said Mark.
It didn’t sound like a goodbye, and it wasn’t one. Eduardo knew that Mark would always hold the Original Eduardo close to his heart.
Eduardo got to his knees too.
“You will be remembered,” he said, wondering if the Original Eduardo could hear him. “Always.”
One day, Eduardo walked in the kitchen and found a dozen balloons greeting him good morning.
“Mark?” Eduardo called out, tugging at a bundle of colorful balloons in wonder. “Where are you?”
“Happy birthday,” a chorus answered him. Eduardo had to move another bundle of balloons before he caught the sight of Mark, Chris, and Dustin at the kitchen counter.
“Is it really my birthday?” asked Eduardo.
“He doesn’t even know his own birthday!” Dustin cried, and Eduardo was startled. In all of his time in Dustin’s presence, he’s never known that Dustin could be this energetic and alive.
“Leave him alone,” said Chris. “You’re scaring him.”
“It is your birthday,” said Mark. Then, as if he could read Eduardo’s mind, he added. “Your very own.”
His own birthday. Not the Original Eduardo’s birthday, but his own.
They got him a ridiculous looking chocolate cake with crazy icing because apparently, Dustin, whose job was to pick it up, didn’t know how to stop being a kid (as Chris so aptly put it). Mark tried baking a cake, but after he nearly burned down Chris’ kitchen, they decided to spare Eduardo since it was the first celebrated birthday he had with them.
“I would love to eat it, nevertheless,” said Eduardo.
“Maybe next year,” Mark mumbled, and Eduardo beamed.
“You really don’t want it,” said Dustin. “When he tried baking me one for my birthday, I thought he was trying to poison me.”
“Shut up,” said Mark.
“It’s not like your baking is any better, Dustin,” said Chris.
Eduardo laughed, feeling so happy that he was afraid all of this would disappear if he blinked. He thought about how wonderful this was, how wonderful it will be, how there will be a next year, and a year after that, and a year after that. Even if he wasn’t sure whether he had the year after, he still had the now, and he wanted to live it to the fullest.
Mark, Dustin, and Chris taught him how to play video games, and Eduardo was horrid at it. But, being here with people, with Mark, creating all of these memories, that was all Eduardo wanted.
Afterward, Eduardo went to the back porch with a bundle of balloons in his hand. He took Mark with him.
“Dream with me?” asked Eduardo. He let go of the balloons in his hand and watched them rose to the blue sky above, traveling through the unlimited horizon.
“Yes,” said Mark, and held Eduardo’s hand in his.
Among the pile of letters that Mark had yet to open, underneath the bill statements and the credit card advertisements, was an envelope.
Mark will open this envelope, and he will find a single piece of paper folded neatly in threes. Eduardo will be by his side, then and always.
And Mark will read it, neatly written by a hand that he once knew.
May Happiness Be Yours.
“I need you.”
“I’m here for you.”