She’s been praying for months now that she wouldn’t run into him while in Palo Alto. She told herself, it’s a conference, I’ll be chilly in August because I’ll never leave the hotel. She packs blazers and cardigans and skinny dress pants.
She’s waiting in line for her coffee and pastry, on the one day so far that she escapes the terrible breakfast in search of better coffee and breakfast, when she feels a strong tap on her shoulder, and when she whirls around, her eyes must go wide like an anime character. She accepts Mark’s hug, though it feels weird to be hugging him, and finds herself accepting his offer to sit and dine.
So much time has passed. Since she last saw him, he’s made billions of dollars and more importantly grew into a man. It suits him well and breakfast is interesting, though like a wormhole to another, earlier life, but they still argue like they need it like oxygen. And somehow it’s noon and she’s missed her morning session. She shrugs it off and he tells her about his trip to China, and then she’s talking about how much she loves her place in Davis Square, and then he’s inviting her to see his house.
It doesn’t sound like a good idea, so she goes for it, because in the past two weeks - well - Bob had given her a lot to think about.
He shows her around his gargantuan home - most of her friends can barely afford a townhouse - and she appreciates his bare bones approach to giving a tour, because if she had to hear Mark Zuckerberg talk about wainscotting, she’d probably lose it.
They drink wine on the deck. She asks him if this is a usual practice, and he shakes his head. “This is unusual, I’m usually glued to my desk or desperately clawing out of a meeting at this hour.” He lifts his glass. “It’s not everyday that Erica Albright crosses my path.”
They never had sex when they were dating - like, she blew him once, and he got her off very skillfully with his hands - and there was this small part of her, after the anger subsided, that wondered if he was good in bed. Maybe all of that frenetic energy, when focused on a mutual sexual act, would actually be a good thing. When she was in the middle of stalled or uninteresting sex, her mind would sometimes wander: would Mark have known how to navigate her body? How to fuck her hard but not like a jackhammer?
At this point she’s staring at his crotch, and she tries desperately to divert her attention; his too. “My mom - she thought I might see you. She told me to make sure I looked presentable in case I ran into you.”
Talking about her mother’s shortcomings feels cliche and unnecessary - it gets discussed enough in therapy - and she can’t help when Mark fuels it by saying, “She didn’t like me.”
That’s right - she had almost forgot about that terribly awkward brunch. She smiles and thinks back to that time almost ten years ago. “Well, she likes you fine now. In fact I get berated on a monthly basis for having dumped you.” His lips quirk into a smile but he doesn’t say anything, and she’s glad. “My boyfriend is of lesser value given the billions he doesn’t have to his name.” And it’s fine to tease him but it’s weird - that Mark is so fucking wealthy. He’s just that Harvard asshole who bothered her for a semester, the one who couldn’t bother with real shoes, and now he’s powerful and rich and has met the President. And Katy Perry.
“You have a boyfriend?” Mark asks and she stares blankly.
“Yeah. I do.”
He shrugs. “We’re not friends on Facebook. You never accepted my request, so I have no idea if you’re dating or a lesbian or really into dubstep.”
For someone who fences and loves The Iliad and is king of all computer nerds, she’s surprised that he’s ever heard of dubstep, but she takes in stride and replies, “Oh, come on, you can just look at anyone’s profile, you don’t need to be my friend on Facebook.”
He gives her a small, rueful smile. “But I want to be.”
She does it immediately, digging into her bag for her phone and pulling up the site, punching Confirm on the only friend request she has ever ignored. He argues with her about the mobile site versus app for about one minute too long, and she puts a hand over his mouth.
They enjoy the quiet for a second, the sun too. He asks about her boyfriend and she sighs. Bob. Bob with his boring name. Bob who wants to become a tax attorney; gross. Bob with a great tongue and the know-how to get her off, and strong arms, and silly stories, and kind eyes. Bob who is the polar opposite of Mark, and it’s almost good to be in the latter’s company as she considers Bob’s marriage proposal. She ends up telling him too much, the product of wine and the fact that he doesn’t know them as a couple, and maybe a little bit because she wants him to know that she is desired.
Mark’s reply begins with a shrug, then, “He loves you. Love don’t come easy, at least that’s in some song.”
She shakes her head. “He’s just too much, too good, with no neurosis. He doesn’t get scared of fucking anything, he’s just good and moral and-”
He puts the hand over her mouth now. “Don’t be dumb. Say yes.” He pulls his hand away but she can still feel his fingers on her lips.
“I didn’t want to see you,” she blurts out. “I was - nervous or something, because so much time has passed, but now I’m glad I’m here, with you.”
He nods curtly, a small smile filling his lips. She’s glad that she’s the one that put it there.
They talk inanely about Boston and Cambridge - she’s been there ever since freshman year and has no desire to move - and then out of nowhere she’s leaning in and kissing him, like she’s reckless and a teenager instead of being a drunk adult at 2 PM on a Thursday. But then she’s pulling back swiftly, wiping her mouth as she goes, barely registering their brush of lips. Mark looks shocked, a little, and she covers her mouth, almost like that could take it away.
And then it’s weird, very weird.
“I - you’re getting engaged, or something, and I’m kind of in a - thing, a situation.”
She squints. “With who?” He looks taken aback and then she’s sorry she was so abrupt. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insinuate, like, surprise. You can get all the girls, Mark, I’m sure of it.” And now she sounds like she’s mocking him. Fuck.
His lips quirk into a smile. “I can get other people too, apparently. Do you remember Eduardo, my friend from-”
“Yes, of course,” she interrupts, “Plus, even if I haven’t, I’ve seen the movie.” Mark groans and she shrugs. “Whatever. Movie Erica is much skinnier, I got off great. And so did you, mon frere.”
She realizes that she had somehow directed herself off-course. “Wait, were you trying to tell me-”
“Yes,” he says, his cheeks tinged pink.
And now a thousand things make much more sense to her.
They talk about their just-starting-to-bloom courtship, and how much progress they’ve made, and Mark just sounds - good. Together. With it. She’s impressed, and maybe a little jealous: Eduardo is a fox.
When he drops her at her hotel, she leans over and kisses his cheek, and it’s strange to be touching Mark, but then again it was strange to hang out with him and drink wine in the afternoon. They promise to keep in touch, and she hopes they do, but it’s possible this will just be a blip, a stone in her life river.
She goes home to Cambridge, to Bob, to her life, but she goes home just a little bit lighter.