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Close Your Eyes And Count To Ten (And Tell Me How The Hell You've Been)

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“I can't Tom,” Mark sighs over the phone. What Mark doesn't say is that he's dying to say yes.

“Why can't we meet up like old times? Give me a reason”

Mark scratches his forehead and thinks of an excuse he hasn't used yet.

“I'm booked?”

“A good reason, Mark.” The eye roll is evident in his voice.

“I'm sorry, Tom,” he whispers in the solitude of the hotel room in a foreign city he doesn't even know how to pronounce.

“I can't do this anymore”

“You've changed, Mark,” Tom's voice sounds dull and void of emotion.

“You weren't like this. You never cared what others thought. Truth is, you're ashamed of who you are.”

Tom hears the flick of a lighter, and can imagine Mark lighting a smoke on the other end of the line.

Mark pictures Tom sitting on the steps of his front porch, holding onto himself for some sense of warmth. It's already past midnight– it's August, and fall is just around the corner in the town Mark left behind two weeks ago for tour.

Tom hears Mark exhale smoke.

“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” he argues. 

He takes the conversation to the balcony in fear of being overheard. By who, he doesn't know.

“When was the last time you did anything without thinking how the rest would perceive you as?”

“You're not my therapist,” Mark sighs. He rests his forearm on the balcony rail.

Tom lets out a chuckle. There is no irony in it. Mark missed his laughter, and for a second he smiles. He can't remember the last time he smiled genuinely.

“I really fucking wish I was.”

Another exhale.

“Don't you miss those nights looking up at the stars on the Cougar’s hood, and laughing at everything and nothing in particular?”

“Tom, please–“

“Go ahead and lie to me, Mark.”

And Mark doesn't know what to say. He'd rather not have this conversation and enjoy his hotel night with the band in the rooms next door. Lately, he feels like a skydiver without a parachute.

“I'm scared,” he finally says. “I don't want to lose you.”

“You won't.” Tom hesitates. “I'm your parachute”

“How can you read my– how do you always know what to say?” Mark says, a smile evident in his voice.

“I know you. You don't have to be scared. Ashamed. That's not what I've always taught you.” He hears Mark lighting another cigarette. “This is a part of you. We're two parts that fit. We're one person. Always have been.”

“You've always been the one to complete me,” Mark confesses.

“That's not true. You were born whole. I'm just an extension of yours. Like a third leg or something.”


Mark laughs with gleaming eyes staring at the lit city below him.

“Don't believe in all that Zeus bullshit myth,” Tom adds in a small voice.

Mark has never been one to cry, but as far as history goes with Tom– all the nights he's spent with him, every secret and fear he shared and the confidence Mark deposited in him, allowed Tom to see him shed tears more often than he'd please.

And it never felt strange for either of them. Crying is just like laughter. It's a response to an action. Mark has expressed several times just how comfortable in his skin he felt next to Tom.

Until Tom's long forgotten high school girlfriend came back into his life, and Mark took it like a kick in the balls.

After years of secret relationship and lies, Tom finally had it with hiding for Mark. He took the chance with the only woman he thought he loved.

It all happened right when Mark stopped crying in front of him. Two years ago he couldn't let him know just how at unease he felt kissing his borrowed lips and sharing I love you's with another person.

Nobody in the world ever knew what they had– it was how they held together.

He just wished Tom would let go of him, because Mark could never find the strength to let go of Tom. It's been two years since they've seen each other's faces and he still hasn't let go.

“You're crying,” Tom states.

Mark realizes this just now, but doesn't bother wiping his face or the tears falling on his forearm.

“I am”

His voice sounds cracked and he figures he doesn't really care about anything in the world anymore– anything except Tom.

“I miss you,” Mark says staring up at a star. The night wind blows in his face and messes up his hair.

He's on the other side of the world, where the air feels heavier and everything feels warm. He sucks in a breath, “how I wish you were here.”

“San Diego is waiting for you.” Tom says, and Mark can almost feel his smile on the other side of the line. And then Tom whispers,

“Come home soon.”

*

It's Monday morning and Mark's thankful for the coffee placed in front of him. Tom's caffeine addiction might've grown on him in time.

He's back in California, in the town that has seen him grow up. He's sat in an isolated corner of the coffee shop, sunglasses and all.

“Look at you. You look like a complete rockstar now,” Tom mocks as he takes a seat across Mark.

“Sorry I'm late” Tom says like a gentleman.

Mark smiles slowly at the tall man. He can't process the thought of Tom himself.

He puts his sunglasses down on the table to take a better look. Smirking, he takes in Tom's new haircut, his tired eyes, his calloused and turpentine scented fingers. He's only thirty-three, and has so much life in himself.

It's only been two years.

Mark finally gains his voice back, “you haven't changed a bit.”

*

It's October and San Diego is met with a windy night. It must be almost midnight and the stars are out. Mark steps on every dry leaf on the concrete as they walk together towards Tom's neighborhood.

He's wearing Tom's coat after he insisted Mark would get sick. Tom has always been the one to look after him.

It's been roughly three weeks since their first encounter at the café. They've been sharing dinner and coffee every two or so days. It almost seems routine, except for that mundane feeling that always comes with routine.

They catch up over coffee, texts, walks, and the fancy dinner Tom reserved tonight.

Their hands softly graze from time to time and it's not even a bit uncomfortable. Everything feels at place.

Even Jennifer has been out of town lately designing a client's home.

They both walk up to the front porch and sit on the stairs. Mark stares at the tall grass in front of him and thinks maybe he could give a hand by mowing his lawn tomorrow. Anything to keep him as close as possible.

They've been silent most of the walk back home, and Tom is the first to break the silence.

“I filed a divorce last week.”

“What? Why would you do that?”

A selfish part of Mark only cares to be in a relationship with him, but the reasonable part only wants the best for Tom, even if it means he stays with his wife.

“Because I'm still in love with you.”

Mark stares at him with wide eyes. He stares into his brown eyes to find any hint of sarcasm. He doesn't find any, and Mark has never seen anything more beautiful and serene. For a second he wonders if he can write a song about it in the morning.

He smiles because it's all he can do.

Tom reaches for Mark's hand and holds it tightly. For a moment the world stops moving on its axis and he forgets how to breathe properly.

He doesn't recall how it started, or who started it, but his lips are on Tom's and they're kissing. A kiss that lasts no longer than a caress.

Just the slightest touch of the jaw, a hand resting on the other's knee, eyes closing, and a pair fingers crossed behind one's back, hoping that this is the right thing for both of them.

It takes only one kiss to let go of every breath Mark has been holding in for the past two years.

When they pull back, they still hold hands and the Earth continues its course. Everything is how it's meant to be.

At some point Mark looks up at the dark sky and realizes, “it's getting late”

“Please stay,” Tom looks hopeful.

Mark stares at him for a second, then looks up at the sky again. He smiles at the brightest star he can see tonight, then turns back to Tom and nods once; twice.

“I'll stay.”