When Ou Wen left work the next day, the last thing he was expecting was to find Mark loitering in the plaza in front of their office building. He had cooled down since the fight and while he was still put off by some of the things Mark said, he realized that he might have overreacted a little, his own frustrations spilling out while he was drunk. He never did thank Mark for helping him out and though he hadn’t been eloquent about it, Mark had still been right. Ou Wen deserved better than a creepy guy at a bar no matter how stupid or self-destructive he was feeling.
He had checked his phone that morning, hungover and dehydrated, and realized that he had opened the wrong text chain while he was fiddling with his phone under the bar. He had sent the SOS message to Mark instead of his friend, the next one on the list. Mark hadn’t even texted back. It was a testament to his character that he rushed to show up, no questions asked, just because he thought Ou Wen needed help. It made Ou Wen feel worse than he already did. He knew he had to apologize at some point, but had been putting off thinking about it.
Looked like he had no choice now.
And there was also the fact that Mark had his briefcase from last night.
Cautiously, Ou Wen walked towards Mark. He looked out of place, perched on the ledge of the fountain with his baggy patterned clothes and silver accessories among the men and women milling around in sleek business wear. He was kicking his feet a little, scuffing the heels of his boots along the concrete floor as his eyes skim the crowd. When he finally spotted Ou Wen, he jumped up and grinned. It was so bright, so cheerful, it caught Ou Wen by surprise. His ears turned hot and he knew they were bright red, but luckily, they were hidden under his hair. Looked like Mark wasn’t angry anymore either.
As he drew closer to Mark, he realized Mark was holding a bouquet of flowers in his hand and a small, sea foam green box tied with a gauzy white ribbon rested next to him on the fountain ledge. Ou Wen got a sinking feeling in his stomach, taking an educated guess on why Mark was there. No wonder Mark looked happy to see him. He needed Ou Wen to get to Joanna again.
It was cruel joke that the bouquet was more Ou Wen’s taste than Joanna’s. It was minimalistic and romantic, a few pale pink baby roses surrounded by a bed of baby breaths, cotton flowers, and gay-green foliage. The whole thing was tied together by beige paper and a thin twine bow, rustic and aesthetically pleasing. Joanna preferred grander, louder things like two dozen fully bloomed blood red roses, expensive chocolate from Switzerland, and diamond tennis bracelets from Italy. Not that she needed any of that, but there were benefits in being a beautiful flight attendant.
“She’s not in the office today, you know,” Ou Wen said, coming to a stop in front of Mark. He fixated on one of the barely open roses instead of looking in Mark’s eyes because he’s afraid if he did, he’d unintentionally give something away. There was a lump in his throat making it hard for him to speak, but he supposed he should feel relieved in some way. If Mark was still stuck on Joanna that meant Ou Wen never stood a chance in the first place, regardless of the things had happened between them.
“Who?” Mark asked. He sounded so genuinely confused Ou Wen almost risked glancing up.
“Joanna,” Ou Wen said. It came out with slightly more force than necessary, but who was going to say anything?
“Oh, I’m not looking for her,” Mark said casually.
Ou Wen didn’t expect that one.
Bewildered, he ripped his eyes away from the flowers and stared at Mark. If Mark wasn’t waiting for Joann, who was he waiting for, then? Sheng Ying? No way. Her lesbian vibes were so strong not even Mark could be blind to them.
Boss Fei? That was a possibility….but not very probable. Everyone with eyes could see she and Hsuan Yu had some weird sexual tension thing going on and it had gotten worse after KTV. Joanna had managed to lock them in the bathroom together, but nothing had happened. Apparently Yan Fei spent the entire time complaining, or at least that was what she told Joanna, who then told Ou Wen. Joanna’s genius plan had failed on every front which would be hilarious if Ou Wen hadn’t also been collateral damage. Besides, Ou Wen doubted someone as loyal as Mark would do something as underhanded as stealing his best friend’s crush.
So who else could it be?
Ou Wen racked his brains. Was it one of his female coworkers? They were all around Mark’s age and attractive enough. But where would they have gotten the chance to meet? At one of the company functions? At KTV? Maybe? And yet…that didn’t quite sit right with Ou Wen. He would have noticed if Mark had shown interest in one of his coworkers. Every action, every word, every expression hovered in Ou Wen’s periphery whenever they were in each other’s vicinity so Ou Wen would have definitely caught on to Mark flirting with other people at their events.
Then again, it wasn’t like he was with Mark all the time and he had spent the better part of the last few weeks avoiding him. Since their agency was collaborating with VooDoo, it wasn’t impossible to think that one of his coworkers dropped by the hair salon with a client and hit it off with Mark. Still, he should have heard some whisperings about it in the office gossip chain. No one Ou Wen worked with was exactly subtle with secrets like that. Especially if it was so serious Mark was buying flowers for her. He didn’t even buy flowers for Joanna and he had been completely enamored with her. How did Ou Wen miss that fact that Mark was suddenly in love with someone else?
Someone who still wasn’t him?
“Ah, well…” Ou Wen awkwardly cleared his throat and forced a smile onto his face. It felt unconvincing and probably looked it too, if the way Mark knitted his brows together was anything to go by.
Why did he have to care so much, Ou Wen lamented. He wouldn’t have fallen half as hard if Mark had been just a little less attentive, a little less noble, a little less loyal, a little less…Mark.
“I’m sure whoever you’re waiting for will be here soon,” Ou Wen said, gesturing vaguely at the office building. He was already half turning away. He would save his apologizes and thanks for another day. He didn’t want to see Mark giving those flowers to his mysterious beau. He didn’t want to see Mark smiling at her, holding her, kissing her. There was a limit to how much Ou Wne could take and while he had already accepted losing to Joanna, he wasn’t ready to face losing again. In fact, it would probably be better for everyone if he never found out who she was.
“Anyway, I should get going. I got…things…plans…” Ou Wen gave him a quick wave, prepared to run, but before he could take a step, Mark reached out and yanked him back.
“Are you an idiot?” Mark snapped, glaring at Ou Wen. Ou Wen stared back confused, not sure what he did to warrant the insult. Was Mark trying to get Ou Wen to help him chase the new girl. That was a bit cruel.
“I was waiting for you!” Mark shoved the bouquet into Ou Wen’s chest, the tips of his ears tinged red, and for a moment, Ou Wen was sure he was hearing things. Mark was…giving him flowers? Fuckboi Mark? The Mark that had been in love with Joanna almost as long as Ou Wen had known him? The Mark that was probably not straight, but also probably in denial about it? That Mark?
That didn’t seem right.
“No you weren’t,” Ou Wen responded, pushing the flowers away. This had to be some sort of joke – a truly mean spirited one considering how Ou Wen felt about him.
Mark blinked at him incredulously – once, twice, three times- then pushed the flowers back into Ou Wen’s chest. “What are you talking about?” he asked, voice rising slightly. “Who else would I be waiting for?”
“I don’t know,” Ou Wen said, taking a step away from the roses. “Joanna? The front desk girl? Chloe who sits three desks away from me?”
“I already said I wasn’t waiting for Joanna! And I have no idea who those oth- will you stop it!” Mark almost shouted when Ou Wen tried to sidestep the bouquet again. It surprised Ou Wen enough to make him freeze and Mark took the opportunity to shove them into his arms.
“Why do you have to make everything so difficult?” he seethed, grabbing Ou Wen’s hands and forcing them to wrap around the flowers. “There,” he said, taking a step back with a satisfied nod. “Can’t even do something nice. See if I ever get you flowers again.”
The familiar feeling of hysteria was rising in his throat again and Ou Wen’s fingers instinctively tightened, crinkling the beige paper. Again the implications of Mark’s actions came crashing down around him, only this time, he had no excuses to run away, no way to misunderstand. Mark bought him flowers? Mark bought him flowers. Mark bought him flowers that distinctively matched Ou Wen’s taste.
There was an important question on the tip of Ou Wen’s tongue, but he didn’t want to ask it. He didn’t want to know the answer. Unfortunately, he also knew he didn’t have a choice. They couldn’t keep running around in circles like this forever.
“Why are you giving me flowers?” Ou Wen asked quietly.
“Ah, see, about that…” Mark awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck and turned toward the ground, suddenly finding his shoes very interesting. The red of his ears had spread to his cheeks and Ou Wen had never seen him acting so nervous before. It was simultaneously endearing and frightening.
“The thing is…I’ve been thinking and…” Mark trailed off, letting a heavy silence settle in the air. It was suffocating and made Ou Wen antsy, so Ou Wen did what he did best when he uncomfortable.
“Don’t think too much. You’ll hurt your brain.” Ou Wen immediately winced afterwards. Old habits die hard and it seemed Mark was not in the mood for his wit.
“I swear to god!” Mark said, once again glaring. It was as bit of a default expression at this point. He threw his hands into the pair and puffed up like and angry cat. It would have been cute except Mark was causing a scene and everyone in the vicinity was turning to look at them. “Why is everything a task with you? This was supposed to be romantic. Does this seem romantic to you? No, it doesn’t because you are incapable of acting like a normal person!”
“How are you acting any more normal by giving me flowers?”
“I’m acting normal because I’m trying to confess to you!”
Ou Wen’s breath left his body.
“I’m just-it’s just…” Mark deflated and gestured helplessly at Ou Wen, his voice getting softer. “I like you, ok? I like you a lot and I think I might have liked you for a while now, but I didn’t know how to tell you. You’re just so…you know…I don’t really confess a lot so I thought…I thought I’d do something nice. Get you some flowers. Show you I’m serious.”
There was a reason why Ou Wen didn’t let himself have any hope. People can’t miss sunlight if they’ve only known darkness. They can’t crave sugar if they’ve only even eaten bitter things. He should have felt elated that his feelings ever being reciprocated, but all he felt was a crushing sense of fear. There were too many variable, too many ‘what ifs’, too many ways things could go wrong. Even if he took Mark at his word now, who knew what would happen later? Maybe Mark would get bored. Maybe he’d decide men weren’t for him. The thing about happiness was the once it got taken away, it was impossible to return to a neutral point. He could only end up on the opposite end of the spectrum. Wasn’t it safer then, not have reached for it at all?
“I think you’re confused,” Ou Wen said. He tried to sound dismissive, indifferent, like it didn’t hurt him to turn Mark away. But it was better to do this now, than wait for heartbreak in the long run. “You’re straight.”
Mark’s face went blank and his hands slowly fell back to his side. “You still think that I’m straight after everything that’s happened between us,” he said. It wasn’t a question so much as a statement of fact.
“Maybe not,” Ou Wen admitted, “but I do know that I’m the first guy you’ve ever kissed. Maybe you’re confused. Maybe you’re curious. Maybe it’s because I’m the first gay guy you’ve ever been close with. Maybe you actually aren't straight. Whatever it is, I’m not going to be your experiment to use and throw away later.”
Ou Wen felt sick after saying all that. He knew Mark would never intentionally treat him like an experiment, but he had also witnessed Mark jumping from lover to lover like he was changing socks. Rejecting Mark now was the smart thing to do, but his heart was doing somersaults in his chest, begging him to give them a chance. It shattered Ou Wen a little to see the way Mark paled, the way hurt flashed across his face.
Taking a deep breath to steel himself, Ou Wen extended his arm and offered the bouquet back to Mark. Mark looked at the flowers instead of taking them back. He seemed to be in a daze and he was silent for so long, Ou Wen started to get concerned.
“Hey, are you-”
“How are you so fucking dense?” Ou Wen was taken aback when Mark pushed the flowers aside and snapped his head up to scowl at Ou Wen. “Who are you to tell me whether I like you or not? Do you know how many people I’ve ever confessed to? Two. There’s only been two people I’ve ever liked enough to confess to before I met you. Yeah, I sleep around a lot, but I’ve never lied to anyone about my feelings. I’ve never cheated on my partners. Not to mention, if I wanted to experiment, do you really think I couldn’t just pick up someone at a bar?”
Ou Wen should have known Mark would be stubborn about it, should have known he wouldn’t give up without a fight. It was a dangerous thing because the longer Mark held out, the more Ou Wen wanted to believe his words and give in. Even now Ou Wen felt himself swayed by the conviction in Mark’s eyes.
“Fine,” Ou Wen said. “You like me now. Then what? Can you handle being with a guy? It’s not like being with a girl. People stare. People talk. What happens when you get tired of that? What happens when your parents disapprove? What happens when you decide it’s easier to be straight? What happens when you decide you want to have a normal life with a wife and kids?”
All the worries and concerns that had been crowding around Ou Wen’s heart inadvertently found their way out. All the things that had been holding him back were finally laid bare. The back of Ou Wen’s eyes burned with unshed tears and he blinked hard to hold them back. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to be with Mark. He did. He wanted it almost too much. He also knew he would never feel secure with all these doubts hanging over his head.
“Where will that leave me?”
The last question drained Ou Wen. He hated being so vulnerable, so unsure, so weak. He never planned on having this conversation, never wanted to reveal his insecurities, but now that Mark forced it out of him, there was no going back. Maybe now at least Mark would realize the weight of his confession and back down.
But when did Mark ever back down?
“You’re so dumb,” he said with a sigh. Ou Wen only had a split second to process the statement before Mark as in his space, one hand cupping his cheek, the other around his waist, pulling him in. He stroked Ou Wen’s cheekbone, achingly tender, and leaned forward to place a gently kiss on Ou Wen’s lips. Then he pulled back a few inches, waited, and did it again like he was asking permission.
Ou Wen knew he lost even before the second kiss. He didn’t know if he lost to himself or if he lost to mark, but did it really matter in the end? He let the bouquet drop to the ground and grabbed onto the front of Mark’s shirt.
The way Mark kissed him was painfully soft. It was unhurried and careful like Ou Wen was something delicate to be taken care of. Even when Ou Wen kissed back, desperate and frantic, Mark held his ground and drew it out until the sense of urgency left Ou Wen. It was different from all the kisses before and it left Ou Wen with a deep ache in his soul. If he could trust any kiss, he wished he could trust this one because it felt like a promise, an assurance, an answer to all of Ou Wen’s doubts. It tasted like hope and sounded like I love you and Ou Wen had never wanted to believe in something so badly before.
When they parted, Ou Wen was breathless and confused. The expression on Mark’s face was so fond it sent warmth flooding through Ou Wen’s body and he twisted the fabric of Mark’s shirt just a bit tighter between his fingers.
“Look. There are a thousand reasons I’d break up with you,” Mark said, wrapping his hands around Ou Wen’s. “You’re high maintenance, you’re prideful, you’re too sarcastic, you’re a know it all, you care too much about your appearance, you always like to be right, you’re frustrating to talk to on a good day and impossible on a bad one.”
Ou Wen raised his brows and frowned, the feeling of affection fading slightly. He was about to be offended when he caught sight of the teasing curl on Mark’s lips.
“I can’t promise you that we’ll be together forever. There are a million reasons for me to break up with you and no one knows what the future holds. However, I can promise you that it will never be because I suddenly decide to be straight again. If I ever end it with you, I’ll be because I don’t like you anymore. Nothing else.
“As for other people? It’s like you don’t know me at all, Dai Ou Wen. Have I ever cared about what other people think? I have blue hair half the time, gray the other half. Do you really think I give a fuck? That’s your job. Not mine.”
It was hard to explain the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm Ou Wen. There was relief, there was hope, there was a tentative sense of happiness. But still the fear lingered, dug too deep to claw out, and as much as Ou Wen wanted to let go, to close his eyes and plunge into the deep end, it stayed in the back of his mind, an impossible shadow to escape.
“You say that now…” Ou Wen said.
Mark tilted his head, considering Ou Wen, and then tugged Ou Wen’s hands loose from his shirt. He took a step back and squatted down to pick up the fallen flowers. They were a tad crushed and some of the baby breaths had snapped off, but overall they weren’t too bent out of shape.
“Do you know why I picked pink?” Mark asked, standing up. He lightly touched the petals of one of the roses. Ou Wen shook his head and Mark smiled. It was a small thing, but honest in its fondness.
“You were wearing pink the first time we met, remember?”
It took a second – there was too much going on in Ou Wen’s mind- but then he did remember and he couldn’t help but smile, too. He had to pay a ridiculous amount of money to get that coffee stained blazer cleaned.
“You almost cost me my job.”
“I thought you were attractive, remember? I just didn’t realize it was because I was attracted to you.”
Mark offered the flowers to Ou Wen again and this time Ou Wen accepted them without protest, clutching them tightly. He hadn’t expected Mark to be romantic on top of everything else. He had no defense against that and his heart was beating so hard in his chest he was afraid it was going to give out.
“You always think too much. You’re so worried about what’s going to happen in the future, but nothing is guaranteed. You don’t go into a relationship knowing it’ll last forever. We might break up next week or we might die in bed next to each other at the ripe old age 90. Some things are left to fate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a try,” Mark said.
“You…you almost sound smart,” Ou Wen said helplessly. He wasn’t sure what to do anymore. On one hand, he was still afraid- he was too used to that feeling to let it go. On the other hand, he had to admit that Mark was right. He always had such high expectations. Maybe that was why his previous relationships never worked out. Maybe it was time to loosen up a little and see where things went.
“Surprised you, didn’t I?” Mark said smugly. “I can smart when I want to be.” He looked so proud Ou Wen had to resist the instinct to whack him on the arm. “So what do you say? Give us a chance?”
Ou Wen looked down at the baby roses in his arms, small and delicate, waiting for the right time to open. He still had his doubts. Dating someone who had thought he was straight up until a few weeks ago would be challenging for a number of reasons. Not to mention Mark and he were like water and oil, most of their exchanges more argument than actual conversation. But…he couldn’t deny that Mark had never given him a real reason to doubt him. Sure, his track record wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t like Ou Wen hadn’t had his fair share of experiences - he was just more subtle about it. He really shouldn’t hold things that Mark hadn’t done yet- might not even do- against him. And he was starting to genuinely believe that Mark liked him. The fact that he remembered what Ou Wen was wearing the first time they met was startlingly sweet and Ou Wen might have swooned if anyone else had done the same thing.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.
“One date,” Ou Wen said, the last of his resolve crumbling. “We’ll go on one date and we’ll see what happens after that.”
He never expected Mark to suddenly jump in the air and let out a ridiculously loud cheer. Embarrassed, Ou Wen grabbed Mark by the shoulder and tried to shush him. They were still in public after all and people were staring.
“Just you wait, Dai Ou Wen,” Mark announced, grinning so wide it looked like it hurt. He wrapped his arms around Ou Wen’s waist. “You’re never going to get rid of me now.”
This time Ou Wen was expecting it when Mark leaned in to kiss him. He could feel Mark’s smile against his lips and he felt something inside him settle. Mark was right. There was no way to tell what the future would bring. Maybe later on Mark’s feelings would change. But maybe later on Ou Wen would be the one with a change of heart. It was fruitless to worry about it now. And while he wasn’t completely confident in this decision, he did know this was the lightest he had felt in a while. Who would have thought Mark was the wise one out of the two of them?
“Oh! I almost forgot!” Mark said, pulling away. He released Ou Wen and turned to the fountain ledge, picking up the forgotten green box. “I got you some macarons!”
Ou Wen hesitantly accepted the box, a bit thrown by the random change in topic. “Why…?” he asked.
“I passed by a shop earlier and they had really cool flavors. Also, the colors remind me of your suits!”
And that was the most adorable thing Ou Wen had heard in a while. It was so cute he almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark he didn’t like macarons.
“You couldn’t have told me earlier?” Mark huffed, trying to snatch the box back. “Give it here. I’ll eat them.”
“No way!” Ou Wen said, holding the box out of the way. He would have smacked Mark’s arms except he was holding the bouquet in the other hand. “These were a gift. You can’t take back gifts.”
“What’s the point of keeping them if you’re not going to eat them?”
“I’ll eat them. Just for you. Alright?”
Mark stopped trying to steal the box and crossed his arms. He was pouting, but Ou Wen could tell he was pleased underneath.
“Fine,” he said begrudgingly, “but only because I like you.”
Hearing those words - believing those words - made Ou Wen feel a bit giddy. He smiled at Mark, heart warm, and Mark’s expression softened.
“Come on,” Mark said, reaching out to take the flowers. He laced their free hand together and tugged at Ou Wen to follow him. “I have so many ideas for a first date, you have no idea. Starting with that shaved ice place I told you about!”
Hearing this, Ou Wen rolled his eyes. He was going to have to do something about Mark’s sweet tooth. But that was for later. For now, he squeezed Mark’s hand affectionately and fell into step with him.
“Who said I was free today?”