Here's the first rule:
Somebody is always home.
This isn't the most feasible of the rules, because it's hard to be home when you're not even on the right side of the globe -- they expect you to be in the weirdest of places these days, Bosnia and Beijing and Argentina where your nose runs constantly because you didn't pack a jacket, like they can't just hire incredibly capable people who actually have college degrees and a sense of social propriety to do these things for you (seriously, what you wouldn't give to just be the man behind the curtain again. People aren't supposed to know the faces behind the websites that run their lives. You bet that half the people who greet you by name couldn't pick the CEOs of Google or Wikipedia or fucking Cisco out of a line-up, although they're perfectly happy to use "google" or "wiki" as a fucking verb, for fuck's sake; they're only interested in you because you're so fucking young, and also "you have seen your hips when your shirt rides up, right?" Erica wants to know, eyebrows ticked up in your direction, "mmm, I would follow you around with a camera if I didn't already get that show for free just by asking you to get the colander down from the top of the fridge," and you fishmouth at her, because you'd been wondering why the fuck that shit was up there. Who puts colanders up that high?)
Try as you might to tether him, Eduardo isn't made to stay in one country for very long, and the summer before she graduates, Erica does an internship in the Gaza Strip at a time when TSA strongly discourages traffic in and out of the Middle East, saying that if she can argue with you over whose turn it is to suds up and scrub down the basin full of dishes, then she can talk to Israelis and Palestinians cradling AK-47s like newborns. It's basically the same thing.
But when you are in the same geographical location, the rule is this: somebody is always home.
None of you would come home otherwise, not when the only thing to greet you would be an empty house.
As is, today when you toe out of your shoes in the entryway and let your backpack drop from your shoulder, it's Eduardo who's home, trying to peel the right power cord out of the basket by the sofa and muttering quietly in a language that isn't yours. He manages to get one untangled, but it doesn't fit the charger he wants it to fit, and he looks back at the ball of cords with something akin to hopelessness, at which point you shut the door behind you loud enough to attract his attention.
"Mark!" he goes. You can see the bare ridges of his ankles underneath the cuffs of his jeans, the cut of his collarbones under his open collar. You've always done this, for as long as you've know him, your eyes seeking out the skin around the sharp edges of his clothes. "Do you --"
"It's the grey one," you tell him, and he makes a triumphant noise.
He gets it plugged into the outlet, checks to make sure it's charging, and then he meets you at the threshold where tile meets the carpet. Whatever is on your face makes him forego a greeting, curling his hands in the fabric of your shirt and anchoring you to that spot. You put your feet in between his and touch the knobby bone of his ankle with your toe.
You smile into the kiss, head tipped so that the last remnants of daylight warm the backs of your eyelids, and you are happy to be home.
Eduardo had wanted a yard, and never told you why, but there was a wistfulness to the way he fingered the property listings that made it clear to you. You imagine, and Erica agrees with you (so it must be true, she wouldn't otherwise,) that it's because he wants a pet.
Devotion and unconditional love are two of Eduardo's favorite traits in other people, his storybook unattainable goal, and since you fail to live up to expectations at every turn, Christy had the audacity to expect devotion and unconditional love in return, and Erica sleeps through her friendships with one eye open, mistrustful, he wants a pet. It's the only love money can buy, and god knows Eduardo's tried. Even Dustin, who has the happy-go-lucky loyalty of a golden retriever, has gone and found a woman to love with the single-mindedness of a martyr.
But the only places that you could find that had a yard would put you as far away as Mountain View at best, and Marin County at worst. You know some of your employees face some truly horrific commutes every morning, but you're not putting you and Erica and Eduardo in that position.
Your stomach churns at the thought of telling Eduardo that he isn't going to get what he wants. You imagine him nodding, like he's already resigned himself to being put second, and then you imagine him buying property in Florida or Manaus or the sprawling countryside of Portugal, and never coming home to you.
On your lunch break, Erica nervously fingers the pages of the books she's reading; paperbacks with the Stanford Library stamp on the spines, all about how to care for rabbits and ferrets and other small, affectionate mammals that won't need a yard.
The Bay Area suits her, you think: the cold, curling morning fog stings her cheeks red and makes her stand close to tuck her hands into your hoodie pocket to keep them warm, and the constant green of the trees and the ferns and the perennial flowers brings out the color in her eyes, an answering viridian embedded in the brown of her irises. You tell her this, in no uncertain terms -- California makes her beautiful, and she makes California beautiful.
She dimples when she smiles at you.
"Maybe," she allows, her voice very low. "But you think I'm most beautiful when I have no clothes on."
You swallow, and then you shrug at her, because that's not untrue. You endured an interminable semester of Art History at Harvard, wondering why the fuck so many artists had been obsessed with putting naked women everywhere and why everybody later considered them to be outstanding works of art -- you'd always assumed it was just people's prurient way to get boobs in their lives without paying for the privilege or Googling it in private, but that before you had the real thing. And yeah, it's fucking artwork, the weight of Erica astride your hips, her body only visible to you in flashes when she's that close, your arms and her hair and the heady stained ruby shade of her gasping mouth and the quivering muscle of her thighs, and no famous work of art you can name will ever compare with the reality of Erica curled on her side in your bed, spine bare and her hair tucked over one shoulder so she isn't lying on it. No wonder all those men (and women!) were constantly drawing and painting and sculpting the hell out of this shit, because nothing in this world is quite as exquisite as a woman who will trust you that much, who will let you see her, who will let you go down on one knee before her and kiss her ankles and the insides of her knees and that place on the back of her thigh she has trouble reaching with a razor.
She gets up, coming around to your side of the table. With no care that you're in public, in the sunshine in front of the multicultural center across the way from the Stanford Bookstore, and the wire chairs aren't made to take the weight of two people, she settles into your lap, one hand going to your face like she can't help it.
You touch her forehead with your own, and you tell her, "It has nothing to do with the naked thing," even though that's part of it, and she knows it, if she brought it up first. "It's more ... I work better --" no, that's not right, and you swallow the words almost immediately. "I'm better with you here."
She kisses your upper lip, then your lower lip, and then she says, with her sweet smile, "You should tell Eduardo what you're telling me. He would move the sun and the stars if he thought him being around makes you a better person."
You're scared, of course, to give Eduardo that vital a piece of you. The backs of your eyes are still stingingly bright with the memory of your laptop smashing against your desk, inches from your face, and you're scared he'll do that to you too, fling you to the ground and shatter you into bits, scuffle through the remains of you until he finds only the pieces he likes, like he can fashion himself a Mark Zuckerberg that won't disappoint him.
You think he probably has similar fears about you, just like Erica's afraid she'll say something to you and you'll be too far gone into your own head to answer her, just like you're afraid that many years down the line, she'll tell a story about you that has nothing to do with who you really were, small-voiced and bitter with her lip curled up.
You're all on your second chance.
You kiss the bottom of her jaw, and she pulls the library book across the table and asks you what you think. You would pick a ferret over a rabbit, because ferrets may smell horrible, but at least they don't chew on power cords.
The tabloids (and under this heading you include the people from Time magazine and those fucking morons who want to write a book, because they're all one and the same to you,) who are forever breathing heavy and gross with their pedophiliac interest in you, the youngest billionaire in the world, always refer to Erica as your girlfriend.
They say you've managed to keep her since high school, like somehow this is a tectonically large span of time, and worthy of remark.
While technically, that is when you started dating, it glosses over that time period there in the middle where she humiliated you in a crowded bar (twice!) and wanted nothing to do with you, so you spent the better part of a year on your knees, blowing Eduardo whenever he would let you, like you could suck his friendship and loyalty and that boundless smiling enthusiasm of his out through his dick, and let it fill you up and power you like you were replacing every core element of yourself with him, the world softly hazy around the edges and the back of your throat constantly raw.
When you think of the early Facebook months, that's what you think of: Red Bull, dick breath, the strange light of dawn coming from the wrong side of the night, and the phantom memory of Eduardo's fingers in your hair.
You never mention that in the interviews.
They skip right over that bit where you had to learn how not to be that person always sitting by himself with two drinks abandoned in front of him.
They talk about Erica, your girlfriend, like she was a sure thing all along, like you didn't conquer the world one college campus at a time just to prove her wrong, like you don't go out there every single day just for that moment when you come home again and she's there, sock feet tucked under her thighs and coffee cups acting as paperweights on her textbooks, like the thought of her stretched out like a highwire act on your bedspread, her hands scrabbling at the headboard for purchase and her legs around Eduardo's waist and her mouth canted open, airless and mute with desire, isn't what motivates you every day of every year.
Motivation, obsession. You're still a little fuzzy on the distinction between the two.
They talk about Erica, your girlfriend, like she didn't exist before she started dating you, like you are the most important facet of her personality.
They don't talk about how she's a 34B and she's really fucking fond of it, fuck you, Mark, because the cutest bras in Target are in the smaller sizes, blue checkerboard cotton and bows and lace, and they all hang from their straps on a hook on the back of the bedroom door.
They don't talk about the way she looks, sitting with Eduardo at the end of the day, her toes peeking out from underneath her pajama bottoms and his fingers helpfully holding her wet hair in place so she can French braid it, how the sight of them together always leaves you a little half-hard, but mostly just dizzy and awestruck, like you weren't certain until this moment that something that beautiful could exist in nature, the tectonic bend of Eduardo's neck and the waterfall of Erica's hair and the sunrise of their smiles.
They don't talk about how she's an Anthropology major with a concentration in Semitic history, doing her thesis work at Stanford, or if they do, it's a footnote. And it's stupid, because when the fuck has Erica Albright ever been a footnote?
They publish things about you. They publish things about Eduardo. You never read them.
The truth is so much stranger than what their little minds can think to put in print.
They make a movie, eventually, and you're not even dead yet. Hell, you're not even old enough to legally rent a car, and there's already a movie about you. Well, technically, the movie's about Facebook, but you feature pretty prominently, as it is your -- what did they call it -- your anger and your selfishness and your arrogant refusal to quiescently accept punishment that defines your generation. You hear people say, afterwards, that you created Facebook to impress girls.
It's bullshit, of course.
There was only one girl.
There's only ever been one girl.
The house you decide on is within the Palo Alto city limits, with no yard and a blind driveway that backs straight into the traffic on Embarcadero and a wooden fence that's been reclaimed by enormous growths of bamboo that scrape the sky.
It's a one-bedroom, two-bath cottage, and it sells for a cool $1.2 million, which is cheap, you hear, for Silicon Valley. It's still a sum of money that makes you cringe when you sign the realty papers, even though you know you're good for it. You don't think it'll ever sit right with you, the knowledge that you are that fucking rich, that a million dollars is change you can throw into a wishing well and not miss. You don't want to become comfortable with it -- that way lies cruelty, lies apathy, and you have no intention of becoming the dick everyone says you already are.
You didn't love the house, not immediately -- it had been too hard to find parking, and there aren't enough outlets immediately visible when you step inside.
But then the realtor shows you the bedroom, a dark cove of a room with carpeting the same viridian color of Erica's eyes and black wood bookshelves and a desk that looks like it's made of nothing but secret compartments, and all of that is nice, visually pleasing to your geometric mind, but then there's the bed.
At the time, it'd been a bare mattress on an empty frame, but your imagination colors it immediately: there will be a bedspread that will never be made, a nest of sheets that will always look like they've just been crawled out of or are ready to be crawled back into, and the sunlight will come straight into your eyes in the morning, dappling through the bamboo leaves in shades of bronze and pale lime, and Eduardo will mutter in protest, tucking his face into the hollow of your neck to escape it, and Erica will stretch her limbs right into it like an ivy plant.
You will never be cold.
You turn to the realtor. Whatever is on your face, she must have seen it a hundred times before, because she smiles at you without words and starts unclipping bundles of paper.
So you buy extension cords and you and Eduardo juggle cars in the driveway so whoever needs to leave first in the morning can do so -- it's an operation that usually has to take place right before you fall asleep, fuzzy around the eyes and wearing your boxers like you're only affording the scarcest courtesy to modesty, stepping barefoot through puddles and not bothering to adjust the seats or the mirrors.
Erica doesn't fuss with a car. The house is close enough to campus that she can catch the Marguerite.
After a few months, she realizes that you've never bothered to learn the bus route. You protest, because if you, the CEO of Facebook, have a parking spot with your name on it, then you should jolly well use it, but it's no time at all before you find yourself bussing to work, and your car sits in the driveway, eternally threatened to be overtaken by bamboo.
If the three of you need to go out to pick up groceries or books from Kepler's in Menlo Park or go to the corporate dinners where you have to pretend you enjoy selling bits of your soul to nameless, faceless companies that are nothing but sucker teeth and money, where Eduardo does the rounds because he is one of those Wall Street leeches, where Erica wears long-sleeved dresses made of lumberjack plaid, belted around her waist with one of Eduardo's belts, sipping champagne and amiably telling the Apple execs about the torture methods she picked up from the Israeli Army, well ... then you take Eduardo's car.
It's got the biggest trunk space, after all, and a backseat that gives you enough room to tuck yourself into the footwell on the drive home, your hands under Erica's thighs and her skirt pushed up to her waist and your voice low when you say, "Eyes on the road, Wardo," just to hear the whine of loss from the driver's seat.
You think about renovating the house some, because the insulation is coming out of the walls in the laundry room, and the rich cornflower-colored linoleum is peeling up in the corners of the kitchen, and the pipes in the bathroom look like they haven't been changed in the last century.
You never do, because Erica and Eduardo look at home in a house with character, and you are home wherever they are.
"It's almost like you bought the place with us in mind," Erica murmurs to you, stirring honey into her tea with the morning sun still caught in the color in her eyes. She looks radiantly happy.
The mug is the one you bought her in Coney Island, the summer before Harvard, and while Eduardo, for some reason, has a full set of flower-patterned teacups in the cupboard better suited for the purpose, she almost exclusively uses this one for everything: tea and coffee, water and wine, the inside discolored and the Coney Island emblem starting to flake.
"Of course I did," you reply, and her eyelids flutter in surprise.
You have plans in place.
You have plans to those plans, and back-ups for those plans, born of almost a week of being cooped up with your lawyers and financial advisors.
You have a will in which they inherit everything (with a sum set aside for your parents that they can retire on, and your sister gets the car: a black Mustang that Dustin bought you when you made Forbes, with a license plate that reads "SHAWTY", which you don't find funny because your Napoleonic complex is showing,) a life insurance policy, a retirement plan, and, even, a college fund.
Gregorovitch, your lawyer this time around, blinks at that last one. "You and Ms. Albright aren't ..." he starts, and can't find a tactful way to finish the sentence.
You shrug at him. Erica has never made any implication whatsoever that she plans on stopping her birth control, not for years and years, if ever, and you don't want to seem like you're scheming behind her back, because it's none of your business what she does, you just ... want to be prepared, just in case.
You can't decide if it's something you want, or something you're allowed to want, but you think maybe you do, somewhere very deep down where you will never speak of it: you want Eduardo to get her pregnant, intentionally, with you there and watching it happen. You want Erica to be a mother, you want Eduardo to be a father -- the thought of it steals your breath away, fills you with something as golden warm as the morning sunlight in your bed, the thought that they could make a little person, the two of them, the best people you will ever know.
You want a child that will get you up in the morning, one you can take to work, who will sit on your hip with its fist in the collar of your shirt, with Eduardo's big eyes, maybe, and Erica's mouth, and both their dimples. You want the way people will side-eye you, like they aren't sure whether they should tell you that your child looks nothing like you.
You want the heartfelt way Eduardo will talk about you and Erica and the kid, the quirk to the corner of his mouth in between missives, because he is beautiful when he has a secret.
You want the excuse to stay at home, the man behind the curtain, while Erica goes out and gets into arguments on PBS with people bigger and older than her about the legitimacy of the Zion movement, while Eduardo builds empires and moves money.
Do you tell them? Do you tell them that, if they should ever leave you (again,) you want to keep something of them, something that is the better parts of both of them?
No. That's a secret between you and your subconsciousness.
You create the college fund anyway.
You try to remember, sometimes, when it was that Erica and Eduardo fell in love.
It had to be while you weren't looking, because all you remember is turning around one day and there they were, Erica putting pots and pans up high so that Eduardo would have to stretch to get to them, Eduardo getting up early in the morning because Erica prefers to shower at night, the two of them moving around each other in the kitchen, slicing and sautéing and gleefully ordering you to fetch them things just to see you obey.
But when you try to put your finger on the how or the why of it, it's hazy, lost, a memory you can't quite catch, like the part of a dream that doesn't make sense but you want to accept it anyway.
The only thing they have in common is you, and you can't be a good enough reason to move into a house together. There has to be something else.
Eduardo doesn't get a dog, or a cat, or a ferret, or a rabbit. Instead, he traps a mouse that's been siphoning off bits of your compost, and he sticks it in a shoebox, into which he cuts tunnels and caves of cardboard to entertain it, makes it a bed out of newspaper.
He calls it "Pouco," which just means little, and it clambers back and forth across his shoulders, accepting offerings of popcorn and the chewed-on ends of peanuts.
It pees on you whenever you try to hold it, which you sigh about, but Erica and Eduardo always adopt expressions of great satisfaction whenever it happens, complimenting Pouco on its good judge of character, before sharing a fistbump.
You sigh deeper.
Most of the time, you don't care how they came to love each other, softly quiet and similar on every level, because you like it too much as it is to question it: the two people you love most in the world, here with you in your house, their weight on either side of you in bed, one of them always home to greet you, or you always home to greet one of them. You have problems, of course, but the biggest one is that you love each other too much.
Honestly, there are worst things for a relationship to have than too much love.
Somewhere along the line, you got greedy. Not for wealth or power, because those you got while your back was turned, but greedy because just seeing Eduardo smile at you again for the first time since the lawsuit wasn't enough for you, because just talking with Erica the way you used to when you were teenagers wasn't enough for you. You had to have them and love them too.
It's a Saturday afternoon. The windows are open, letting in the sound of traffic on Embarcadero, somebody's dog barking hysterically across the street, a lawn mower humming away in the distance. The curtains lift like they're caught on a great exhale, and the loose papers stir across the coffee table. Erica pins them down with a handful of M&Ms, and shoos Pouco away when he comes by to try to steal one. That much chocolate isn't good for mice.
Erica's hair is twisted up onto the back of her head, pinned in place with a criss-cross of No. 2 pencils, the ends escaping and caught in the breeze. She's cross-legged on the floor, her laptop and textbooks clustered on top of the coffee table, her mouth pinched into a frown as she flags pages with tabs of blue and orange. Upside down, you can just make out the images; salvaged artistic depictions of graphic anti-Semitic violence committed by the Crusaders in the tenth century, blood and gore and dismembered limbs that Erica studies at length, crunching on M&Ms.
You and Eduardo are on opposite ends of the sofa, you with your laptop open across your knees, an interdepartment IM client open on your screen, receiving updates from Dustin and Marjorie, your CFO, and Jacqui, who is your mole in HR and actually probably was in the Israeli Army.
Eduardo was up and about earlier, moving back and forth between the couch and the printer with his Blackberry tucked between his ear and shoulder, but the three of you have been sedentary for a couple of silent hours, at least, rearranging only to get the blood flowing back into your limbs, and you are almost surprised when you look up and the sunlight is coming in differently through the curtains, the whole lighted landscape of your living room changed.
Closing the lid and stacking the print-outs on top of it, Eduardo sets his laptop down on the floor and gets up.
None of you have moved for so long that you and Erica look up automatically, tracking him with your eyes as he steps around the arm of the sofa, feeling especially sensitive to the bend in his knees and the wrinkles in the back of his shirt, the same way one becomes keen to their own heartbeat in a quiet library.
You hear him moving about in the kitchen, the linoleum catching under his feet and the sink running, and then he's back, passing the two of you with an apple in his hand. You remember buying it: you always remember to buy the red things, apples and licorice candy and jars of spaghetti sauce.
"What are your plans?" you say to his back.
He pauses, caught half-way between the living room and the bedroom. The dust motes in the air swirl around him, lazy and sunlit.
He chews his bite, swallows, and then he says, "I'm going to finish this apple," and holds it up to them. "And then I'm going to masturbate." He disappears into the bedroom, before he cranes his head back around. "Do you want to watch?"
You look at Erica, and Erica looks at you.
You both get to your feet in the same movement.
"Thought so," says Eduardo happily.
Sometimes, because you have a mind like a maze-runner and you can't help but think of everything, you wonder what it will take to make them stop loving you.
You've been there once already, seen the dismissive flick in Erica's eyes as she looks past you, apathetic, seen the dark, hopeless bob of Eduardo's throat as he swallows, wet and furious in a yellow-lit hallway.
Some part of you will always stay in those moments, trapped, no matter how many times Erica catches you at the kitchen counter while you're dicing pickles for a tuna fish salad, stretching her phone above her head to get a shot of you both, her face undeniably goofy and yours usually incredibly unattractive, no matter how many times you find yourself in an argument at a meeting, a dinner, a fucking banquet that you couldn't care less about, and you step back only to find Eduardo at your shadow, the two of you a single united entity, and you touch your shoulder against his chest, breathe deep and feel the answering inhale, and you throw yourself back into the fray with your verbal fists swinging.
You go into work every day and just when you think you'll have gotten away with it, Dustin will spin past your cubicle and go, "by the way, nice hickeys, boss," and you'll throw a rubber eraser at his retreating back, feeling fond and caught and embarrassed, and immediately underneath it, nauseous, because you dread the day you come into work with a neck that's pale and professional like you imagine a grown-up's might be. You don't want there to be a day when Erica hadn't pinned your hands down to let Eduardo suck a signet into your collar the afternoon before, during the night, the morning of, or on your way out the door.
You are, as everyone is so very fond of reminding you, not much of an adult.
You employees ignore it because they're used to it (in fact, the new kids seem to be under the impression that you just have very prominent birthmarks) and the people who do your make-up for interviews cover it up without a word like it's somehow harmful for other people to see and someone you don't talk to anymore comments on a picture of you on your Facebook, congratulating Erica on her artwork.
You laugh, because people who are not you or Eduardo or Erica are morons, and only half the time are the marks on your neck in the shape of Erica's mouth.
"Stop," and that's Eduardo's voice, behind you, and before you have time to turn to him, his arms are around you, wrapping around your chest and pulling you back. His breath warms the place right behind your ear, his hips settling against yours with the ease of familiarity, and you're not turned on yet, but you're thinking about it.
"I wasn't doing anything," you protest, because you weren't, actually.
"No, I mean, stop waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"Oh, fuck!" comes from the kitchen. Erica clatters around, shouting, "Ben-zonah! Whose turn was it to empty the crumb dish from the toaster, because you failed."
Eduardo chuckles, and when he whispers, you feel his mouth move against your skin. "We're ... what were your words? Oh, we're better with you around."
You are turned on now, and anyone who thinks it's ridiculous to be so dizzy, breathless, flooded-warm just from the touch of someone's mouth to the back of the ear, to someone's words not meant for anyone else, then they have obviously never had Eduardo tell them they're important. Your knees are weak and you want to blow him, which is a familiar enough impulse that your mouth only waters a little preemptively.
You spin around in Eduardo's hold. Something crunches under your foot -- the spine of an umbrella, you think, and forget in the next moment.
"Yeah," you manage. "Okay."
Eduardo kisses you back, a deep, sucking drag to your lower lip, and his stomach jumps a little under the touch of your fingers when you stroke at his belly button, up under his shirt.
He pulls away to call, "Erica! Sex!" before he steps you back against the wall -- more crunching, definitely the umbrella, which is fine, it was a free gift from Google and they can suck it anyway -- and you pull his mouth back to yours. You want his hands in your hair, you want his hands on your ass, you want to hear him say that again, we're better with you around, and you want everything. You always wanted everything.
"Ugh," is the reply from the kitchen. More muttering, and the sink shuts off. "Fine. Coming!"
You stop wondering.
It doesn't matter, of course, because this isn't real.
You are dreaming, and in five minutes, Marilyn Delpy will wake you up, and for one bleary second, your subconsciousness will have you completely fooled into thinking that the world it created for you while you were sleeping is the same world to which you are waking up. You will forget, and then you will remember. You have no house, just an apartment with a kettle and rust stains around the toilet seat, and you have a lawsuit you need to take care of.
You won't think very often about what you could have had, because why would you. What you'll have will be good enough, and you won't know better.
Right now, you are asleep, your laptop is out of battery, and the two people you love most in this world are not speaking to you.