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Chasing Hearts

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Mark drives the kids back home in a silent ride from school, not much different than any other day when he's willing to go pick them up. It is quiet besides the punk station playing dimly on the background, Toni raises the volume when a song she likes comes up, and when it is gone, the volume is turns down again, just to a screeching noise in the back of their ears. He looks over to her as she shifts on the passenger seat, holding her guitar case against her knees.

“Dad, can we stop at McDonald’s to get a milkshake?” Paul asks from the back, fixing his sunglasses on his face

“Sorry kiddo, gotta go to a meeting in like, half an hour..." Mark shakes his head, opening and closing his left hand repeatedly “I can drop you two at the Starbucks near home though...”

“Sound good to me” Toni, from the passenger seat, speaks up.

“Yeah, I guess” Paul shrugs from the back "Milkshakes are better than Frappuccinos though"

“When is Tom coming back from Europe, by the way?” Toni says while typing something on her phone

“I don’t know..." Mark shrugs "Why?”

Toni smiles “He went to a Vampire Weekend concert! I wanna know how it was!”

“Really?” Paul asks “That sounds awesome”

“Yeah, he posted a picture backstage with Ezra and Rostam! Shit, it must’ve been amazing! And Ezra talked about his book on twitter, do you even know how big Ezra is on twitter?”

“Well, it’s been over a month, it shouldn’t be much longer at this point” Mark states and Toni looks out the window again “This is your stop…” Mark pulls the car closer to the curb when he sees the Starbucks of their neighborhood “Have fun” He says before the kids jump off the car and he drives away

“So…” Toni starts as the two of them walk into the store, she puts her hands inside her hoodie’s pockets and keeps the door open for her twin brother “What are you gonna order?” She asks

“Did you really break up with Shawn?” Paul asks, stopping by the doorway, looking his sister in the eye

"Wow, that was pretty straightfoward..." She frowns “How did you know about that?” 

“Rumors spread out quickly in that school” Paul tells her matter-of-factly “You know Dylan Howser says it’s because he kept hitting on you…”

“Ugh” Toni makes a disgusted face as they get into the line “Why are straight men so disgusting?”

“Oh why thank you” Paul says fixing his black rimmed glasses around his blue eyes, flipping his head to the side so his dark blonde hair would stay in place “That was really nice of you…”

“You know what I mean…” She rolls her eyes, walking further into the line 

“Welcome to Starbucks!” The cashier smiles as he looked at Toni. She grabbed her long brown hair shyly and Paul smiles back, waving at him.

“Hi Frank” Paul says and the boy nods. He is about the same height as Toni, maybe slightly shorter, he has soft jet black hair and really white teeth to go with his heart-shaped face and his delicate features, his skin pale, almost vampire-like "How are you?"

"Good!" Frank smiles as he types something into the register "What about you guys?"

"I have never seen you around here..." Toni points out "And I come here a lot, believe me"

"I..." Frank starts nervously, but somehow amused by the girl's curiosity "I actually started here this month"

"Yeah, Frank lives down the street at that wooden house that was abandoned until a few years ago, you remember that?" Paul explains "He's Megan's brother, remember Megan that used to sell brownies in that bike during the summer...?"

"Oh yeah! I haven't seen her in ages!" Toni exclaims "What happened?"

"She goes to boarding school" Frank explains and she nods back

"But I've never seen you around the neighborhood anyway..." 

"I'm not one to going out much..." Frank says “So… What is your order today?” He asks, taking Toni away from her imagination.

“Oh, a tall chocolate mocha Frappuccino, please” Toni adds quickly

“I’ll want the same” Paul says

“Great!” The boy says, writing Paul’s name down in a plastic cup with a permanent marker “And yours?” He wonders looking at Toni "You haven't said your name yet..."

“Benjamin Dover” She says and gives the boy a smirk, his only reaction is to smile at her and shake his head

“Of course, your highness” Frank says with a laugh and types something into his register, Toni just hands him her gift card and he swipes it, giving it back to her “Thank you” He says and she nods

“Thank you, Frank” She says and keeps on walking, Paul following her as they move to the bar and wait their order

“When will you stop doing that?” He asks from behind her, but she just shrugs

“When I feel like it” She shrugs and winks at her brother

***

Mark leaves for work; he is supposed to meet with a new producer in a few minutes. He arrives at the studio and gets out of his car, his feet leading him towards the office. As if it was purely natural.

He does not feel nervous anymore, well, there was only two phases in Mark's career in which he did feel nervous. The first when he started from the bottom and got his scripts shot down, and the second when his scripts started being too old, too conventional and "too 90's!", and started to be shot down again.

He was not the producer’s baby and pupil anymore; he was not their favorite no longer. Mark was just another one in the crowd, worse, he was that guy that everyone looked and said "You used to be great", and you know what they mean by the word 'used'.

Welcome to the porn industry

"Mr. Hoppus, Mr. Skiba awaits you inside" The secretary tells him

“Amber, I told you to not call me that!” As if on cue the tall blonde man rushes out of the room “God, you wanna get fired again?” He says putting both hands on his hips

The petite white girl, Amber, shakes her head “No, sir, I wasn’t meani…”

“Good” The guy says and walks inside, closing the door behind him with a bang, Mark watches after him perplexed, until he comes back “God, I’m sorry, come in, Mr. Hoppus” He smiles at Mark, a fairly beautiful smile being shot at him.

Mark smirks awkwardly and gathers his stuff before walking into the office, closing the door behind him. He doesn't know if he gets happy or scared about it

“I’m sorry about that, I just like playing with her head” The man makes a scrawny face with a smile, Mark laughs nervously “Please sit, and call me Matt...” He moves to go sit on his own chair across the table.

Mark sits and places the papers on his own lap “I’m sorry, but… Hm, why do you do that?” He asks still confused

Matt fixes the thin tie on his neck and without hesitation, answers, “Well, because she treats my daughter like a stupid, dumb kid and apparently I can’t fire her for that, well, at least not twice, but it wasn't me who fired her first, so... So, I treat her like she’s a stupid, dumb kid too” He says and puts out a goofy smile for Mark at the end, he has to take a moment to process this and realize this guy is actually being serious

Mark nods, Matt smiles at him and Mark has to admit, not in a long time he has seen a man this strikingly beautiful, he wonders what the hell is this man doing here, in front of him and not using his beauty for some worthy purpose other than his old ass and porn movies. Shouldn't he be in front of the camera? And not behind some stupid script?

Matt has a black cap on his head, a white button down and a thin black tie. He has dark blonde hair that has a certain chestnut tone that isn’t that common to see around, Mark notices Matt’s thin lips and the way his fingertips would touch them as he looks at something on his computer, the curious and intricate tattoos creeping from the sleeves of his shirt that are slightly pulled up.

“Fair game” Mark nods to himself, trying not to think about his new boss like that anymore, he's had his fair share of relationships with people from work, he has learned to not mess with them

Matt laughs “Alright, so, It's nice to finally meet you, Mark" Matt extends his hand for Mark to shake and Mark takes it. Matt eyes Mark’s hand quickly, he doesn’t make a deal out of it, but Mark notices

“It’s nice to meet you too, Matt” Mark smiles and shakes his hand “You are curious about my hand, aren’t you?”

Matt sighs “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to lo…”

Mark chuckles “It’s okay” He interrupts Matt and raises it, showing his scars, his redness, the purple spots and the damaged skin, even if it's not as visible anymore. Mark could never say it out loud, but he secretly loves doing that, rubbing it on people’s faces, it strips them down to see what they don’t want “I injured it in a surfing accident when I was twenty two” Mark explains and Matt nods

“I’m sorry to hear that” Mark smiles sadly at his reaction

“Thank you” Mark shifts on his chair, looking down at his hand. Opening and closing the fingers in claw movements like he usually does, his pinky not moving at all like it hasn't for the last twenty two years. He looks around and takes a look at the pictures on the desk, he notices a set of two, one was a girl, about the age of five, wearing a pink dress and missing her front teeth, she had dark skin and wild, curly, dark hair. In the next one, it was Matt and the same girl in Disney World with Pooh and Tigger, the little girl smiling and Matt carrying her so she could reach her bear friend for a hug.

"That's my daughter by the way" Matt smiles when he sees what Mark was looking at

"She's really pretty" Mark smiles back "My daughter herself had the same dress. It was her mom's"

"Ah, we got that at a thrift shop a few years ago when we still lived in Chicago… And she's crazy about Winnie the Pooh so... Hence the other picture” Matt laughs "It was last year when we went to Disney World"

“You’re from Chicago?” Mark frowns “I would never guess that”

“I… I actually just moved here into the city” Matt explains “So, you have kids, huh?"

"Yes" Mark nods "Three actually, only one girl though"

"Wow! Three?!?” Matt asks surprised, resting back on his chair and Mark nods “Annie is my only kid. It should be hard being a full time writer and having that many kids, right? So I guess you're married?"

"Not really" 

"Divorced?" Matt raises an eyebrow

"Widowed" Mark smiles sadly, trying to hide it a little

"Oh! I'm sorry"

"It's okay, it's been six years already" Mark sighs "I miss her but I practically had to raise them by myself, you know?"

"It must have been tough"

"What about you?" Mark wonders

“Basically divorced” Matt answers with a sad smile “It’s kind of complicated…” He laughs, "Let's talk about the script?"

Mark sighs again "Sure"

"Mark, I… I can call you Mark, right?” Matt asks and Mark nods

“Of course”

“Mark, you have something really powerful in your hands, you have an amazing ability to write and to express what you want. You know your way into the story without making it go stiff. This is actually good stuff!"

Mark holds his breath tight as he waits for the "but"

"But!" He starts again and Mark drops his head low, he looks him and for once, Mark feels like, for once, a producer was genuinely upset for him "With the internet nobody rents movies anymore, this is too large and too outdated to be published online, when people look for quickies, and not to sentimental, not long enough and too hot to become an actual movie"

Mark sighs defeated "Thank you for being honest, some people just say no"

"I know that when writers get called it's 90% sure that they will have their scripts bought, but Mark, I called you here because I have friends in the industry as well and I need to tell you not to give up, okay? You need to find strength inside yourself to overcome everything else and start again!" Matt explains "I also thought I should call you so we could meet before starting to work together, you know?"

Mark nods, he smiles a little too sad "Thank you"

"I want to hear from you again, with something adapted, alright?"

Mark smirks. Did this guy just really give him a second chance?

***

Mark has a pleasant surprise when he sees a certain figure sitting on the hood of his old, beaten up Corolla '01 as he walks out of the building, a defeated look on his face, but then a smile right after. He opens in arms in a hugging gesture, as he gets closer

"Oh honey, did they turn you down again?" Audrey asks, tapping the place by her side for him to sit.

Mark jumps on the hood of the car and throws the script on her lap; she browses a little and hums a bit

"Hey! This is not bad!"

Mark looks at her. Audrey’s a porn actress in the same studio, they met once when she threw a fit because in something on his story, they fought, she quit, and then they were best friends all of the sudden. He smiles amazed at her.

"Yeah" Mark takes a cigarette out of his pocket and lights it up "It's just that it is 90's good apparently". Mark takes a deep drag of his cigarette before rolling his eyes

“Come on, Mark, it’s been over fifteen years, get over it” She laughs and he stares at her "Was it the new guy, is he your boss now?"

Mark nods "He seems nice, I don't understand what is he doing here though..." He says

"Is everything okay?" Audrey asks worriedly, she knows Mark hasn't been feeling the best of himself lately and she places a hand on his shoulder concernedly, rubbing circles with her thumb

"Audrey, the bills are getting tight, if I don't manage to come up with something very soon I am very fucked"

"You know I can always borrow you some money..." She sighs, pity in her voice

"Audrey listen to me:” Mark turns to her, making sure she’s listening to him “I am fucking 44 years old, you are 23. Twenty three. My oldest son is 21. I could be your dad, don't ever tell me I can borrow money from you ever again" Mark takes another deep drag

"Oh I'm sorry Mr. Old Fuck" She withdraws her hand

"I'm sorry, but I just... I have three kids Audrey! One of them goes to college. The money you could borrow me would probably never be enough! And even if it is, what will happen next month? And the other?" He brags throwing his head back, "I have to save money for the college funds! I mean, there's food and clothing and the house I just... Fuck!" He says and hits on his own forehead "I am so stupid! There are tons of fourteen year olds writing this shit on the internet and I can't! I just can't!"

Audrey sighs for him "If they take over the world I lose my job too, Mark. Stop blaming them" She laughs and grabs his hand, his right hand "You wanna hear a proposal?"

"Yea, please?" Mark begs taking another deep drag

"He said your problem is with the internet porn, isn't it? Then let's watch tons of internet porn and notice what's up with them…”

“This doesn’t just apply to watch, does it?” He smirks letting out the smoke from his lips

She shrugs a little “Maybe, who knows”

Mark smiles "Okay" He shrugs "Will you help me?" Mark asks licking his lips and they jump off the hood, and he wraps an arm around her shoulders, waiting for an answer

Mark loves Audrey, really. I mean, she was a good for when he needed some action, and better, she listens! She talks! And she also gives advice! That is one amazing porn star!
The fact that she's always stuck around intrigues him. She knows better than him, she is fucking gorgeous with her dark eyes, dark skin, curly messy slightly platined hair. She could be friends with anyone. Anyone. Instead, she always chooses him. She’s an independent black girl who deserves no stupid old man to hold her back. He thinks about it all the time but he knows that without her, he would be nothing in here.

She's not in for the money, for sure. Not because of sex or a job either because she's not exclusive to him, plus, she’s got her life on a tight hold, not seeming to let go anytime soon. Maybe it's because he makes her laugh, or whatever. At least he feels honored.

"I have to work now, see you later then?"

Mark gives her a kiss on the cheek and slap on the ass

"Go fake that fucking come for me, will ya?"

***

When Mark arrives at home, first thing he sees is Toni sitting at the curb, she is on her phone, puffing and shaking her head. Mark frowns as he gets out of the car and walks up to her

“No, Shawn, I don’t want to get back with you!” She shouts into the phone “I am not arguing about this anymore. My dad just got home, I’ll call you later” Toni hangs up, looking up at Mark and taking a deep breath “Hey dad” She says tiredly

“Who were you talking to?” Mark asks curiously

"Shawn" Toni answers simply

“You broke up with him?” Mark frowns

“Yeah” Toni shrugs “He was bothering me too much and honestly I don’t like him that much, it was not worth it. How was your interview?”

“It sucked” Mark answers “I met the new boss today”

“That’s half good, half not-so-good” Toni laughs, trying to break the ice “I believe...”

Mark laughs and shakes his head “It was okay, I guess” He throws his hands up

"There's a surprise inside, you know?" She smiles, telling simply

Mark frowns, a smile slowly creeping up his lips; he has got an idea of what it is "What is it?"

Toni smiles back "You know what it is..."

Mark laughs and shakes his head; he walks up to the door and opens it abruptly. Trying to cause impact "Tom, you're fina...-" He starts yelling but he stops when he sees his best friend drooling on his couch.

Mark sighs and kicks the couch

"Wake up, you fat fuck!"

"Ah! What?!?" Tom wakes up disoriented "Mark?" He asks and Mark laughs "Mark!" Tom jumps off the couch and wipes his mouth, taking the drool into his black long sleeved shirt, giving his friend a quick awkward hug right after “Sorry for the stain” He says pointing back to the couch and nervously fixing up the shirt on his frame.

Mark eyes him up and down, Tom’s hair is even shorter than before, he knows his friends usually lets it grow a little bit more now and then, but now doesn’t seem to be the case right now, and honestly, Mark likes it better short, it suits him better. Mark smiles at Tom’s messy brown hair, the little freckles around his wide nose and his grinning thin lips. Tom smiles as he looks at Mark and he sees a set of scars and marks Tom has on the left side of his chin and jaw, which have always drawn Mark’s attention by the little details of the face he’s been looking at for over twenty-four years.

Mark shakes his head as he looks up at his best friend getting up, still being as tall as ever, even taller than himself. "Woah, you look handsome on that shirt! Where did you get it?" Mark asks as he walks towards the kitchen with Tom at his heels

"Some random store in a little city somewhere in Germany?" Tom looks down at his chest, not sure, if it was there or elsewhere. Or was it just a random gift from that junkie that smoked pot with him in Amsterdam? Well, fuck it; he’ll never remember anyway "You like it?"

"Yeah, looks good on you" Mark takes two beers out of the fridge. Tom feels shivers

“So, how was Europe?!?" Mark asks excitedly after seeing his friend for the first time in a month, handing him one of the beers

"Oh! Fuck Mark! It was Amazing! So much fun!" Tom exclaims, "I saw so much stuff, talked to so many people! I have content for Strange Times for the next 3 months or even 4! Maybe even another book!”

Mark laughs "That's amazing, Tom! I'm glad you enjoyed it!"

Mark then remembers how he has refreshed Strange Times about three times a day on his phone since Tom left. The site has been updated like fire, since Tom and his other journalist had tons of content for it all the time since they were on a field trip just for it. Mark listens to Tom babble about how he wants to go to Australia next summer, get to know what the Aussies know about UFO’s and aliens or whatever else

He remembers, also, the books Tom used to read when they were younger, the documentaries he made them watch and that Mark never really paid attention. Mark can still see Tom sitting on the couch of his living room, excitedly watching Giant Aliens –And laughing his ass off in the meantime, of course- while he sat with Joe sucking on his formula in one of Tom’s sides and a very pregnant Elise sat on the other side.

Tom had always loved the subject like a kid of his, and since he didn’t have any, making them watch that stuff with him, or just listen to him talk about it was always like a play date for him.

"You should've come with me..." Tom then points out a little disappointed, taking a sip from his bottle

"Ah come on, Tom. You know I couldn't. With work and the kids, I just... I'm not a good situation to travel like this right now"

Tom nods "I understand"

"It must've been awful being there all by yourself" Mark counters

"I wasn't really by myself, you know that other journalist, Kaitlyn? The pretty petit blonde?" Tom asks as he points to his head, trying to show her hair

"Yeah" 

"She came and Jim was there as well... So I wasn't always alone"

"Jim?!? That guy we stumbled upon once at Wal-Mart?" Mark asks confused, digging into his memory and Tom nods

"Yeah"

"The one with that septum piercing and short brown hair? Tattoo on his neck?"

"The one and only" Tom sighs "Anyway, I got you something there..."

"Well, what is it?"

"Here" Tom says sheepishly as he leaves a black, thick velvet box on top of the table, it has the size and shape of a jewelry box or so. Mark stands on his place, frowning at Tom "Go on! Open it!"

Mark reaches for it, open at once. His jaw drops

"You like it?" Tom asks

"Oh my God, Tom!" He laughs "It's a fucking pen!" He says and raises the finest production, luxury pen up to his eyes "It's fucking gorgeous! Is this that DC collection?!?!?" He asks

"Yes! That's SuperMan..." Tom blushes a little

"Fuck! Tom! This must've costed you a fortune!"

"It's nothing for what you've done to me over the years. Plus, you know how the new book has been doing great" Tom laughs, with a shrug at the end "Just take the damn present!"

"Who the fuck said I wasn't going to?!?" Mark looks at it dreamily. He gets up and walks over to Tom to hug his friend "Thank you so much, I love it"

"You're welcome" Tom says and Mark tries to pull away but Tom keeps him close "I missed you, you bastard, let me hug you!"

Mark laughs and hugs Tom again

"Hey you two, move out, I'm hungry, please step away from the fridge" They hear a voice and Paul stands behind them. As they proceed to move they can hear the teen mumbling "Fucking homos always blocking the fucking food"

***

"Will you guys be okay?" Tom asks later at night when he and Mark are about to go out and grab some late night pizza, to catch up their talking.

Toni looks at him from the corner of her eye "How much pot did you smoke there?"

"Yeah Tom, we stayed alone multiple times, it's okay" Paul laughs as the twins enjoyed their presents on the empty dinner table “Cool! I got new sunglasses!” He yelps as he changes his old glasses for the new ones “Thanks Tom, I’ve been asking dad for a new pair for months!”

“You’re welcome, kid” Tom pats his shoulder

Tom had got Toni a Tardis mug. He gave her his Vampire Weekend ticket, backstage pass and some stickers he claims Ezra had given him himself; he also spent about an hour catching up with her and Paul on what he has seen in the foreign continent.

"Bye!" Mark says as they left and he and Tom walk out into the night

"So... How's Audrey?" Tom asks

"She's fine, you know?" Mark lights up a cigarette "Young, single, gorgeous... Fucking rich" He laughs “How is Sally?”

“Sally’s fine. She peed herself when she saw me like she always does” Tom laughs “The Neighbors took good care of her as they always do” He nods, looking down at his feet "And Joe? Any news from him?" Tom asks a little curious

"He's having fun, you know? Drinking, Partying, the same thing every kid does at college" Mark explains as he takes a drag.

"The same kind of stuff you did at college?" Tom asks and Mark laughs, remembering his failed college attempt

"Pretty much"

"And your script?"

"Doomed" Mark smiles and takes another drag before they cross yet another street "The last producer called me but he said he wanted me to come up with something brand new"

"Well, that's awesome!" Tom says but he gets no reaction from Mark "Isn't it?"

"Well, yeah!" Mark says a bit sad, gesturing his cigarette around, blowing the smoke through his nose. He feels a bit colder and buries his free hand on his hoodie’s pockets. Tom smiles a little to himself when he sees Mark’s nose turning red at the tip. He touched his, since he was much more blushable than his friend’s was

"It's just that... I don't know Tom, it's been so long since I haven't sold anything, this is getting so tiring" Mark lets it out

"You're not gonna give up, right?" Tom asks concerned

Mark shrugs "Maybe. I'm still going to try but if I don't make it, that's it. I'm done"

Tom sighs. He can't help but feel a little guilty. All over again.