Cheryl is Head of HR. Mark is somewhere, distantly, terribly alarmed both that Facebook now needs a Head of HR with her own staff, and that Mark has become familiar enough with her to know that she’s developing a headache. More immediately, however, he needs her help. She looks at him. “I have the list of prospectives. Again.”
Mark looks back. “Is there- look, not in a way that’s going to get me sued, but is there a guy on that list?”
She rubs her temples, like maybe she can wish her way out of this meeting. Mark knows the feeling. Cheryl says, “What?”
“I don’t want to keep replacing assistants.”
“I don’t see how that relates to their-.”
“Seriously, hire as many female programmers as you like. But if I have to get used to another assistant because Sean keeps-.”
“Because Sean keeps fucking them – or attempting to fuck them, whatever, and it’s not like I haven’t tried to intervene, but I can’t fire him and while I can keep him away from the programmers and the interns I can’t keep him out of the office entirely. If I lose another assistant because he keeps breaking their hearts it’s going to delay the update to application support by months.”
There is a long, loaded pause.
Cheryl says, “I absolutely cannot help you hire a man rather than a woman because you are incapable of preventing Mr Parker from committing sexual harassment.” Cheryl reads his expression and sighs. “But I do have a candidate. Who happens to be male, although if anyone asks if that was a criteria we used, I will deny it to my grave.”
Mark nods quickly, and lets her slide a form over the desk. Saverin, comma, Eduardo doesn’t seem to have any particular reason to want to be Mark’s secretary. Then, Mark is never sure why anyone wants to be his secretary. He says, “Bring him in for interview.”
Mark is running late, rushing from a meeting across town back to the offices. He has the distinct impression he was supposed to be somewhere in particular, but all he can think of is that he’s tired of financiers taking three hours over lunch instead of just coming out and telling him what they want. Mark favours people being direct.
Someone is sitting at the desk outside his office. Someone touches the button on his ringing phone and says, “Mark Zuckerberg’s office,” into the headset. Then he flicks his gaze over the computer screen and says, “No, Mr Zuckerberg is in meetings all day tomorrow. Could I get him to return your call on Thursday? That’s good. Yes, I’m sure he’s eager to speak to you as well. Thank you.”
Mark comes to stand by the desk. “Do I know you?”
He is given a quietly appraising look. The man stands and offers Mark his hand. “Eduardo Saverin. You’re supposed to be interviewing me.”
Mark laughs. “Were you trying to impress me, Mr Saverin?”
Eduardo flushes, sudden and hot. “Your phone was ringing. Ms Knight told me to have a look at your schedule to get an idea of the workday. And then your phone was ringing so I answered it.”
“If I’ve taken- I can go, this was a bad idea anyway…”
The phone rings again, interrupting him. Mark asks, “Are you going to get that?” and walks into his office.
Eduardo has been working for Mark for two hours now and – presumably – hasn’t managed to screw anything up yet. This is quite impressive. Mark suspects Cheryl’s influence.
Cheryl herself turns up thirty minutes later, pushing Mark’s door open. She smirks and says, “You extended the interview, then?”
Mark says, “If I hadn’t said anything, he was still the one you were going to suggest, wasn’t he?”
“Now, why would you say that?”
“I don’t think he likes me very much.”
“He’s known you for two and a half hours, Mark. It would have been three, but I hear you were late again.” She looks at him pointedly.
Eduardo knocks, pauses for a count of three, and walks in. “Mr Zuckerberg, you need to leave now if you want to change before the reception this evening.”
Mark looks down at himself. “Do I want to change before the reception this evening?”
Eduardo’s face is a careful blank. “If not, I’ll come back in two hours.”
Mark nods. “Do that.” He calls, to Eduardo’s retreating back, “And ‘Mark’ is fine.”
Eduardo doesn’t respond to that.
Cheryl coughs. “If you make this one leave, I’m officially giving up.” She leaves again, though Mark notices she speaks to Eduardo on the way out.
Eduardo comes back, places a Red Bull beside Mark’s free hand, and murmurs, “Mr Zuckerberg,” before he walks back out.
Mark will admit, if only to himself, that he finds this interesting. Which is unusual enough in itself, as Mark finds very few people interesting. Bewildering, occasionally, but then that’s why he ended up creating Facebook. It streamlines the whole messy process.
Mark does what he should have done right away: he searches for Eduardo Saverin on Facebook. The profile is almost completely locked-down, though of course that’s no problem to Mark. More of a problem is the scarcity of information. Eduardo is Mark’s age, or thereabouts. He lists his hometown as São Paulo and he went to prep school in Miami. He hasn’t updated his profile recently - which is strange for someone who was interviewing for a job here - his current location reads as New York.
Eduardo finds him again in two hours. “Mr Zuckerberg? You really do need to leave now.”
Mark sighs, but this is probably right. He hates these things.
Eduardo passes Mark a jacket and holds the door open. “Good night, Mr Zuckerberg.” If Mark didn’t know any better, he would think Eduardo wanted to get rid of him.
The computer at Eduardo’s desk is still on. Mark says, “You can go home.”
Eduardo looks at the desk, not Mark. “Is it okay if I stay for a while? I don’t actually have… I don’t have a computer in my apartment.”
Mark is unused to anyone asking him to stay in the office later – it’s normally the other way round. He’s also having difficulty with the idea of anyone who works for him not having a computer at home.
Eduardo, clearly taking the pause badly, moves to shut the computer down. “Of course, it’s fine, I’ve only been here-.”
“Eduardo,” Mark interrupts. “Stay as long as you want. The offices are open all night.”
“Okay.” Eduardo’s shoulders settle. “So I’ll see you tomorrow, Mr Zuckerberg.” It sounds like a question.
Mark nods. “Tomorrow.”
* * *
Eduardo makes the rest of them look untidy. Mark hadn’t noticed, really, but Dustin stands inside Mark’s office and looks out at their new addition. Eduardo is nodding, on the phone again, moving the mouse across his desk.
“He wears suits!” Dustin says.
“This is true,” Mark agrees.
“We’re not a suit office.”
“People can wear whatever the hell they want, Dustin, that’s the kind of office we have.”
There’s a knock at the door.
Dustin hisses, “And he knocks.”
Eduardo walks in and announces, “Mr Zuckerberg, you’re supposed to be dialling into a video conference.” Mark actually knew this, but he hates talking to the lawyers. Eduardo mutters, “Don’t make faces.”
Mark laughs, and Eduardo colours. This is starting to look like a pattern. Mark says, “I’m your boss.”
It’s an idle threat – Mark doesn’t mean anything by it - but it’s a sort of habit. The list of things anyone can force him to do now is quite small. Eduardo just looks steadily at him. “Yes?”
Dustin grins at Mark. “I retract my complaint. Call the lawyers.” He slings his arm over Eduardo’s shoulder. “We should be friends, Eduardo. Walk with me.”
Mark does not see this ending well. But when they get outside Mark’s door, Eduardo gently disentangles himself from Dustin, and goes back to his desk.
Dustin emails him from across the office: Not very sociable, is he? Aren’t PA’s meant to be people-persons? People-people? Are you sure he’s even a real PA? Not that I’m complaining. You need some excitement in your life - an assistant that's not hanging off your every word could be good for you :p
Mark doesn’t bother to reply.
* * *
The next day is Friday and Mark walks out to find Chris crouched beside Eduardo’s desk. Eduardo is smiling.
Chris leans across Eduardo to point at something. He says, “You didn’t ask Mark?”
Eduardo laughs - properly laughs. “I don’t think telling Mark I killed his computer would be a good idea. In terms of my remaining employed.”
Mark comes to stand silently behind the two of them, mostly because he can. When he speaks, they both startle. Mark says, “Do I need to start taking computer repair out of your wages?”
Chris leans over his shoulder to glare at Mark.
Eduardo says, “It’s fine now, Chris sorted it out for me. I should get back to work.” He leans close over his keyboard, clattering over the keys.
Chris follows Mark back into the office. He says, “Can you try to be less of a- less you?”
“Why did he ask you?” Mark asks. “You’re not even a programmer – most of the interns have more of an idea what they’re doing than you do.”
“What did I just say?”
“I presumed you meant towards Eduardo.”
“Because God forbid you try not to be a dick to more than one person at a time.” Chris doesn’t normally react quite so dramatically to Mark’s supposed dickishness. Also, Mark doesn’t know what he said wrong. Chris sighs. “Look, he’s clearly… just try not to make it worse, okay? And that goes for Dustin too.”
Chris stops to talk to Eduardo again on the way out, but Eduardo’s not smiling any more. Mark goes back to work.
* * *
Eduardo is typing. Mark watches him through the open door. Not in a stalker way, he’s pretty sure, and it’s not like he can be following Eduardo – Mark stays in one place, Eduardo’s the one who keeps coming in and out. Mark looks back at the screen.
When he breaks again, it’s two hours later and his back hurts. Eduardo is glaring at him. “I knocked.”
“You asked me to write up your notes for the launch.” He puts them down beside Mark and pauses, rolling back on the balls of his feet. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you?” Mark tries.
Eduardo smiles, clearly without meaning to, biting down on his lip.
Mark abruptly has no idea what it was he was supposed to be doing. He says, “Could you bring me a sandwich, maybe? Please.”
Eduardo looks at the floor, smiling again before composing himself to meet Mark’s eyes. “Of course. I’ll be right back.”
Mark distracts himself by looking over Eduardo’s typing. Eduardo’s not the fastest typist, from what Mark can tell, but there are no immediately obvious mistakes. Then Mark starts paying attention to what Eduardo’s actually written.
Eduardo comes back with the sandwich and a glass of what appears to be orange juice. Mark says, “You’re trying to feed me fruit,” which wasn’t what he meant to lead with.
Eduardo says, “In juice form. Would you prefer apple?”
“No I wouldn’t prefer a- Look, this statement isn’t what I said in the meeting.”
“Don’t ‘no’ like this is something up for debate. This isn’t what I said.”
Eduardo straightens up, pulling back his shoulders, his hands clasped behind him. Mark tries not to relent. Eduardo says, “It’s what you meant, I think. Unless you wanted me to write a statement where you insulted all of your third party developers. Was that what you wanted, Mr Zuckerberg?”
Mark hates Eduardo, just a little bit. He says, “And that’s your call, is it?”
“Well, I’m not sure that it should be your call,” Eduardo says. Then, quickly, “You probably have more important things to worry about.”
Mark is beginning to suspect that Eduardo is nowhere near as polite and formal as he pretends to be. That’s good to know. Mark says, “Fine. Go back to work.”
* * *
Dustin and Chris have managed to drag him out to the cafeteria. Truthfully, Mark has little idea of what time it is – this could be a late lunch or an early dinner – but apparently it was time to eat. He’d sent Eduardo home at the same time, working on the logic that even if it was still lunchtime, they’d both been working ten hours already today and while that’s standard operating practice for Mark, Eduardo is already owed some ridiculous amount of overtime. Eduardo doesn’t seem to have left, however.
Dustin asks, “What the hell is your assistant reading?”
Mark looks across the room. Eduardo has a huge book open on the table in front of him. He’s eating something with rice. Mark shrugs.
Dustin picks through the olives Chris has discarded from his salad and pops one in his mouth. He grins. “Maybe he’s reading up on programming? He can’t want to stay Mark’s assistant forever. Fate worse than death.”
Mark shoves Dustin’s shoulder half-heartedly. He can’t see the title of Eduardo’s book from here.
Chris sighs. “It’s probably a textbook.”
“What?” Mark looks at him.
“Do you even talk to him?” Chris can be really superior some days. Granted, he’s a much ‘nicer’ person than either Mark or Dustin have ever claimed to be, but that’s not necessarily saying much.
Mark asks, “What do you mean?”
“Try asking him what he’s doing in Palo Alto working for you, instead of finishing college.”
Mark would, but that’s not the kind of question Eduardo will answer, if Mark’s the one doing the asking.
Chris smiles at Mark – the same affectionately annoyed one Mark’s mom will end up wearing sometimes. Chris says, “Never mind. Just-.”
“Don’t make it worse,” Mark fills in. “You said that already. Why do you all think I’m going to scare him off?”
At the other table, Eduardo is rubbing his mouth and making earnest notes in the margins of his book. Mark puts it out of his mind.
* * *
It’s the first time he’s heard Eduardo curse. It’s past midnight and Mark doesn’t even know what Eduardo’s still doing there. Mark walks out of the office because Eduardo, out of nowhere, comes out with, “fucking piece of shit,” and hits the desk.
Mark steps up behind him. “What’s with you and your attacks on my machines?”
Eduardo coughs. “Sorry, I didn’t realise I was so loud.”
Mark pushes Eduardo’s chair aside, ignoring the startled look that gets him. He says, “Let me take a look.”
“It’s not really worth your-.”
“Eduardo, if it takes me more than three minutes to sort it out, I promise I’ll quit and make Dustin CEO, okay?”
Eduardo’s laughter is unexpected. He says, “It just crashed on me. I can’t get the documents I was working on back.”
Mark’s first thought is that it can’t take Eduardo that long to retype whatever it was. It’s not like Mark’s computer crashed. He manages to stop himself saying that out loud. Eduardo is unlikely to respond well to those kinds of observations. Mark kneels beside Eduardo at the desk and takes the mouse.
Eduardo watches him the whole time. Mark runs a few diagnostics, eliminates a virus someone (probably not Eduardo) introduced to the system, and gets Eduardo’s documents back on the screen. He has three text files open, as well as a spreadsheet. God knows what he’s doing. When Mark looks around to ask him, Eduardo is still watching. “What?” Mark asks.
“Nothing. I just- I forget that you’re actually really smart, sometimes.”
“A, I think I should be insulted. B, anyone in tech support could have done that.”
“Yeah?” Eduardo asks. “So why did you?”
Mark grins. “So I could remind you that I’m really smart, sometimes.”
Eduardo smiles back – shy – and God, Mark is fucking doomed. He shakes it off and disappears back into his office, rereading all Cheryl’s emails about workplace harassment and reminding himself of the reasons he’s absolutely not allowed to flirt with his assistant. The only saving grace is that Mark is so bad at these things that Eduardo might not have noticed yet.
* * *
Eduardo stands behind Mark during the meeting. He seems to be listening intently to the presentations on future plans, occasionally taking notes, but not saying anything. He’s good at being unobtrusive, right up until the moment he drops a note onto the table in front of Mark.
Eduardo’s neat handwriting reads: The math is wrong.
Mark turns, frowning at him. He mouths ‘Prove it.’
Eduardo balances his notebook on his arm, scribbling furiously. A few minutes later, he passes Mark another note. Mark is not a mathematician, but he’s pretty sure Eduardo is right, in the looping equations running across the page. Why Eduardo noticed is going to be a discussion they have later.
Mark coughs. “Who was responsible for the calculations on user uptake?”
Someone he doesn’t recognise raises a hand, tentatively.
Mark throws Eduardo’s note at him. “Do it again. Get it right this time. We can have this meeting again when we’re not relying on bad numbers.” He stands, bumping into Eduardo as he gets up. “Come on, I’m sure I’m already late for something.”
Eduardo follows him out of the room.
Mark says, “That spreadsheet on your computer, when it crashed. You were looking at these projections.”
“Want to tell me why you didn’t point it out at the time?”
“I thought someone else would notice.”
Mark turns around, hand ending up on Eduardo’s chest, below the knot of his tie. “Never assume that. If you think something’s wrong, I’m trusting you to let me know.”
“Mr Zuckerberg, I’m not-.”
“No one else caught it. You did. I don’t have time for people to be coy about being smart.”
“Yeah, well I can’t afford to get fired and it’s not like you’re such an easy person to tell things to.” Eduardo stops talking. “I’m sorry, I didn’t-.”
Mark covers his eyes with his hand. “Stop being sorry, it makes me feel bad.”
“I didn’t mean to do that.”
When Mark moves his hand, Eduardo is watching him with his wide brown eyes. “I know,” Mark says. “Go get me your calculations, okay? I need to work out if I have to reprimand someone for incompetence. Lucky you, you get to help.”
Eduardo goes to get the spreadsheet, and Mark goes to his office. Of course it’s not enough that Eduardo’s efficient and intelligent and bewilderingly awkward around Mark. Of course he had to be able to do complex algebra as well, and then apologise for it. This is Mark’s life now.
* * *
It’s always busy in the offices, but this last week even Mark is exhausted. The problem with application support is that it means letting other people put things in the middle of his code, and a lot of them don’t know what they’re doing. Mark is having increasingly vivid nightmares where this code goes live and Facebook crashes within the hour. Apple might have the right idea with their closed system stuff – other people just can’t be trusted.
Mark is going through sections of the update line-by-line; he’s been wired in all day. He doesn’t look away from the screen until it’s been two hours and he’s still out of Red Bull. Eduardo is having an argument with someone in Mark’s doorway. Mark pushes his headphones off. Eduardo says, “Let me check with Mr Zuckerberg first.”
Sean – because of course it’s Sean – breezes past. “Mark, your new secretary’s trying to keep me out.”
Eduardo knocks, sharply, on Mark’s now open door.
Mark nods, “Yeah, Eduardo, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. Can you pull the contact info on the priority developers for the update?”
“Right away.” He leaves the door ajar when he walks back to his desk.
Mark looks back at the screen and finds the section he was checking. “What happened?” he asks.
“Nothing,” Sean says. “Hey, is this because of the thing with Lottie? Because she was totally overreacting. And I’ve got to say, man, I think the scenery was better, even if it did get a bit messy at the end there.”
Mark says, “I like the scenery I’ve got now fine.”
There’s a weird pause. Sean says, “Sure, I guess, if that’s what you’re into.”
Mark’s not sure what just happened. He says, “Sean, did you need anything, because we’re going live with this update tomorrow, and I’d like to check if it’s going to destroy the site first. So unless what you’re about to say is more important than that I-.”
Sean interrupts, “God, you’re pissy when you’re not getting any. We should go out tonight.”
“Tomorrow, whatever, after the big update. You need to relax.”
“Sean. What do you want?”
“I’m just letting you know I’m going to be out of the country for a month or two, all right?”
“Do I want to know why?” Mark looks up.
Sean smirks. “Probably not. Anyway, call me tomorrow after the thing, I’ll let you know where we’ve ended up on my farewell tour. You really need to get hammered, man, trust me on this.”
He blows out of the offices again. Eduardo walks in, replaces Mark’s empty can of energy drink, and closes the door behind himself.
Mark goes to find Eduardo a few hours after Sean has left. Eduardo is typing in sporadic little bursts. Mark says, “Come talk to me a minute.”
“Are you doing something important?”
Eduardo raises an eyebrow. “In your estimation or in mine?”
Mark turns his back. “Come talk to me when you’re done.”
Eduardo easily clicks the computer into screensaver and follows after Mark. He stands on the other side of the desk, hands behind his back. “Did you need something, Mr Zuckerberg?”
Mark says, “Sean’s kind of an asshole.”
“No, I mean, he knows what he’s doing, and we wouldn’t be here without him, but he can be a jerk sometimes. So, you know, if he said something to you, can you just ignore it?”
Eduardo rubs his forehead, just above his eyebrow. “Why do you…?”
“Because it doesn’t really matter to me that he’s a dick. Not until he started screwing with the company.”
“Because he was screwing your assistants,” Eduardo says. “So you hired me, because he definitely wouldn’t want to screw me.”
“That’s not why-.”
Mark shakes his head. “That’s not why. And if it was, you still wouldn’t have lasted past the first week because honestly, the ones Sean didn’t drive away, I did, so let’s not make Sean the villain in this scenario. It’s a tough job, and one you’re actually surprisingly good at – I didn’t mean that as a backhanded compliment, don’t be like that.”
Eduardo says, “So you trust him?”
“What? No. I don’t trust anyone.”
Eduardo looks at Mark for a moment, lips parted in surprise. “Most people…” he says, eventually, “most people don’t just come out with stuff like that.”
Mark shrugs. “You know how many times we nearly went under, our first year? Our finance guy decided he wanted out because we weren’t making any money and the three of us – me and Dustin and Sean – had to buy him out, and the company nearly went under and then Sean found us the investment and we still nearly went under so it’s not like I’m unaware of the transient nature of this industry. I need to protect Facebook, first and foremost. Everything else is a secondary concern. I don’t trust Sean, but I don’t give him anything to do that he’s likely to mess up or lead to a public lawsuit. So it works okay.”
Eduardo is quiet. “You had a few lawsuits, the second year.”
“Yes. Hence, I don’t trust anyone.”
“Not even Dustin and Chris?”
Mark thinks about this. “I trust them more than other people. Oh, and you too, of course, but you know that. Anyway, so don’t listen to Sean. Punch him, I guess, if you have to, but try not to do it in public where the press’ll get hold of it. I should get back to work.”
Eduardo shakes himself. “Sure. Fine. I’ll just… okay. Okay.”
Mark had been trying to get him less wound up, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. He doesn’t know what he said that Eduardo was so struck by, but he has to focus on the code. Everything else is necessarily second to that.
* * *
They finally – finally – go live at ten pm pacific time. Mark listens to the cheers for a minute before raising his hand. “Right. Who drew the short straw?” He looks in the direction of Engineering and Operations. “Fine. Andy, you’re monitoring stability, Cara’s on server load our end. Sam, if we look like we’re in trouble, roll the whole thing back. Lee, get in touch with the developers and let them know if that happens – the list’s on Eduardo’s desk. I’ll be around, get me the minute something goes wrong.” He exhales. “Everyone else can go and get drunk, if that was your plan for this evening.”
Dustin grabs his arm. “You’re sticking around?”
“Cool. Chris, go find the beer.”
“You two don’t need to…”
“Eduardo said Sean was in earlier?”
“Since when do you talk to my assistant?”
“Since he – like most people – is much cooler when he’s not around you.” Dustin grins.
Mark gives up. “Fine, go get beer.” He heads towards the couches and collapses on one. He can monitor the site on the big screen anyway, and Eduardo comes up beside him and quietly leaves the laptop. Mark looks at him. “Are you going out with the others?”
“No, I thought I’d stick around here for a while. If that’s okay?”
“Why do you always ask me that?” Mark looks at Eduardo longer than he means to, punchy from lack of sleep and finally getting this update running.
Eduardo says, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Stay,” Mark says. “Do you have work to do, or are you reading one of the economics textbooks you’re still pretending that you don’t bring here?”
“You can read out here, if you want. Or go sit in my office, if you want quiet.”
“I can sit at my desk.”
“There’s a couch in my office.”
Eduardo nods. “Thank you.” He goes to Mark’s office and pulls the door closed behind him.
Chris comes back with Dustin and a six-pack. They get peaceably buzzed: Dustin gets more beer and no one comes to tell Mark that his site is broken. That’s as good as it gets, most days.
“Seriously, though,” Dustin says, “you can tell us.”
“Tell you what?” Mark says.
“That you have the hots for Eduardo. We won’t judge.”
“Why would we judge?” Chris asks. “Clearly we-.”
“Not that,” Dustin breaks in dismissively. “The assistant thing. Abuse of power, harassment suit waiting to happen, all that jazz.”
“I could fire you,” Mark says.
“I’m a shareholder, you can’t fire me.”
“I could kill you and hide the body.”
“You could,” Dustin concedes, “but you won’t. You’re way too busy fantasising about screwing Eduardo over your desk. I see…” he takes on a faraway look, “our own Mr Saverin in a pencil skirt and pointy heels. Maybe some of those little librarian glasses.”
Mark hadn’t been thinking about that. He is now. He is now having extremely detailed thoughts about Eduardo’s narrow hips and long legs, wrapped around Mark’s waist. He’s thinking about Eduardo perched on the edge of Mark’s desk, his cock pushing up against the silky fabric they use to make girl’s skirts. And Eduardo biting down on his red lip.
Mark looks at Dustin. “I hate you.”
Dustin laughs, completely unashamed. “No judging, remember. He’s a good looking guy, isn’t he, Chris? Definitely topping Facebook’s Most F-” He looks at Mark and reconsiders finishing the sentence.
Chris tilts his head. “He’s very good looking. I still wouldn’t-.”
Mark interrupts, “No one is fucking my assistant.” He said that way too loud. “He’ll leave, and that would be- not good. Everything would get delayed, and I don’t even know where he gets my lunch from but that would be a problem, and it would just… No one is to make him leave. I’ll put it into employee policy if I have to.”
There is a very slight cough, behind him. Eduardo says, “Just how drunk are you?”
Dustin leans over the arm of the couch to look at Eduardo. “That really depends on how long you’ve been standing there.”
Eduardo says, “From ‘fucking’.”
“Then not that drunk. Probably. Mark’s just warning the pretty girls away from you.”
Eduardo doesn’t look at Dustin, too busy looking at Mark. “That’s okay, I’m not interested in pretty girls.”
Dustin says, “That’s sorted then. And the site’s still alive for now. Chris, are we sharing a car?”
Chris stands up. He’s giggling, the traitor. Or lightweight, anyway. Dustin looks fond, the way he always does when he gets them to rewind back to college for a few hours.
Eduardo holds his hand in front of Mark. “I’ve called you a car too.”
Mark lets himself be pulled upwards. “I should stay.”
“Someone will call you if the site breaks. Go home, Mark. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Mark is in the car and halfway back to his house before the thought occurs. Eduardo called him Mark.
* * *
Eduardo tends to be pretty easy to spot. It’s a matter of camouflage. Mark, unfortunately, finds himself pretty noticeable in your average black-tie reception, even in Silicon Valley. But at Facebook, where jeans and sweatshirts are de rigueur, Eduardo’s silhouette is obvious the whole way across the offices. It’s also obvious outside the building, where he’s leaning against the wall. Eduardo is wearing all black today, but Mark doesn’t need to be close to know that there will be at least three spots of light: Eduardo has a watch and a ring that he wears all the time, plus his shirts have cufflinks.
Mark is mentally awarding himself points when he gets close enough to see Eduardo’s hand, curled tightly around his cell phone. Mark has always been capable of being observant – it’s just normally not worth the effort. With Eduardo, it’s weird, and he doesn’t mean to notice these things, it just sort of happens. So he’s not surprised by the heavy gold ring, just by the way Eduardo is gripping the phone like he wants to crush it.
Eduardo is talking in a language it takes Mark a moment to place. He’s passable in French, and he can pick out Spanish, but Portuguese is something else. Eduardo’s raising his voice; Mark is pretty sure some of those words aren’t suitable for polite company.
Mark walks past Eduardo and goes straight to his desk. He’s resolutely not asking the question, even when Eduardo comes in to give him the messages from last night. He does say, “You speak Portuguese?”
Eduardo doesn’t look even a little surprised. “I thought you’d read my Facebook page?”
“I did, of course, but I didn’t realise you-.”
“Yes,” Eduardo says, “I speak Portuguese. I grew up in Brazil, Mr Zuckerberg.” And they’re back to that.
It’s not Mark’s job to care if Eduardo is having some kind of personal meltdown. He says, “Mail?”
Eduardo puts down a thin stack of envelopes, and one box. He looks at the label. “Your mom’s sent you something.”
Mark nods. “Go ahead. I need to start work on our response to the fucking Farmville thing.”
Eduardo asks, “What happened with…? Also, I can’t open your private mail.”
“You open all my private mail.”
“This is from your mother.”
“So?” Mark starts to reread Dustin’s summary of the problem. Then he realises what he’s doing, and looks for the report from Chris instead.
The noise of disgust Eduardo makes at Mark’s response is a little alarming. Eduardo opens the slim box and looks inside. He says, “Your cousin wants you at her wedding, though I’m not completely sure why. Also your mother has sent you chocolate. Again, I’m not sure why.”
Mark makes a note on the report. “You want one?”
“Chocolate. She thinks I don’t eat, by the way. That’s what this is. This is why you should never tell your mother that you plan on having yesterday’s takeout for dinner – she tries to fatten you up. Still. Chocolate.”
Eduardo frowns. Mark probably shouldn’t have told him about the takeout thing either. Eduardo says, “Actually, yes,” like he’s made a big decision. Or maybe like he thinks the morning can’t get any worse. He selects one of the chocolates and bites it in half. He doesn’t make porn noises or anything, but his eyes flicker shut.
Mark smiles. “Good?”
Eduardo opens his eyes and his expression freezes up. “Thank you. I should get back to work.”
Which is fine, except that when Mark opens his office door, Eduardo has his head tilted sideways and he’s having a phone conversation while reading something else on the computer screen. Eduardo says, “yes, Mrs Zuckerberg. I know. I’ll tell him. No, I really can’t…” He laughs. “And the girls are okay?”
Mark goes back to his desk and waits. Eduardo brings him lunch, an apple balanced on top as a reminder that he heard what Mark said about his diet. Mark says, “You were talking to my mom.”
Eduardo fumbles the bottle of juice as he sets it down. “I sent her your thanks for the chocolate and the invitation.”
“You didn’t think I was going to do that?”
“You were asking her about my sisters.”
“We talk,” Eduardo says. “She likes to know how you are and if it was left up to you-.”
“Who were you talking to this morning, before you came in?”
Eduardo turns around to go back to his desk. He says, without looking at Mark, “I haven’t called home in a while either.”
* * *
He’s late. Eduardo, not Mark, otherwise there would be nothing worthy of note in that statement. Mark takes a moment to look out at the rain, allows himself thirty seconds of concern that Eduardo’s crashed into a tree or something, and tries to get back to work. He’s not waiting long anyway: Eduardo rushes in, all apologies and ‘don’t even, I swear to God I’ll make up the time…’ He’s drenched. Like literally dripping onto the floor. Eduardo picks up the headset of the phone and bites cheerily, “Mark Zuckerberg’s office, hold one moment please.” He says, “Are you supposed to be talking to Danni in Europe right now?” Mark nods, mutely, and lets Eduardo transfer the call.
When he’s finished talking strategy, Eduardo has disappeared. Someone looks up from a desk and says, “I think he went to the restroom to get dried off.”
Mark goes to investigate this claim. Eduardo’s jacket is hanging off one of the doors and he’s stripped out of his shirt to get it under the hand-dryer. His hair is plastered down and a drip of water manages to roll down his spine. Mark murmurs, “God, this is becoming increasingly unprofessional,” and watches in fascination as the back of Eduardo’s neck colours. “Not you,” Mark says, “me,” though Eduardo doesn’t seem to get it. “What happened?”
“I’m sorry about being late. And this part.”
“Eduardo, will you stop worrying that I’m going to fire you? Unless you’ve started stealing from petty cash or something, your job is safe. What happened?”
Eduardo glares. “It’s raining?”
“I don’t drive, the buses suck and if I still own an umbrella it’s in a box I haven’t unpacked.”
“Okay. I’ll get someone to bring you a t-shirt or something, you can’t sit all day in that, you’ll catch pneumonia and die and no one will ever forgive me for letting it happen.”
Mark leaves, and sends someone else in there with a borrowed white tee and one of Mark’s oversized hoodies.
Dustin is careful not to laugh where Eduardo will see him. He slides past Mark and whispers, “That right there? Isn’t that what jocks do with the cute girls they’ve got their eyes on? Can you even get letters for fencing?”
“Remember when I threatened to kill you?”
Dustin ignores the warning. “Seriously, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to find this creepy or endearing.”
Eduardo looks sort of pathetic over there. Mark brings him a cup of coffee, along with a selection of creamer and sugars when he realises he has no clue how Eduardo takes it. Eduardo laughs anyway. “You know bringing the coffee is my job?”
“You never bring me coffee.”
“Largely because you don’t drink it.”
“So it can’t be your job. Red Bull and twizzlers, yes. Coffee, no. Also, I’m driving you home this evening.”
“What? No, you’re really not. Linda has a spare umbrella, I’ll be fine.”
“This isn’t up for debate. Let me know when you need to leave and I’ll get my stuff.”
The only problem with the plan is that Eduardo refuses to leave. At the point where even Mark notices that it’s late for a regular Tuesday evening, he walks to Eduardo’s desk. Eduardo blinks at him, “Mr Zuckerberg?”
“Was your plan to wait for me to fall asleep? Or were you going to stay here in the office overnight?”
“I was going to get the bus.”
Mark lifts Eduardo’s – still damp – jacket and says, “Get your things.”
In the car Eduardo is even quieter. He plugs his address into the car’s GPS and leans back in the seat. Mark doesn’t know much about cars; he can’t try and draw Eduardo out with a conversation about this one. He just taps the steering wheel and thinks.
Eduardo says, eventually, “Over here. Please.”
There’s a little apartment block on the corner of the street. Eduardo gets out of the car and comes round to the other side, looking at Mark through the open window. He remembers his manners and smiles. “Thank you for the ride.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Really, though, thanks. I- I appreciate it, okay?”
“It’s not a big deal, I have nothing to do this evening. I might go back to the office, I guess.”
Eduardo rolls his eyes. “I dread to think what your house looks like. I bet it’s just a pile of unopened mail and a refrigerator full of takeout containers.”
Mark acknowledges this. “Most of the mail goes to the office, so you deal with that part. And I’m not sure there’s even a takeout container in my refrigerator right now.”
“You-?” Eduardo looks genuinely troubled by this. “I have food.”
“God!” He says the next part quickly. “You want to come in and get something to eat? Since you drove me home and all.”
Mark should absolutely say no. Eduardo can’t mean anything by it – he really does just worry that Mark doesn’t eat. So Mark should in no way go up to his assistant’s apartment. He says, “Sure, why not?”
Eduardo’s apartment is about the size of the suite Mark shared at Kirkland. Eduardo turns to Mark, on the way through to the bedroom with his wet clothes, “I know, this whole place would fit into one of the bathrooms at your house.” He laughs. “And now I can see you mentally measuring out the walls. Take a seat, I’ll be out in a sec.”
Mark drops onto the couch. The apartment’s not bad, actually, for a one-bed in what he presumes to be Eduardo’s price range. Though Facebook pays pretty well, even to an assistant who only started a few months ago. Mark looks around.
Eduardo wasn’t kidding about the boxes – there’s a stack of them by the window that he obviously hasn’t got around to unpacking yet. When Eduardo opens the bedroom door, Mark can see more boxes.
Eduardo goes over to the little kitchen area and opens the refrigerator. “You eat pasta, right? Fish?” He rummages at the back and produces tomatoes and chillies. He’s still waiting for a response from Mark. “Hello?”
“That’s fine,” Mark says, “whatever you’re having.”
Eduardo lets out a short huff of breath. “Sure. Do you want a drink?”
“What have you got?”
“Red wine. Fruit juice. Soda. Milk. Beer, I think.”
That’s a weird order to announce drinks in, Mark thinks. He nods in distraction and hears Eduardo sigh again. Mark is looking at the bookcases. He thinks books would probably be the last things he would decide to unpack, but they sit on Eduardo’s shelves, econ books at the bottom and paperback fiction at the top. Mark gets up to look at them, noting the ones with non-English titles.
Eduardo walks up behind him and reaches to take Mark’s hand, curving it round a glass. Soda. Eduardo says, “You’re driving, maybe alcohol would be a bad idea.” Alcohol would probably be a bad idea either way.
Eduardo doesn’t seem to expect a response to this. He goes back to the cooker and starts rattling with the pans. It smells good, whatever it is. It’s not that Mark doesn’t appreciate food – he eats well enough in restaurants and receptions – but it’s never seemed worth the effort of learning to cook. If he gets a craving for something, he can have it delivered.
Mark walks around the walls of the apartment. Chris thinks he doesn’t pay attention. There’s a photograph on the shelf: a teenage Eduardo and a very pretty older woman with her arms around him. Mark doesn’t even know if Eduardo has brothers or sisters, or where his family lives now.
Eduardo calls, “Can you get some plates out?” He nods towards the cupboards, hands busy with stirring. “Utensils in the drawer.”
Mark tries to remember the last time anyone asked him to set the table. His mom, probably, but it wouldn’t have been any of the more recent times he was home. He lays plates out on the table, in front of the two chairs. He needs to move the table out a little to make room to sit at the second chair. Eduardo clearly doesn’t have guests often. Mark says, “You never talk about anyone else.”
“Sorry? Mr Zuckerberg-.”
“Eduardo, even by your standards, it’s okay to call me Mark when we’re in your apartment. There’s no one else around.”
“You’re still my boss.”
Mark says, “I’m a lot of people’s boss. The rest of them all use my name.”
“Yes, but I’m…”
Over the minor disagreement, Eduardo has put the food out. He pours himself a soda.
Mark says, “You can drink, if you want.”
“I don’t think I should get drunk while you’re sober.” He coughs. “You are still my boss, Mark. You don’t need to try and make friends.”
It takes a moment to process that statement. “We’re not friends?”
It’s Eduardo who freezes this time. He turns his back on Mark, going to take the pans off the heat. After a moment he says, “If you want.”
“You don’t talk about anyone else, is what I said, before you started trying to distract me. Everyone else, they’re always bringing in friends from high school or college to see the offices, or they’re meeting them for lunch, or telling me stories about them like I have any frame of reference for the anecdote. You don’t do that.”
Eduardo pushes food around his plate. “Neither do you.”
“I work with most of my friends.”
An almost smile flits across Eduardo’s face. “Yeah.” He chews for a little while, swallows and admits, “I don’t really talk to many people from before.”
“Before you moved?”
“Before I had to drop out of college.”
Mark looks down at his food, nodding. He tries to indicate that he’s willing to listen if Eduardo wants to talk, but he’s never been great when it comes to the personal stuff. Dustin over-shares regardless of what Mark wants, and Chris knows better than to expect tactful responses, but Mark doesn’t know what to do with Eduardo.
Luckily, Eduardo seems to understand this. He says, “There was a… I had a fight with my father.”
Mark can’t put that together with the first part. He asks, “Because you dropped out?”
Eduardo laughs, a sharp humourless sound. “No. He was the reason I had to. I did something,” he shakes his head, “something he didn’t like, and we had an argument and then he- so I had to drop out.”
“What did you do?” There was a probably a better way to ask that, but Mark is trying to think of anything he could do to his own father which could possibly end up with him having to drop out of school.
“I made a bad investment, after he told me not to. Some friends of friends had an opportunity, I wanted to- have you ever needed to prove something to someone so much that you didn’t think the whole thing through?”
“You lost him money?”
“What? No. I lost a little of my own money, and I made it all back by the end, Mark, I’m not an… I just didn’t make anything, and it was touch and go there for a while. And he hadn’t wanted me to do it but I thought there was something there.” He shrugs. “Business is about risk. You know that.”
“I do. So he just stopped your- did you talk to him?”
“A few months after. I was working as an intern in New York – it gave me something to do and it was going okay. I would have been able to go back to school after. But my dad knew one of the company directors and he made a call. We haven’t spoken since then.”
“So who were you…?”
“My mother. She wants me to apologise. She thinks that’s what he wants.”
“Oh, I know that’s what he wants. I’m just not going to do it.” Eduardo looks right at Mark, his eyes dark and serious. “I didn’t do anything wrong. He can apologise to me.” His spine is held straight; it reminds Mark of the way he stands in front of Mark’s desk on their bad days. Proud, and trying to remember that. Trying not to back down, though he hates the conflict and though he’s still halfway convinced that Mark wants to get rid of him.
Mark lifts another forkful of pasta. “This is good. Really – I should have known you’d be great at this too.”
“I’m sorry about your dad. But you know it’s not such a big deal to finish college now, anyway. Dustin and I didn’t, and a lot of our programmers don’t have formal training.” He knows this isn’t helping.
Eduardo nods. “I’m aware of that.”
“But you want to go back to school.” All the books are proof of that desire.
“One of my professors told me just to keep doing the work, and assume I’ll be able to go back in a year or two and make it official.”
Mark looks at him. “Because you’re really smart.”
Eduardo leans his head back, exposing the line of his neck. He looks at the ceiling. “I’m not saying I’m too smart to be your assistant, Mark. Everyone who works at Facebook is smart. And I do appreciate the work, so much more than I thought I would. No offence.” He grins at Mark.
Mark asks, “Why Facebook?”
“Because it would make my father angry. And because he doesn’t know anyone – wouldn’t know anyone – who works with a company like Facebook. He couldn’t touch me here.”
“He can’t touch you here,” Mark agrees. “I wouldn’t let him, even if did lower himself enough to try and talk to me.”
“I didn’t mean…”
“I know what you meant.” Mark wants to tell him that he’s glad Eduardo’s father disowned him and drove him all the way across the country because now Eduardo is here. But he doesn’t say that. Eduardo has been quietly miserable this whole time and it’s more than just formality holding him apart. Eduardo is simply counting time before he’s allowed to leave.
Eduardo touches his glass against Mark’s. “To loving where you end up.”
Mark stares. He says, quietly, “And to your future plans.”
* * *
Mark has to go to New York for a few days. He can normally get out of these kinds of things by sending Dustin or Chris, or sometimes Sean. This is because pretty much everybody who might feel snubbed by Mark not turning up to a two-day conference in person would almost certainly end up even more insulted if he did. Unfortunately, Mark has been informed by Chris that he absolutely cannot avoid this trip, no not even if he doubles Chris’s salary. Sean had even called from Hawaii or Rio or wherever he is right now, reminding Mark to go and show his face. Mark gives in.
Eduardo appears at the door of the office. “Yes?”
“Book us flights and a couple of hotel rooms for the end of next week.”
“You decided to go to the conference then? Wait. Us?”
“It’s two nights, I need you to come with me.”
Eduardo protests, “I really can’t-.”
“You have plans?”
“So you’re coming,” Mark says. “Book flights.”
“I don’t really have time to discuss this. I have to prepare this farce of a talk, and then I need to get someone to translate it back down to a level the people attending will actually understand, plus we need to announce something so I need to talk to Chris and find out what he wants to do so-.”
“Mark!” Eduardo interrupts. “I’m not coming. I’ll get one of the other assistants up to speed if you want someone to take notes and make sure that you’re prepped, but I’m not going to New York.” He turns sharply and goes back to his desk. Mark hears him start calling airlines.
This is unanticipated. Mark has been on a few overnight trips since Eduardo started and while it’s not like Eduardo pines, he always seems glad to have Mark back. Mark had assumed that Eduardo might like to get out of the office for a few days, away from the phones and the need to sort through the hundreds of emails Mark doesn’t want to answer.
Mark goes to Chris’s office. Chris says, before Mark has opened his mouth, “If you’re going to the conference, we need to have something to announce.”
“I know that,” Mark says. “Come up with something by three. Also I need you to tell Eduardo that he’s coming with me.”
Mark is most of the way out of the door before Chris manages, “Sorry, what?”
“He won’t come with me. I could order him to, I guess, but we’re still at a pretty delicate place in terms of him calling me by name and not acting like he has worse job security than that weather guy who keeps dropping his mic during live broadcasts.”
“Why are you watching the local news?”
“Not the news, just the weather. Eduardo watches it, I don’t know, it makes sense in his head, probably. Anyway. Tell him he needs to come with me.”
“You don’t think he’ll know this is coming from you?” Chris asks.
“You don’t think maybe he has a real reason for not wanting to come?”
“I don’t think he gets to tell me one minute that he wants to go get a degree and a real job and then the next not appreciate it when I invite him out to do more of the business side.”
Chris temples his hands together on his desk, like he’s praying for strength. “And did you tell him that’s what you were doing?”
Mark shakes his head. “He knows.” He leaves Chris to work out the answers to his two problems.
Mark doesn’t talk to Eduardo again until after lunch; he goes to seek his assistant out in the cafeteria. Eduardo is reading the Wall Street Journal. And yet he refuses to go to New York, where the actual Wall Street is. Mark doesn’t get Eduardo sometimes.
Mark says, “Did Chris find you?”
“He said you had to tell me something.”
“You need to come with me to New York.” This is what Mark has already told both Eduardo and Chris, but apparently repetition is required.
“I thought we went through this,” Eduardo says.
“Would you feel better if I made it an order?”
Eduardo’s expression sours. “I thought the only thing you were ever going to fire me for was stealing.”
“I didn’t say I was going to fire you. I just don’t see how asking you to come to New York to assist me is a violation of your job description. Seeing as how you’re my assistant.”
Eduardo throws his hands up. “Fine, okay, whatever. I’ve already sorted out the flights and the hotels – I’ll tell them I’m the one going with you. Happy now?”
Mark shrugs. “It’s not about happiness. I need you with me, that’s all.”
They have a strained sort of week, and a worse flight, west coast to east, and there’s not much of a time difference but Mark’s body still hates him in the morning.
Eduardo had vanished into his room very quickly the night before, and Mark doesn’t see him again until it’s almost time for the first session that day. Their session, in point of fact. Mark is trying to calculate the possibility that Eduardo didn’t want to be here so badly that he’s run away back to California without telling anyone, and then spots him.
Eduardo is talking to some guys about their age - all in suits and ties, with conference passes around their necks. Mark approaches them from the side. It looks as though Eduardo knows them. One of them is saying, “I haven’t seen you since college, man, what did you end up doing?”
Eduardo says, “I’m working in California at the moment. You’re a first year associate now, right?”
“Yeah, I’m really getting some freedom to do my own thing now, make a mark in the company. Hey, didn’t I hear you were like Mark Zuckerberg’s secretary or something?”
Eduardo’s back tenses, he pulls himself straight up. “I’m an assistant at Facebook, yes.”
One of the other men says, “Yeah? Weird career trajectory for you, isn’t it? So what does that mean you do, exactly?”
Mark interrupts. “Eduardo.” He places his hand on Eduardo’s arm. “Wardo, hey, we’re due to present in ten minutes, and you’re the one with the math, remember? If you’re not there to explain the figures it’s just going to be me, and I’ll start insulting the media guys at random again. Chris warned you about this.”
Eduardo turns in Mark’s grip, so Mark ends up with his arm draped over Eduardo’s shoulder. “He did, yes,” Eduardo says. “Apparently there was an incident last year?” There have been incidents the past few years, that part wasn’t a lie.
Mark nods. “Hence why you need to get in there with me. Oh, you met some people.”
Smiling, too polite, Eduardo says, “Mark, these are some guys I knew from Cornell. James and Michael.”
Mark shakes their hands, mostly out of spite, and says, “I’m sorry, I really do need Eduardo with me for this presentation. I hope you three can catch up later. Though it does look to be a busy schedule. Wardo, are you coming?”
Eduardo falls into step with him. He looks confused. After a moment, Mark figures out that he’s mouthing ‘Wardo’ to himself. Eduardo finally says, “I didn’t need a rescue.”
“What rescue? You know the numbers better than I do. Come on, we’re late.”
“You’re always late.”
“And I rely on you to stop me from doing that. Now lets go and try to explain to a room full of traditional businesses why new media has things to teach them.” Mark feels a little brighter about that prospect than he did first thing this morning.
They eat dinner in Mark’s hotel room. There’s a restaurant downstairs but while they’re not hiding exactly, this way is less stressful. Eduardo drinks a single glass of red wine and Mark drinks water. Mark can now definitely say that Eduardo likes to talk over meals. Clearly someone somewhere tried to train good manners into him and so he thinks this is what’s expected of him. Mark wouldn’t hold it against him if they ate in silence, but it’s nice to know that Eduardo is back to normal. Mark tries to keep up with the conversation.
Eduardo says, “How’d you think the presentation went this morning?”
“What do you think?”
“Me? It went okay, I thought. We didn’t insult too many people, and Chris’s stuff about interoperability went over well. They like things to be simple.”
“It’s not simple on our end.”
“Of course not, but the intended application is to make things simpler on the user end, isn’t it? We want to integrate Facebook as a working part, rather than just leaving the site as a standalone product.”
“You know when we launched we were exclusive to Harvard students?”
Eduardo follows the train of thought. “Miss it?”
“No, I was just… taking stock. Every year I come to this thing and we’ve moved on farther than even I thought we would. And every year they still don’t get it.”
Eduardo leans his chin on his hand; they’re both mostly finished eating now. He says, “Yeah. But you do, so what does it matter what they think?”
“It doesn’t. Why do you care what those Wall Street assholes think?”
“I don’t,” Eduardo says. “You did, I think. Mark, you’re the one who can’t get over the…” He trails off. “Any more than I can.”
“I think there were some missing nouns there. Maybe a verb or two.”
Eduardo stands up and starts clearing the plates together and back onto the tray. He says, “I should go and get some sleep. Especially if you’re going to start calling on me for fact-checks again tomorrow.”
He closes the door behind himself when he leaves. Mark says, to the empty room, “You knew the figures.”
They get the plane home together the next evening. The second day’s sessions were unproductive but thankfully also uneventful, and Eduardo’s possible-friends stayed clear of the two of them. Mark went out into the city in the afternoon, leaving Eduardo in the hotel. Well, he supposes it’s possible that Eduardo decided to meet up with some of the people he used to know, but personally Mark doubts it.
Eduardo is sitting beside him on the plane. “No disasters, anyway,” he says.
“No,” Mark agrees. “Though I’ll be happier when we get back to the offices.”
“You checked in with them every two hours – you were testing for most of last night. Do you ever unplug?”
Eduardo laughs. He stretches out in the business class seat. “I don’t even know why I asked. But it is good to be heading home; those things are exhausting. And I say this as someone who used to attend Cornell networking events by choice.”
Mark doesn’t get why anyone would voluntarily submit themselves to that. The disgust must show on his face because Eduardo laughs again. Which reminds Mark. “I got you something.”
Eduardo’s expression changes instantly. “Sorry?”
“From the trip. It’s traditional.”
“It’s traditional to bring something back for the people at home. You should be getting things for Dustin and Chris, not me.”
“Dustin gave me a list of stuff to bring back for him and Chris. I dealt with that. This is for you.” He hands Eduardo the bag. “It was only released last week, but apparently it’s going to be on all the econ reading lists next year. It’s about ethics and e-business, which is a weird combination but the guy in the store said it was the best and he’s supposed to know these things so… What? Did you buy it already?”
Eduardo pulls the book out of the bag and turns it over to read the back cover. He looks at Mark. “Thank you. You really didn’t need to do that.”
“You didn’t want to come with me but you did it anyway. It was brought to my attention that I should show some appreciation for that.”
Eduardo taps the book with his fingertips. “You could just have said thank you.”
“I thought you would prefer the book.”
“I’m looking forward to reading it,” Eduardo says finally. He shifts in the seat and ends up with his shoulder against Mark’s, even with all the space. Eduardo opens the book. Mark settles down to try and sleep – he wants to go straight back to the office when they land. Eduardo turns the page, and Mark closes his eyes.
* * *
It takes Mark a few days to figure out what the feeling reminds him of. It’s like the beginning of that first summer in Palo Alto, with everything building to the crunch point but nothing there yet. He mentions it to Dustin, not particularly looking for commentary but curious nonetheless. Mark’s not always the best judge of atmosphere.
Dustin pauses in his attempts to blast simulated aliens to bloody smithereens. “Yeah? How long?”
Mark thinks about it. “A few weeks.”
Dustin raises both eyebrows, pauses, and decides to go with just one raised and an accompanying leer. “Since your weekend getaway with Eduardo?”
“It was a Thursday-Friday,” Mark points out.
“It was three days, two nights and there was wine on the room service tab – that’s a romantic weekend. You might not have noticed. Actually, I would be more surprised if you had noticed.”
“It wasn’t a romantic weekend.”
Dustin looks disbelieving. That’s his default expression with Mark nowadays though, so Mark can’t tell how much he should be worried.
Mark goes back toward his office. Eduardo is on a call; he turns to smile at Mark even as he continues his conversation.
Mark looks through the papers on Eduardo’s desk, hunting down the contract which Legal have told him needs to be signed today on pain of death. Eduardo bats at Mark’s hand with the pen he had been spinning in his fingers. He slides the paperwork Mark had been looking for out of the pile, and passes it over without a pause.
In his office, Mark examines the contract. He’s pretty sure his job used to involve less of this stuff. He puts on his headphones and sinks into the pages like they’re code, like he just needs to go through it line by line and work it out.
Eduardo brings him lunch; Mark eats it while he takes a break to check on the site. Then he goes back to the more challenging problem of legal terminology.
He starts sending corrections at four, finishes the fight about a particularly ludicrous sub-clause at six thirty, and signs the thing at eight. Mark drops it onto Eduardo’s desk. “Done. Can you run this up to them?”
Eduardo says, “Sure. Are you going home?”
“Good,” Eduardo says simply. As though he means it, nothing more. Eduardo takes the paperwork and heads upstairs. Mark starts slowly collecting his things to head home. He turns around.
One of the leads in technical operations is in his doorway. Sam says, “The site’s about to go down.”
There’s a moment of ringing white noise in Mark’s head, like he can’t quite process the sentence. Mark asks, “Are you fucking with me?”
“Are we being hacked?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then what the hell is happening with my site?”
“We’re just- I don’t know, stability’s all over the place. We’re running queries but that’s just slowing us down even more.”
Sam takes a step backwards. “Maybe an hour. More if we shut down access to peripheral material and leave the barebones working. Just while we look for what’s causing the problem.”
“Go back to where we were three years ago, you mean.”
Eduardo is back. He has his phone headset on again. “Dustin, I need you in Mark’s office right now. Yeah.” He crosses the office to Mark. “Who else?”
“Andy. Sarah. Leah. Tim – Lieber, not Johnson. I don’t know-.”
Eduardo puts his hands on Mark’s arms. “What do you need?”
Eduardo doesn’t touch Mark like this, not on purpose. Mark exhales. “All of those people in a conference room, double that number of computers with full server access. Enough caffeine and sugar to keep everyone going. And I need you to stay late tonight.”
Eduardo laughs, a short breath. “I’ll cancel my plans then.” He moves aside and starts making calls.
Mark looks at Sam. “Go get your people. You have ten minutes to come up with something.” Sam leaves the room at a run.
Dustin finally turns up, his jacket halfway on or halfway off. “What the hell is going on?”
Mark says, “I need a list of everything recently upgraded by Engineering that could be causing this. Don’t look at me like that - I’m talking to Product too. Get me the list.”
Then there’s just Mark and Eduardo still in the office. Eduardo’s hand is back on Mark’s elbow. “I’m right here. Just tell me what you need.”
It’s eleven p.m. in California. There’s still a lot of East Coast traffic, Europe is waking up and it’s the middle of the day in Asia. This should not be happening.
Dustin asks, “Mark, are you sorted on your end? Cause I think we’ve got the fix ready.”
Sam looks at his team. “We’ve been keeping things running as best we can but there’s no way we can deploy an update across the site without-.”
“Bring everything down,” Mark says. “Get the fix in, and get us up again as quick as we can.”
“Mark, we’ll find out why this wasn’t spotted in time,” Sam says. “It won’t happen again.”
“No,” Mark says, “it won’t. Because every minute we go over an hour of downtime, I’m going to be firing someone.” He’s not sure if he means that or not.
Dustin grins at him. “Come on, we haven’t had this much excitement here in months!”
“Dustin,” Eduardo hisses.
“Not the time,” Dustin agrees. “Look, if I take more than forty-five minutes to get us going again, you can fire me.”
“Don’t test me on that.” Mark sighs. “Do it now.”
He has the site up on the big screen in the conference room. Mark clicks refresh: DNS failure. They get to work.
Thirty-five minutes in and the deploy is still running. Mark refreshes the site again.
Eduardo is sitting in the chair beside him. He says, conversationally, “How many tech wizards in this place and none of you can make the site refresh automatically?”
“Of course we can make it automatic,” Mark says. “It’s just not-.” He clicks the mouse again. Refresh, refresh, refresh.
“Forty three minutes, Dustin,” Eduardo calls. “How up to date is your résumé?”
Dustin keeps typing. “I remember when you were scared of me, Saverin.”
“I was never scared of you,” Eduardo says. “Mark’s scary enough for a whole office.”
Mark takes a second to stare at him.
Eduardo looks over Mark’s shoulder, and then back at Mark. He says, “Take a breath and hit refresh again.” Mark does. The screen loads up, slowly, into blue and white. What’s on your mind?
Mark exhales and leans his head back to stare at the ceiling.
Dustin pumps his fist into the air. “Thank God. Let’s get drunk.”
“You’re not going home?” Eduardo asks.
Dustin looks at him. “You think I could sleep right now? Could you?”
“No,” Eduardo admits. His fingers are tapping restlessly against the desk. They’ve been at it for a while; normally Mark would have stopped a person doing that by now.
Mark says, “Someone needs to write a statement.”
“I’ll-.” Sam says.
Shaking his head, Mark says, “No.”
“Mark, I meant it about finding out what happened.”
“I know you did. Write up the tech statement tomorrow, go and get a beer now. Someone in PR can do the immediate response. Chris picked a good day to be out of the office. Eduardo, can you find someone to…”
Eduardo is already walking away.
Mark calls, “and after that come back and find us.”
By the time Eduardo returns, Mark is already on his second beer. He’s not even pretending that this is going to be a light drinking evening. Eduardo hands him a page.
Mark says, “What’s this?”
“I thought you wanted to approve the statement?”
“I should probably do that.”
“That wasn’t why you told me to come back?” Eduardo asks.
“I told you to come back to get drunk with the rest of us.” Mark can hear Dustin laughing from all the way over there. He says, “Stay.”
Eduardo drops down onto the other end of the couch without protesting. He uncaps one of the beers, swinging it by the neck before taking a slow drink. He says, “I think I’m drunk on adrenaline anyway. Is it always like that?”
There is a chorus of ‘yes!’ though Mark feels he has to point out, “We’ve never had a crash like that before.”
“It could have been worse,” Dustin says.
Mark guesses that he’s right. He’s not happy about it, but it could have been worse. Mark approves the front-page statement and takes it up himself. When he gets back, Eduardo is sitting low on the couch, loose-limbed. His smile is slow, maybe more than a little drunk himself now. “Mark.”
Eduardo slides him a beer. “Tomorrow’s going to suck.”
“Probably. It’s not tomorrow yet though.”
“No,” Eduardo agrees solemnly, like Mark said something profound. He takes everything so seriously. Mark thinks he probably likes that about him.
There’s a ringing somewhere. It takes Mark a moment to figure it out. “Is that my phone?”
Eduardo stands up. “Hold on.”
“My cell, not my…” He follows Eduardo down the hallway, back to the abandoned conference room. He looks at the detritus: computers and drinks cans and screwed up pages.
Eduardo is picking Mark’s cell up from the floor. He says, “What is it?”
“Wardo, I need you-.”
“I’m here.” The words fall heavily into the darkened room. Mark doesn’t know what he had been going to say.
When Eduardo stands up, he ends up tight in the space between Mark and the desk. Eduardo touches his arm, deliberate. “What?” Mark asks. Meaning ‘why did you do that?’ not ‘what do you want?’
Eduardo says, “You,” and kisses him.
Mark steps closer to the table, pushing Eduardo against it. Eduardo inhales sharply, stealing Mark’s breath. Mark rests his hands on Eduardo’s hips, sliding his thumbs into the belt loops. Eduardo rocks forward.
Mark’s cell phone rings again, short, telling him to check his voicemail. It’s enough to jolt him out of the drunken haze. “Stop,” he says. “We need to stop.”
“I want- I need you here in the office, I need you not to have to leave because- we can’t do this.”
Eduardo struggles, trying to get away from Mark. When he has free space behind himself, not Mark or the desk he says, “I’m sorry.”
“I should never have- that was unprofessional.” He doesn’t slur any of the words. “I thought- but it won’t happen again, I promise.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, Mr Zuckerberg.” Eduardo doesn’t look at him, bolting out of the office.
Mark sits down, moving the chair back. He had pushed it out of his way, trying get a better angle with Eduardo against the desk. Mark turns the screen back on and hits refresh.
* * *
The first thing Chris says when he gets in that morning is, “I left you guys alone for two days.” And Mark thinks, of course, that he knows, that Eduardo has told him and Chris blames Mark. Then he realises that Chris is smiling - this must be about the crash.
Mark asks, “What do you imagine you could have done if you were here, exactly?”
Chris glares but he clearly doesn’t mean it – he’s still smiling and Mark doesn’t want him to know. He wants it to be two days ago with Eduardo lying on the couch beside him, both of them high with the rush of the late-night fix. There must have been something he could or should have done differently. If Mark hadn’t followed Eduardo, if he had turned on the lights or not crossed the room, then this wouldn’t happened. He should have been smarter than this.
Eduardo walks into Mark’s office, drops a file on his desk, whispers, “Mr Zuckerberg,” and leaves again.
Chris watches Eduardo leave, and then the space where he was standing. He says, “Mark. I left you guys alone for two days.” The emphasis is heavier this time, deliberate and disappointed.
Mark looks at the keyboard. “I didn’t do anything.”
“I didn’t. Why does everyone always assume that I’m the bad guy in these situations? I didn’t do anything.”
“So you didn’t-.”
“I didn’t fuck him, I didn’t try to fuck him. We were drunk: he kissed me and I stopped it.” Eventually his conscience dutifully adds, but Mark doesn’t say that part out loud.
Chris says, “And if I asked Eduardo, that’s what he would tell me?”
“I don’t know what he’d tell you, but that’s what happened.”
“And what did you say?”
“I told him that I didn’t want him to leave.”
“In those exact words?”
“I was drunk, Chris, I have no idea which exact words I used but I didn’t say anything that could be misconstrued as anything other than a clear and professional understanding that we couldn’t do that.”
Chris sighs. “I’m beginning to build up a picture, thank you. And you haven’t talked to him since?”
“Not about that.”
“Even better. Look, I still have to go and do many many things to address your other catastrophe of two nights ago, but I’ll try and make time to talk to Eduardo as well, okay?”
“You don’t need to.”
“I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable. More uncomfortable. We’ll get back to normal, we don’t need to talk.”
Except that over the next few days it becomes clear that there is a problem with this reasoning. Eduardo doesn’t seem to know that things will go back to normal soon. Eduardo hasn’t said anything longer than, “Will there be anything else, Mr Zuckerberg?” to Mark in five days. He is quietly, worryingly polite; Mark would rather he threw a punch.
Mark decides on a new tack. He comes in early the next morning and sets it up.
Precisely sixty-three seconds after Eduardo’s arrival, he walks into Mark’s office. “Why is there a new MacBook on my desk?”
“I thought you might like one. In case you ever need to work from home. Or we go on any more trips.”
“I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon. And I can’t take this.”
“It’s a business expense,” Mark says. It’s not a gift. It’s something Eduardo might need for his job now and will certainly need when he eventually leaves Mark to go and do whatever he wants to do with the business degree he doesn’t have yet. It was a gesture. It shows the importance of his role in the company.
Eduardo doesn’t seem to be taking it that way. He sets the laptop down, untouched, on Mark’s desk, and goes back out of the office.
When Dustin comes in, sometime after lunch, he stops to look at it. “New?”
“I got it for Eduardo. He doesn’t want it.”
Dustin sits on the arm of Mark’s couch. “Yeah, I’m gonna need more than that.”
“He doesn’t have a computer,” Mark says. “I guess he can’t afford one, though he does keep buying all those books.”
“You and Eduardo had an almost-whatever. After which you blew him off and utterly humiliated him, allegedly in order to prove that you wanted to keep your relationship professional.” Dustin hadn’t really understood Mark’s reasoning, when Mark had tried to explain. Then, Dustin apparently doesn’t understand why Mark hasn’t just asked Eduardo to go out with him.
Mark tries to state his case. “I didn’t-.”
“And then, just to highlight the incredibly and exclusively professional nature of your relationship, you bought him an extremely expensive present.”
“It wasn’t that expensive.”
Dustin comes to look at the laptop, turning it over to examine the spec. He says, “This is top of the line.”
“Why would I buy him one that wasn’t the best?”
Dustin stares at him. “I give up.” He goes back to his own office. Mark wonders why he had come to Mark’s office in the first place.
Chris reappears at about six. He says, “I sort of want to punch you right now,” with a dazed tone like he’s not one hundred percent convinced about this.
“Only you are capable of doing the right thing in the absolute worst way possible.”
“Yes, but that’s why I have you. What specifically have I done now?”
Chris sighs. “Eduardo, Mark, remember?”
Mark has spent the past four hours industriously ignoring the situation with Eduardo, but he nods. “You talked to him.”
“Yeah. You should talk to him.”
Mark says, “I don’t think that would help.”
“I don’t really see how it could make things worse.”
Eduardo appears at Mark’s doorway. “Do you need anything before I leave for the night, Mr Zuckerberg?”
That was, at least, a longer sentence. Though Mark has grown unused to Eduardo leaving the office before him without being ordered to go. Mark shakes his head. “No.”
Chris says “Eduardo, Dustin and I are going out for drinks, if you want to come.”
Eduardo manages to muster up a smile for Chris. “Thank you,” he says, “but I can’t. I have a date.” He shoots a quick look at Mark, expression indecipherable.
Mark nods. “Okay. But make sure you’re free on Monday night, you need to come to the thing.”
“The black tie cocktail event,” Eduardo says flatly. “What makes you think I can get hold of a tux by Monday night?”
By their standards, that’s an inordinately ridiculous question. Mark says, “I’ll get you a tux.”
Eduardo just stares at him for a moment. Then: “You’ll… You know what, fuck you.” He turns on his heel and leaves.
Chris asks, “Mark, what the hell is wrong with you?”
* * *
Eduardo emails Mark from a personal email account at two a.m., apologising for crude language. Mark is more concerned about where Eduardo is getting internet access in the middle of the night.
Mark emails back right away, saying, “It’s fine,” and nothing more.
On Monday morning, neither of them mentions it. And on Monday evening, Eduardo goes to get changed and comes back in a black tux, white shirt, and perfectly knotted black bowtie.
In a concession to the occasion, Mark is wearing black dress pants with a white shirt and a regular black tie, with a sports jacket thrown over the top. If he had gone with a bowtie – something Mark is not sure he even owns – he could have asked Eduardo to tie it for him. That might have been inappropriate, but Mark thinks he could probably have got away with it. A wasted opportunity.
They get a car over to the reception: Mark, Dustin, Chris and Eduardo. It doesn’t feel strange, just the four of them.
Dustin grins at Eduardo, “You’re really rocking the tux - I like it.”
Eduardo shrugs. “It’s like three years old.”
“Yeah, well, Mark could be wearing this season’s Dolce and he’d still look like he’s being dragged to someone’s Bar Mitzvah.”
Mark wants to protest but then Eduardo smiles a little, and that seems more important than reminding the two of them that he is still actually in the car.
Dustin chatters to Eduardo the whole way there, and they get to the reception without any awkwardness.
Eduardo looks at Mark when they climb out of the car. “Do you want me to…?”
“Just come with me.”
Mark has a list of people he’s supposed to be saying hello to. If they’re lucky, Eduardo might know who some of these people are, because Mark certainly doesn’t. He recognises names, but he’s not sure how many of them he’s met in real life. Mark really didn’t ask Eduardo to come with him just to be annoying.
Mark is about two thirds of the way down his list. He ghosts his hand over the small of Eduardo’s back. “-and this is my assistant, Eduardo Saverin. He’s the one you need to talk to about the calculations in the presentation.”
Eduardo grabs Mark’s arm. “Could I have a moment, please?”
Mark lets himself be dragged to the side of the room. He inclines his head in question.
Eduardo says, “Can you please stop trying to be nice? It’s unnerving.”
“You’ve introduced me, by name, to the heads of at least ten corporations.”
“And there was the computer.”
“And, I’m not your date, Mark. And I’m not going to make trouble for you, so I’m not sure what you’re doing. I was the one who-.”
“What?” Eduardo asks.
“Chris says we need to talk.”
“Do you think it would help?”
“I didn’t,” Mark admits. “But I’m starting to think he might have had a point. Come with me.”
“I’m always with you,” Eduardo grumbles quietly, following after Mark. He still follows.
Mark waits until they’re outside, snagging two glasses of champagne on the way. Eduardo refuses the alcohol, which Mark probably could have predicted. Mark says, “I apologise if I unnerved you. But I don’t know what you want.”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t want you to leave. Not just because it would be messy and uncomfortable and I’m used to you here. It’s important to me that you’re here. I don’t have many… friends, I guess. I like that part.” He exhales. That was more than he meant to say.
“I shouldn’t have put you in a position where…” Eduardo trips over the words. “I misinterpreted.”
What Mark should say is ‘you didn’t.’ But that is only going to complicate a problem which has already occupied most of his week. Mark can’t have Eduardo, so what does it matter if Eduardo is confused about the reasons why it’s a bad idea? What Mark says, again, is, “Don’t leave.”
“I wasn’t. Stop trying to… seriously, Mark, what were you trying to achieve with all of that?”
Mark shrugs. “I want you to like it here.”
Eduardo’s expression softens. “Okay. You don’t need to bribe me into doing that. Now, come on, you still have ten people on that list. I swear, you’re the only person I know who needs to be given instructions to go to a drinks reception.” He heads back into the crowd and Mark follows.
The next morning, Dustin emails him the link to the photostream. Usually he’s just doing it to mock. Mark opens it up and flicks through to try and see why this time Dustin has sent it without commentary. There’s a watermarked press photo, with a caption that reads: ‘Facebook Creator Mark Zuckerberg and assistant Eduardo Saverin deep in conversation with-.’ Mark’s hand is on Eduardo’s shoulder and Mark has turned his head to smile up at him. Eduardo is gesturing animatedly at whoever they were talking to, trying to make a point about something. Mark honestly doesn’t remember the other man’s name. He only remembers saying, “Eduardo could actually tell you more about that-,” and cutting himself off because Eduardo was sighing at him. Eduardo had looked across at him and saw something because when Mark pointed out sharply, “You could, this isn’t me being…” Eduardo had finally jumped in and started talking.
* * *
Mark hates that Eduardo does this to him. He’s not distracted precisely, because Mark has built a career out of the single-minded focus that used to get him yelled at for inattention to other people. But he does have enough brainpower to nevertheless have noticed that Eduardo is still not quite right. He’s aware of the not rightness of it, in all the gaps when he surfaces from the code and looks across the office to where Eduardo is calling his name from all the way over at the doorway. If Mark walks over to him, Eduardo won’t back away, but neither will he cross the distance himself.
Mark sighs. “Yes, Eduardo?”
“You have a call.”
Eduardo doesn’t say anything.
Mark asks, “Who is it?”
“I think you might want to talk to someone in Legal before taking it. At least talk to Chris.”
“Who is it?”
“Give me the phone.”
“Give me the phone.”
Mark closes the office door and picks up the call. His focus shifts, as quickly as ever, to the new problem, until Eduardo and everything else goes away.
There’s a fairly limited range of things Mark gets angry about. He knows that other people think he overreacts about small problems, but that isn’t anger. He gets angry about Facebook, and things which threaten Facebook.
He hung up on Sean.
Eduardo opens the door to let Chris and Dustin into the office. He stands there with his hand curled around the open door until Mark snaps, “Wardo, come in if you’re coming.”
Eduardo steps inside, closing the door behind him. He stands up against it like a guard.
Dustin says, “They were eighteen though, right?”
Chris sits on the couch, head in his hand. “They were eighteen. It doesn’t matter.”
“Legally it matters,” Mark says.
“Yeah, but for our purposes… Sean Parker, two barely eighteen years old girls in a hot-tub. Champagne and drugs. Blonde twins. Who just happen to be the daughters of a Congressman.”
Mark says, “So it doesn’t look good.” Chris glares at Mark through his fingers – he’s not a fan of understatement.
“What’s the main problem here?” Dustin asks. “The drugs or the girls?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mark says. “What do we say?”
“What did he say when you spoke to him?” Chris asks.
“He didn’t seem to understand the problem.”
“Typical.” That’s Dustin, who has never liked Sean very much.
“What do we say?” Mark asks.
“We can only say ‘no comment’ for so long.” Chris looks straight at Mark. “What we say is your call.”
“What should we say then?” Mark asks. Semantics.
Chris stands up. “Still your call.”
“Sucks to be the boss,” Dustin adds.
“Mark,” Chris says. “If you want to defend him, we’ll figure out what to say. You want to let him… we’ll do that too. But you decide where to draw the line.”
Mark doesn’t want to do that. This isn’t his side of things; this is why he has a staff. So he doesn’t have to decide how to handle a PR disaster with the guy whose influence was all over the company in its early days. The problem has been building for years now but Mark hates Sean for forcing him to make this decision. “Fine,” Mark says. “Go. I’ll think about it.”
Chris and Dustin leave, talking amongst themselves as they cross the floor. Eduardo looks at Mark. “Do you need anything?”
“No. No calls, don’t let anyone in.”
“What if it’s-.”
“Especially not if it’s Sean.”
Mark doesn’t even hear Eduardo closing the door. He opens up the news blogs and the email copies of the report.
He has a couple of hours before they really do need to say something. Eduardo does what Mark asked, and it’s late in the day before anything happens to disturb him.
There’s a noise outside. Mark looks up. He sees Eduardo through the glass, standing up on the other side of the door. The door is opened under Eduardo’s arm but Eduardo holds his ground.
Mark stands up.
Eduardo’s fingers are white around the doorframe. “Mr Zuckerberg says no visitors.”
Sean says, “I bet he didn’t mean me.”
“He was actually very explicit about meaning you. Now go away please, I’ll let him know you came by.”
“Mark doesn’t get to decide he doesn’t want to see me. If it wasn’t for me, he’d be working for technical support from a fucking cubicle right now.” Sean is usually calmer than this.
“That’s not-.” Eduardo says
“And now he gets to cherry-pick his own allegedly hot assistants to blow him under the desk and he gets to tell me that I’m-.”
“You know what, you little piece of shit, it’s Mr Parker to you, and you can tell your precious boss that if I’m going down for this, he’s coming with me. Get out of the way.”
Eduardo unclenches his hand from the doorway and lowers his arm.
Mark takes a step forward.
Eduardo pulls his hand back and swings. He catches Sean across the face; there is a crack of contact. Sean falls down to the floor. He puts his hands over his nose, blood dripping from it.
Sean fumbles his way up, looking like he might want to hit back. Mark has probably never got across his office so fast.
Eduardo turns quickly, bumping into Mark’s chest. “I’m sorry,” Eduardo says. “That was…”
Sean takes a step. “You’re not going to fire him?”
“No. And I’d like you to leave, now. You’ll have the use of Facebook’s lawyers and publicists to get out of this, but it’s the last time. Don’t come back to the office, and anything that happens from here on out, I don’t care. Don’t try and make it my problem.”
Sean’s face pales. “If I hadn’t found you-.”
“Yes. What have you done for me lately?”
It’s a cheap shot but Sean stumbles backwards like Mark punched him too.
Mark says, “Do I need to call security? I’m not sure that it would help your case, but I’m willing to do it.”
Mark raises his eyebrow. “Yes or no on security?”
Sean storms out, leaving silence in his wake.
Mark says, “Back to work.” Now there’s too much noise, everyone hurrying back to their desks and whispering loudly.
Eduardo follows him into the office.
Mark looks at his hand. “Do you need to ice that?”
“I know how to throw a punch.”
“Interesting. So I should probably tell Legal and Communications that they need to deal with this.”
“What is it?” Mark asks.
“I didn’t think you would…” Eduardo says. “You just cut him off.”
“He’s a liability,” Mark says. “We can’t have stories like that – I won’t allow one person to ruin everything we’ve built here. He’s not worth it.”
“He’s not your friend?”
“It doesn’t matter now.” It was more complicated than that, but it really doesn’t matter now. Mark’s not going to fire Eduardo for punching Sean.
Eduardo nods. “Okay. Do you want me to call Legal?”
“Yes, you call Legal, I’ll call Communications about the statement. Let me know where we are.”
Eduardo goes back to his desk, closing the door again. Mark calls upstairs and tries to get some of his incredibly talented employees to write a statement that creates distance without sounding like they’re just trying to cover their ass. That takes pretty much the rest of the day.
It’s after eleven, and it’s dark on the main floor. Mark thinks he may be the last one here, even after all the excitement today. He told everyone to go home when they could, and make sure not talk to reporters about Sean. There’s a light on down the hallway. Mark goes to turn it off, dimly hearing his mother in his head talking about ‘throwing money away’.
Eduardo yelps, dropping the cover of the photocopier.
Mark tries to get his own heart rate under control. “Hey. Uh, sorry. I thought everyone was…”
“I think everyone else is.”
“So what are you still doing here?”
Eduardo stares pointedly at the photocopier. “I was finishing off some things.”
“Okay. I should go back to my office.”
Eduardo nods and opens the photocopier again. But just a few minutes later he’s in Mark’s office, standing in the doorway. All the time now, he’s standing there like he’s waiting.
Mark has already turned the light off in here, just about to leave. Eduardo’s eyes are dark and hooded in his shadowed face. Mark says, “Come here.”
Eduardo closes the door, shutting out the rest of the empty offices. He’s across the room in four strides. “Here,” he says, “What is it?”
You, Mark thinks, but doesn’t say. There’s just enough light from outside the room that when he grabs for Eduardo’s lapels, he doesn’t miss. Eduardo doesn’t crash into Mark, he’s just suddenly standing right up against him. Mark turns them around so Eduardo is the one against the desk. They’ve been here before.
Eduardo starts saying something which could be ‘what?’ again, or maybe ‘why?’ Mark doesn’t have an answer to either of those. It’s been a long day and being in charge is not all that Mark was promised. He wants this. He steadies Eduardo’s face with his hands and kisses the questions away.
Eduardo cants his hips up, against the hand Mark doesn’t remember putting there. Mark’s other hand is wrapped around Eduardo’s belt. Mark undoes the belt and fly and pulls Eduardo forward to the edge of the desk. Eduardo says, “I have… in my desk.”
“In your- stay there.”
Mark goes to hunt through Eduardo’s desk drawers until he finds the lotion, and looks through his own wallet for a condom. Eduardo is still on the desk; he takes the bottle from Mark and lets Mark push his pants and underwear down. Their hands tangle, slippery with the lube and trying to take control.
“Wait,” Eduardo says, with his palm on Mark’s chest. He’s trying to clear the desk. “Let me move this.” There’s pretty much just a laptop and two pens on Mark’s desk, and there’s a brief moment where Mark doesn’t care about them at all. He wants to tell Eduardo that the computer is backed-up and everything important is on the servers, Mark doesn’t care. Eduardo can smash every computer here if he wants. He can’t let go of Eduardo long enough to form an argument, keeping his hand fisted in Eduardo’s shirt and following him across the room. “I’m not going anywhere,” Eduardo says, “not right now.” His laugh sounds strange. Then Mark’s never slept with anyone who laughed during.
Eduardo settles the computer down on the floor and comes back to the desk. He steps out of his shoes and pants, kicking them off. Eduardo sits far back on the desk and Mark is about to tell him that it’s not going to work from there when Eduardo lies back, nearly flat on the desk. Eduardo sits up on his elbows and looks at Mark.
He’s the best-looking thing Mark’s ever seen, but of course Mark doesn’t say that. He steps towards the desk and undoes his own fly, sliding his fingers into Eduardo and feeling him shake.
“Go,” Eduardo gasps, too quickly, when Mark has barely progressed to three fingers and even he knows that there’s supposed to be an order here. “Go,” Eduardo says, his legs impossibly wider, wrapping around Mark’s back.
When Mark guides himself in, slow, Eduardo stops talking. He arches up off the desk, his only real leverage his heels still pressing into Mark’s back.
Mark leans over so he can get his hand on Eduardo’s cock, getting enough of a twist that he can rub his thumb over the head and Eduardo chokes out something that might be Mark’s name. Eduardo shivers all over, shaking and tensing up around Mark. After that, it doesn’t take long.
Mark pulls out, grabbing tissues to clean them both up. Eduardo takes them from him, wiping himself off silently. Mark wouldn’t have thought he’d be so quiet.
Mark catches Eduardo’s elbow, when he’s dressed again. “Okay?”
“If you ask ‘is there anything else, Mr Zuckerberg?’ I may have to kill you.”
Eduardo’s smile barely touches his mouth. “Goodnight, Mr Zuckerberg.”
* * *
When Mark gets into the office on Monday morning, Eduardo’s letter of resignation is sitting on his desk. There’s a note stuck to the top (not part of the official record): I won’t be a liability.
* * *
Mark sits in his office until noon. He gets his phone out to call Eduardo four times in that period, and each time he puts it down again. Outside the office, the phone on Eduardo’s- on his assistant’s desk has been ringing shrilly all morning. Mark should probably go out there and put it on divert or something. Somehow he doesn’t manage to get up and do it.
Mark sends an intra-office email to Cheryl: Eduardo quit. I need a new assistant. Let me know when you have time to sort that out.
Cheryl is in the office in less than two minutes. Mark is quite impressed – HR is on another floor and she’s wearing heels. She says, “What happened?”
“Doesn’t matter. Try and find me someone who’s looking for a long-term job. This is a really bad time for an interruption.”
“I have a lot of work to do.”
“Mark, I told you that if you made this one leave I wasn’t going to-.”
“I didn’t make him leave. He left. Here, there’s a letter. Take it, and go do your job. I need to do mine.”
Mark pulls his headphones on. He’s been having some ideas about a redesign of the message system but at the end of last week, with Sean and everything else, he ran out of time. Now he has some.
People come and knock on his door occasionally but Mark ignores them until a large hand abruptly covers the screen he’s working on. Mark follows the arm upwards until he gets to Dustin’s face. “Yes?” Mark asks.
“Yes. Can I go back to work now?”
“No, you can’t. What happened? Was this because he punched Sean? Cause I’m pretty sure Sean was asking for it.”
“This has nothing to do with Sean.” That’s not precisely true. It has nothing to do with Eduardo punching Sean, but Mark is not a big believer in coincidences. Even the best computer can’t generate a completely random number – the patterns exist, if you have enough time and you know the key.
Dustin is waving his hand in front of Mark’s face. “Mark? Okay. So what did it have to do with?”
“I have no idea. Can I go back to work now?”
Dustin leaves. Mark’s email starts sending him notifications: from Chris, then Sam upstairs, and Cheryl, then Chris again. He turns the notifications off and starts coding. He wants to do something new.
* * *
They won’t let it go. It’s been a week now and the two of them are still asking him ‘did you call Eduardo?’ and ‘did you figure out what happened?’ As though he’s going to suddenly remember that actually he did unintentionally insult Eduardo’s mother a few days before and if he just apologises, things will be okay again.
Chris sits on the arm of Mark’s couch and says, “He had a contract, you know. With a required notice period, so he shouldn’t have just left like that. We can try and get him that way.”
“He chose to leave, I’m not- no one is to try and force him back here. He wanted to leave.”
“I fucked him, okay? Is that what you wanted to hear, is that why you’ve been lurking around here all week?”
“Will you stop saying my name! Go away, I have actual work to do and this is not helping.”
Dustin pulls on his arm. “I think we need to be drunk for this conversation. Let’s go out.”
“I don’t want to go…”
“Okay, so let’s bring some vodka in here and talk this out. Unless we need lawyers. Do we need lawyers?”
“He’s not going to sue. I didn’t-.” Mark looks at them. “If we talk about this, will you both promise to let it go once I’m done?”
Dustin nods but Chris holds up his hand. “That depends on what you say.”
“You’re not really encouraging me to talk.”
“If it’s something that we need to deal with, I can’t promise that we won’t try and do that.”
“It’s not like that,” Mark says. “I didn’t- it’s not like I had to talk him into it.”
Chris opens his mouth – clearly about to say ‘Mark’ again - and closes it. Instead he says, “That’s not the only thing that matters.”
“I know. Later. I need to get some work done. Come and get me later.”
Dustin and Chris aren’t as smart as Mark. That’s not arrogance, it’s just fact. They are, however, really damn smart. And they’re persistent and empathetic and – crucially – they are curiously committed to being good friends to Mark. Mark occasionally forgets this. He’s a little surprised when eight turns into nine and there they are, knocking at his door again. Dustin has vodka.
“Of course I have vodka. I’m doing the supportive buddy break-up dance, I’m getting you drunk first.”
The only real break-up Mark ever had led to Facebook. There hasn’t been anything else long enough or serious enough to warrant this kind of ritual.
Chris gives him a tentative smile. “It was vodka or ice-cream, just be glad I talked him out of that one.”
“I think I would have rather had the ice-cream,” Mark says.
Chris rolls his eyes. “Tough. You have vodka. Now explain to me why this isn’t a problem.”
Mark hadn’t said it wasn’t a problem. (He takes a drink.) It’s just not a Facebook problem. Mark will get a new assistant with an adequate words-per-minute speed and a good telephone voice, and this will stop mattering. Mark says, “I didn’t coerce him, I didn’t get him drunk. I didn’t threaten his job explicitly or impliedly, I didn’t promise a promotion or threaten to withhold a promotion, I didn’t promise a pay-rise or threaten to withhold a pay rise. And even if I had done any of those things, it still wouldn’t matter because Eduardo would never say anything.”
“You’re so sure about that?” Chris asks.
“I am completely sure about that.” Eduardo would never do that. It would be sordid and messy and Eduardo is always so careful not to make trouble.
“So why did you-.”
Mark rubs his eyes. “Because I wanted to. Because my day sucked and I was shitty to him and he was still there and he kissed me first. And I liked him.” They’re not getting more than that.
There’s a long silence. Maybe that was more than they were expecting.
Dustin asks, “So why not get him back? We can deal with whatever gets thrown at us, if that’s what you want. Come on, we’ve dealt with Sean this whole time, we can make it work.”
“I’m not Sean! I don’t get to just- it doesn’t matter, what I want. It still looks like the other thing. And he needs a job, he wants to save up for college. I can’t pay him more because it looks like I’m bribing him to sleep with me and I can’t tell him not to go because it looks like I’m blackmailing him into sleeping with me. Even if none of those things mattered-.”
“He’s studying to go into business. How do you think it looks to those people if it comes out that he let his boss fuck him while he was working as a goddamn secretary?”
“Mark.” Chris, again. It’s amazing the different things he makes Mark’s name carry. This is pity, which is Mark’s least favourite. He preferred the irritation.
“I’m not doing that to him,” Mark says. “He had all the overtime in the world built up so the notice period doesn’t matter – the record’s going to show that he resigned to pursue another opportunity, we parted amicably and professionally and the references he gets are going to glow. That’s the end of it. Are we done now?”
Chris nods, but he uses Mark’s shoulder to pull himself up, and holds on there for a while. Chris brings the vodka bottle over to them on the floor. He sits by Dustin to drink it, and though they haven’t done the break-up thing before, they did have evenings like this in college. As always, Dustin gets drunk the fastest (though he also never gets hit as hard as Mark or Chris). Mark can just about hear Dustin whispering – too loud – in Chris’s ear, “-actually in love with him though-.” Mark takes a long drink. He hadn’t said that.
* * *
Mark tries to be a good boss. He’s never going to be great at dealing with people, and he knows that he’s not the guy his employees go to when they want to confide in someone. His door is not always open, in either the literal or the metaphorical sense. Basically he has a system set up where only a dozen or so people are directly responsible to him - everyone else gets to take their sob stories to their own line manager. If something happens which is serious enough that it gets brought to Mark, he mostly does whatever he’s asked, whether that’s extending compassionate leave or facilitating a department move or whatever. He does his own job and he tries not to make life harder for anyone else. That is him being a good boss. He’s really not deliberately making Cheryl want to bang her head against a wall.
“I’m running out of viable candidates.”
“You’ve rejected four pages of qualified people, most of them without interview. And of the last six temps, none of them have made it past three days.”
“It’s a difficult job,” Mark says. “They weren’t good enough.”
“Fine, but I’m fairly sure you made the last one quit because she couldn’t do complex algebra in her head.”
“That wasn’t the reason.” It was a contributing factor, sure, but it wasn’t the reason.
“I don’t know what more I can do here,” Cheryl says.
Cheryl leaves, still sporting that pinched, worried look that Mark’s seeing a lot lately.
Mark goes back to work. He can manage perfectly well on his own. Maybe he just doesn’t need an assistant, has she thought about that?
This pleasant thought lasts for about as long as it takes him to notice that, while there is clearly a gap in his schedule this afternoon for some reason, he has no idea what the reason is. Mark is mostly optimistic that someone out in the main office knows what’s happening, but he’s not sure who that someone might be. He goes to investigate.
Mark knocks into a woman and she curses inventively when she drops her papers. Mark stops to help her pick them up. “Sorry, Marta,” he says, once he has definitely established who he’s talking to. Marta is in admin. She coordinates the assistants and the telephones and makes sure they don’t all book a meeting in the same room at the same time. She might know what he’s supposed to be doing this afternoon. Though she doesn’t look particularly happy.
“It’s fine,” she says. “It was probably my fault.”
It definitely wasn’t her fault, and now she’s stacking pages together hurriedly. Mark asks, “Is everything… okay? Do you need me to help you carry this?”
“We’re just busy,” she says. “Ever since Eduardo-.” She stops.
Marta manages the front desks as well. They’ve been picking up Mark’s calls and dealing with his calendar. “Yes?” he asks.
She stands up – all five foot two of her – to look him in the eye. “We’re swamped. There’s too much work for it to be done by anyone other than one, dedicated assistant. I haven’t had time to even grab a cup of coffee in three weeks.”
“Cheryl is working on…”
“Well, good. Because we all miss Eduardo but it’s too much. You know you’re supposed to be getting ready for your meeting with the Apps people, yes?” She takes the papers Mark has been gathering up and dashes away to her desk.
Mark follows her, from a distance, just until he can hear the phone ringing incessantly and see them struggling to keep up with the calls.
He goes back to his office and calls Cheryl. “Pick one.”
“I’m going to hate them anyway so just pick one. I don’t need to interview, get them to start on Monday.”
* * *
Her name is Vanessa, she’s tall for a girl and she calls him ‘Mark’ every time after the first time he corrects her. Mark does his best not to hate her on sight.
She’s pretty good at the job, Mark guesses, though that doesn’t seem to help him much. She figures out the phone system right away, and she types with the smooth patter of someone who has probably never threatened a computer in anger.
“Will there be anythi-,” she says, and stops. “Mark? Do you need anything?”
“No. Thank you. No.”
“Okay. So is it all right if I leave? I have to pick up my sister and it’s already...”
Mark shakes his head. “Sure, go.”
“I’ll be in tomorrow at eight to get you the notes for your meeting. Bye, then.”
Mark suspects he has forced her into an informality that she’s not completely sure about. He’s aware that he scares people who don’t know him. And a few of the people who do know him. But Vanessa is clearly an intelligent woman who has established for herself that her boss is a little messed-up and that calling him Mr Zuckerberg will not help with that problem. Again, Mark has noticed that she’s smart, he’s not completely irrational about this.
About ten days after she has started working for him, she manages to locate a document which Mark was pretty sure had vanished entirely. He manages to nod at her and say thank you.
She smiles brightly, “Yeah, Eduardo left really good notes.”
Mark’s hand slides off the mouse. “I’m sorry?”
Vanessa stops smiling. “Handover notes? They must have been sitting in the desk for a while, I guess no one else found them. I mean they’re dated from a couple of months ago. On a CD, believe it or not. Old-school.”
Mark nods. “Eduardo isn’t actually… that doesn’t surprise me.”
“But they’re great notes. Really detailed, all of the information about your calendar and whose calls to pass straight through and where he saved things on the shared drive and the weird places other people back things up. I’ve worked some temp jobs – well, more than some, God, this economy – and the person just left without preparing anything. Like they didn’t care about what happened, they were just gone, you know?”
“But he left these. So it must have mattered to him, how you got along afterwards.” She smiles again, like Eduardo’s consideration makes her feel more kindly towards Mark.
It seems like there might be something in that. Mark does end up liking Vanessa more now that it has turned out that she’s not psychic, just capable of absorbing Eduardo’s apparently detailed notes very quickly. Mark does not give into the temptation to go and see what Eduardo wrote about him. He knows that it will be a professional, thorough list of information, with no hints whatsoever about the other parts. It was written to ease Vanessa through the transition, not Mark. (It still matters.)
So at least they get through the next few weeks without Mark making her quit or Vanessa making him fire her. It’s progress of a sort.
She drops an envelope on his desk. Mark lifts it up and says, “This is for Cheryl. She’s upstairs in-.”
Vanessa says, “She interviewed me, I know. No, she said to pass it onto you, you’d want to deal with it personally.” She goes back to her desk and the envelope sits beside his laptop until he remembers it the next day.
It’s a request for a reference. These things are really generic nowadays - it’s all tick boxes and ‘please rate, on a scale of one to five…’ Mark takes down the return address and throws the pages into the trash. He opens up a new tab in the browser and then a new document. It takes a few hours research, but he gets what he needs. Then he just has to write. That part is surprisingly easy, as long as he never stops to think about it. Mark just starts typing, and keeps going until he’s written something which gets closer to the truth than a line of fives.
Mark calls Communications, after putting the letter with the rest of the external mail. He says, “I want to launch a new initiative. I need money and press contacts and probably some lawyers. I’ll be up there in ten minutes.”
There might be nothing left to fix, and Mark gets that now. He is going to be missing Eduardo’s presence at his shoulder for as long as it takes. But there’s still worth in an action that matters, even if it can’t get him where he wants to be.
* * *
It’s a Thursday in September, and Mark is staring at the screen on his laptop. His news feed refreshed while he was looking at something else, and when he tabbed across again there was this.
has a test tomorrow. Remind me why I thought going back to college was a good idea?
1 hour ago · Like · Comment
Amelia Oh Not sure, but if you figure it out, can you let me know? I’m still trying to work out why I didn’t just use my skills to become a professional gambler instead. Must be easier than this class ;)
47 minutes ago · Like
Eduardo Saverin Aw, you don’t mean that. (Though you are a shark…)
41 minutes ago · Like
Anthony Mountbank Oh come on! Both of you are going to ace the test and you know it. Some of us mere mortals actually have to study.
35 minutes ago · Like
Amelia Oh *Eduardo*, maybe. He’s the one screwing with the class average :)
29 minutes ago · Like
Mark looks at the page for a little while. Eduardo had barely logged into Facebook the whole time he was working here. Now, he’s updated his location to Palo Alto, California, and he’s listing a .edu email.
The page - his page - is blithely prompting him: Write a comment…
Mark Zuckerberg Good luck with the test.
10 seconds ago · Like
Mark is in the office early the next morning. Late autumn sunshine pours through all of the glass walls. He goes to his office and tilts the blinds. Vanessa brings him some kind of salad for lunch, as well as an apple that Mark ignores.
He gets up because someone is laughing right outside his door. Someone is crouched beside Vanessa at the desk, pointing at the screen. There is a black rucksack leaning against the leg of the desk. Mark coughs, and Eduardo turns his head, smiling.
“You know forty people commented on my status asking how I knew ‘the’ Mark Zuckerberg? What’s it like to be a ‘the’ anyway?”
“What are you doing here?”
Eduardo taps the battered laptop sitting beside Vanessa’s computer. “This died. Someone told me maybe you might be able to help me with that.” He’s still smiling, wearing black slacks and a black dress shirt even on a day like this. No tie though. And he’s smiling at Mark.
Mark’s mouth bypasses his brain entirely and says, “Please just let me give you a computer – this one hurts me to even look at.”
Eduardo blinks at him. “And it’s so easy for you.”
“Mark.” Eduardo holds eye contact. “You got me a scholarship.”
“No,” Mark says. This is important. “I absolutely did not. Facebook sponsored a number of scholarships and I was extremely clear that you weren’t allowed to be eligible for any of them. I didn’t think you would like…”
“You were right. But at the same time as you were doing that, you wrote a letter.”
“You asked for a reference.”
“I gave Cheryl’s name because the school wanted to know where I’d been for the past nine months. You wrote a letter recommending me for a fellowship that I didn’t know existed. And I don’t think it went unnoticed by the school that I had a letter of recommendation from someone who was trying to give them a cut of fifty million dollars worth of scholarship funding.”
Mark shrugs. “Doesn’t matter, not if you deserved it. You also got a part-time internship. I had nothing to do with that.”
“I know you had nothing to do with- Mark.”
Eduardo pulls something out of his pocket.
Mark says, “You’re not supposed to have that.”
“I was very clear.”
“As the terrified forty-six year old deputy head of faculty told me. I don’t even want to know what you did to him.” Eduardo unfolds the page and starts reading. “ ‘Eduardo is brilliant, dedicated, and deserves to be able to pursue fully whatever he chooses to do.’” Eduardo looks at Mark, expecting some kind of response.
“I don’t know what you want,” Mark says.
Eduardo reaches up, tangling his hand in the loose cotton of Mark’s tee. He pulls Mark down to him, cupping his other hand around the back of Mark’s head. “I want to say thank you,” he whispers. His mouth is soft and warm and this time there is no sour tang of alcohol or misplaced adrenaline. He licks inside Mark’s mouth, tasting only of coffee and something else sweet.
Mark slides his arms under Eduardo’s, lifting them both up to stand. He says, “Why did you…” and doesn’t know if he means to end with ‘leave’ or ‘come back.’
Eduardo stops him. “Do you have anything important to do right now?”
“I have lots of-.”
Eduardo turns to Vanessa. “I’m kidnapping your boss. Can you clear his schedule?”
She grins and nods. “Done.”
Mark asks, “Did you plan on asking me?”
“I’m asking you now. Let me cook you dinner.”
Eduardo sighs and it’s so fucking familiar it’s like it sinks into Mark’s bones. “Come home with me,” Eduardo says.
Eduardo bites down on his lip. “Mark?”
Mark realises something. Eduardo hadn’t been sure of his welcome. He came all the way down here and he had kissed Mark in full view of everyone here without being sure how it would go down. And it occurs to Mark, the way he will sometimes put pieces together long after the fact, that someone has done this to Eduardo. Someone has made him nervous and unsure and it- Mark is pretty sure that it wasn’t him. Mark asks, “Wardo. Why’d you leave?”
“You got rid of Sean.” Eduardo must read Mark’s confusion because he continues, “I didn’t want you to ever have to decide between me and the company. Because the company would win but I think – I hope – that you wouldn’t be happy about doing it. I didn’t want to be the person who made you do that. I didn’t have the right.”
“Okay,” Mark says. “So why…?”
“Because you wished me good luck on my test. And because you didn’t offer to give me the money.” Eduardo leans forward. “Even though I know you were thinking about it.”
“You deserved the scholarship.”
“Which is why I said thank you. Now are you coming with me or not?”
Mark picks up his bag and his keys. “I’m going to drive you home.”
In the car, Eduardo meets his eyes in the rear-view mirror. There is a blinding smile on Eduardo’s face that Mark has never seen before.
* * *
Mark wakes up because an alarm is blaring somewhere to his left hand side. Eduardo reaches over him. “Sorry. I forgot to turn it off last night.”
“We were occupied.”
Settled back down onto the bed, Eduardo laughs. “Yeah.”
“You don’t have class today?”
“It’s Saturday, Mark. I have some class work to do but nothing that can’t…” He yawns, stretching out beside Mark.
Mark remembers, “How did your test go?”
“I don’t know, we won’t get them back until next week. I’m never… I never really know, with things like that. And it’s been a while.”
Mark says, “I’m sure you did fine. You always- I’m sure you did fine.”
Eduardo turns his head to kiss Mark’s shoulder. “Thank you. Are you going to stop being nice to me when I remind you that I still don’t have internet access in here?”
“No. But I might suggest that we go and get breakfast somewhere with wi-fi.”
There’s a place around the corner, apparently, where Mark and Eduardo can camp out in a corner booth. Mark checks in with the site and runs a few tests; Eduardo turns the pages of his textbook with one hand while holding a pastry with the other, dropping crumbs on the table. He orders too much coffee and Mark is a little worried that he’s going to be jittery by the end of the day, but Eduardo says that Mark doesn’t get to comment on anyone else’s diet.
None of this, however, happens at what would strictly speaking be termed breakfast-time. In the hours between Eduardo’s alarm going off, and what ends up being quite a late brunch, Eduardo lies dozing in a lazy sprawl on the too narrow bed, and Mark lies beside him. The sunbeams move in lines across the sheets.
Dustin texts him at ten a.m.: ‘ve given lovebirds long enough – what the fck is going on over there?
Again at ten twenty: did u elope?
Ten thirty: omg you did. Chris is gonna kill you both. Congrats!
Chris, two minutes later: Confiscated Dustin’s phone. But I will want info later. Happy for you both. Dinner?
Mark wakes Eduardo up. “Chris wants information. And to go to dinner, though that may be unrelated.” Eduardo had cooked again, the night before, it wasn’t just a line. Mark runs his hand up and down Eduardo’s arm.
“Hmm?” Eduardo asks. “Why? Are we spinning this?” His hair is messed up and he still looks mostly asleep.
Mark says, “There’s nothing to spin, is there?”
It is still, of course, on records both physical and online that Eduardo was Mark’s assistant. Probably someone is going to say something eventually, if only because Mark pisses off enough people on a regular basis that there’s always someone looking for ammunition. But Eduardo smiles, a slow curve across his face. “I think I’m ready to get up now. Come on, let’s go find somewhere with wi-fi and coffee. Time to go outside.”
Mark walks down the street with Eduardo at his shoulder, matching each other’s strides.