The problem with a new apartment is that he has to deal with the odd looks. In the old ones, once everyone was used to him, he'd stand outside the door waiting half an hour or more and nobody even blinked. With a new building, though, all the knocking tends to get nearby tenants riled up, and he runs the risk of having security ask him to leave.
As embarrassing as it is, though, he prefers it. After a couple of weeks, the neighbors will probably greet him by name—they always have before. It clearly means he spends too much of his life in apartment hallways, waiting for Mark to answer his goddamn door, but he feels like it'd be impolite if he didn't at least pretend to wait for permission before entering.
Knocking again, Eduardo calls, "Mark, you have thirty seconds to open the door or I'm coming in on my own."
There's no answer, so Eduardo sighs and digs out his key ring. Mark had started giving him copies two apartments ago, complaining that he wasted too much time letting Eduardo in and out. Eduardo almost always uses it when he comes over, but it still feels inappropriate.
"Why do you have a key if you never use it?" Mark says, without turning away from his desk, as soon as Eduardo gets the door open.
"In case you die and someone needs to retrieve your body," Eduardo says, a tired refrain. "Why are all these boxes still here?" Mark had moved into this apartment last weekend. Eduardo had helped him pick it out, so he's familiar with the layout, but when they'd toured the sample unit there hadn't been dozens of boxes lined along the front wall.
It's a lovely front wall, but the three large windows, with pre-installed gauzy curtains – which Mark insists he's going to replace with blackout curtains, because he dislikes the onslaught of light, even though the windows face north and never get direct sunlight – are half-blocked by all of Mark's boxes, which are already being used as tables for dirty cups, empty cans, and scraps of paper. The only other things in the room are Mark's desk, desk chair, and laptop, his couch, coffee table, and the TV opposite them, which is tuned as always to IFC.
Mark always leaves the TV on; it's the one constant throughout every apartment, but Eduardo can count on one hand the times he's seen it off mute. He doesn't understand the point of the TV if there's no sound from it, especially considering Mark barely even glances up at it. Mark had said, when Eduardo had asked back at the beginning, that he just didn't understand the ambiance, which was such a heavily ironic statement that Eduardo had actually been speechless.
"I haven't unpacked yet," Mark says.
"The movers were supposed to unpack everything," Eduardo says.
"They were in the way," Mark says. "I made them leave."
"Mark, you never unpack on your own," Eduardo complains. He has personal experience with this – in the second apartment, three years ago, Mark had still been living out of boxes by the time his lease was up. Part of the reason Eduardo had made him move out was just to get him properly moved in somewhere else. "I'll call and have them come back over. Let them do it this time, please."
"Fine," Mark says. He still hasn't turned around.
"By the way," Eduardo says, and sits down on Mark's couch. There's something showing on TV that looks like a documentary on planes. "What time is it?"
"I have no idea," Mark says, "but I've obviously already missed the meeting or you wouldn't be here, so let's commence with the rhetorical questions."
"Mark," Eduardo snaps, "while you may take most things for granted, I expected you to appreciate this."
"Why would I," Mark says.
"Being optioned is a good thing," Eduardo says, sighing. He's tired of going over this. "Look, I had to reschedule it, and he wasn't available again until the week after next. This is hurting you, Mark. I'll come by and pick you up next time. You can't miss it again."
Mark makes an indeterminate noise and keeps typing.
Eduardo rolls his eyes and pulls his laptop out of his bag. He's got half an hour left on his lunch break and he doesn't feel like going back to the office yet.
He opens up one of his most recent queries. It's from a young woman who's submitted to them before, and Eduardo vaguely remembers her; she'd shown promise. But potential isn't enough to get an agent from Lanning Literary Agency, and so far her second attempt isn't proving much better. He gives up and puts it aside after the first chapter, sending her the form email saying thanks, try again.
He digs through a couple more emails before he gives up. He goes to hover over Mark's chair, because Mark hates that and Eduardo feels like getting even for being abandoned at the meeting earlier.
"Staring won't make me write faster," Mark says.
"Are you sure?" Eduardo asks, but he retreats when Mark glares at him.
As difficult as Mark is, it'd be nice if more of their clients were like him. Eduardo may spend a lot of time tracking him down and keeping him where he's supposed to be, but Mark's always worth the investment, unlike a lot of other authors the agency represents. Most writers don't produce a Pulitzer Prize winner and future movie on their second try at a novel; Mark did. He also never let success slow him down. He's always been worth the agency's investment. Until this most recent novel, Eduardo's never had to worry about his work.
"Any idea how close you are to finished with the first draft?" Eduardo asks. He can't help himself. "It's not too late to send it in for rush editing. Otherwise there's no problem pushing the publisher's date back, but if you'll let me know—"
"Go away," Mark says. "Don't do anything."
Eduardo huffs. "My lunch break is over. I've got to get back to the office."
Mark's head moves slightly; it might be a nod or it might be coincidence.
"I'll see you this weekend," Eduardo says.
"Why?" Mark asks, pausing.
"The book event is this Saturday," Eduardo reminds him. "I'm coming by to get you in the morning. It's been planned for months, it's only four hours of your life, and you're not getting out of this one." He'd escaped the last one. Eduardo had gone to the bathroom after giving a bookstore employee strict instructions to watch Mark for five minutes, but when Eduardo had come back the employee had let Mark go get coffee; Mark never came back.
Eduardo ignores Mark's grumbling and lets himself out.
"Five more minutes," Sean says, grabbing Eduardo's arm as he tries to open the car door.
"We're already twenty five minutes late!" Eduardo says.
"Five minutes," Sean repeats. "Mark's entire image is his disregard for society and other people. Showing up on time could ruin that."
"Twenty five minutes late is not on time," Eduardo says, but he sits back in his seat.
"Who's the publicist here?" Sean asks.
Sean is. And Eduardo may not like Sean, but he's good at his job.
In the back seat, Mark hasn't even twitched. He's chewing on Red Vines. His mouth is being stained red.
"Mark," Eduardo says, and takes the candy from him. "Use the mouthwash before we go in, you look like a kid."
Sean says, "We can work that. He's the kid, you're the nagging mother, and I'm the cool uncle. This could be good."
"Shut up," Eduardo says. "Are having red teeth and disgusting breath good for his image?"
"No," Sean says. "But to be fair, it probably wouldn't actually do that much damage either."
Mark snorts. Eduardo rolls his eyes and puts the rest of the candy in the dash compartment.
"Okay," Sean says a couple of silent, boring minutes later. "Mark, out of the car."
"Mouthwash," Eduardo says.
Mark rolls his eyes but grabs the little bottle, taking a swig. He swallows.
"Because smelling like alcohol is better than smelling like candy," Sean says, and climbs out of the car too. Eduardo takes a deep breath and steels himself before joining them.
Chris is waiting for them inside. "You're late," he hisses, with enough venom that even Sean looks a little perturbed.
"I'm sorry," Eduardo says, and nudges Mark further into the bookstore. The place is packed, a normally heavy crowd doubled, all here for Mark's signing. Mark is looking wary.
"We've already got everything set up," Chris says, and starts pushing everyone towards the back.
It's on the third floor, and as they take the stairs up, Chris says, "The room is going to be packed, we barely had space for the tables. They started letting people up before we got here, which was part of the problem, and though we got them all back downstairs, we could've used a bigger venue." The last is said a bit pointedly.
"Hey, it's not my fault," Sean says breezily. "You think we should've done this at some corporate shit hole?"
"How many people do you think will be here?" Eduardo interrupts.
"Couple hundred," Sean says, shrugging. "Mark is going to be a busy boy."
Mark looks murderous. Eduardo winces.
"Relax," Sean says. "You read a chapter, sign shit, it'll be over soon. You don't have to talk."
"Except to the customers," Chris says darkly.
"Eh," Sean says, and shrugs again.
Chris is wary out of long experience. He met Mark shortly after Eduardo did, while Mark was still doing the press run for his second novel.
There had been a signing at a smaller independent bookstore, and it had been Mark and Eduardo there by themselves. Normally, the bookstore set up the displays and got everything ready ahead of time. Eduardo would make sure Mark showed up on time and met the people who wanted to talk to him, and then get him out as soon as possible.
But Mark, who was already famous, disliked interacting with his readers, and Eduardo was new and unprepared. There were more people than they had been expecting, and when Eduardo had gone to the front to help deal with a customer who was stealing things from their display, Mark decided he'd had enough.
Some stupid grad student decided he wanted to actually discuss Mark's book with him, instead of getting an autograph and moving on. This was made worse, however, because he started his discussion with a neatly compiled list of what he considered the novel's greatest faults.
Mark hadn't taken it well, and it turned out that his readers didn't appreciate his "acerbic wit" quite so much when the vitriol was aimed at them.
To protect their interest, the publisher had assigned Chris, a newly hired employee at the time – though not as green as Eduardo – to watch Mark. Eduardo had also gotten Lenore's approval – this was back when he hadn’t yet been given carte blanche to do any and everything he deemed necessary – to hire Mark a publicist.
So now Sean gets Mark to watch his mouth. Eduardo has no idea how – Sean will whisper something when someone pisses Mark off and Mark will calm down, just like that. Eduardo is a little jealous, but only a little, because Sean is an asshole and Eduardo has his own way of handling Mark. Chris still comes because Mark's only gotten more popular and there are still occasional slip-ups. He and Sean always argue over venues, because the ones Sean chooses aren't always well-equipped to handle everything and Sean thinks the publisher's choice locations are boring and "wrong" for Mark's audience.
Eduardo just has to get Mark there and keep him there, which is the hardest job of all.
Sean clears a path through the stacks of books, getting Mark situated at the main table. Chris gets done giving whispered instructions to a nearby employee and joins Eduardo behind the main display.
"So," he says, quietly so Mark won't hear, "anything new on the most recent novel?"
"No," Eduardo says. "He won't tell me anything about it."
"I need to know soon," Chris says.
"Yeah, I know," Eduardo says. "Believe me."
"I'll talk to him, okay?" Eduardo promises, even though talking has never done much good with Mark at all.
Mark sits down at the table – Chris despairs of ever getting him to do a reading properly, standing at a podium – and opens the nearest copy of his book, skimming through for whatever passage strikes his fancy. Distantly, Eduardo can hear the employee downstairs, announcing the author event is beginning on the third floor, if everyone would like to line up and proceed upstairs.
People file in, peering at Mark curiously. He ignores them, head bent over the book. Eduardo doesn't believe the pretense for a minute. Mark knows every paragraph of every novel, since he fights nearly to the death any time an edit is mentioned. He's also done readings of this book – his fifth – dozens of times before. Odds are he knew what passage he was going to read before Eduardo got him in the car this morning.
"Hey," Eduardo says quietly, when Chris settles down in a chair next to him with a sigh. "Are you okay?"
"Exhausted," Chris says. "My boyfriend and I got engaged last week—“
"Congratulations!" Eduardo says.
"Thanks," Chris says. "But we told our families and now everyone has swarmed our apartment to congratulate us. It's like none of them have ever been told you're supposed to wait until the actual wedding to attack the couple with gifts and well-wishes."
"Well," Eduardo says, laughing a little, "at least you have loving relatives."
Chris snorts. "I haven't slept in three days."
"I'm sorry," Eduardo says, amused. "But really, congratulations."
"Thank you," Chris says, and he looks so quietly pleased that Eduardo doesn't believe the complaints for a minute.
Then he yawns and Eduardo says impulsively, "You should go."
"Hmm?" Chris says.
"Go home," Eduardo says. "I'll take care of this, you shouldn't have to be here today."
"It's my job," Chris says.
"Go," Eduardo insists. "You've taken care of everything so far, and I have to stay with Mark or he feels abandoned and sneaks away. You don't have to be here."
"Are you sure?" Chris asks, wavering.
"Go," Eduardo repeats firmly.
Chris looks grateful and claps his shoulder before sneaking out the back.
"You two are close," Sean says.
"He just got engaged," Eduardo says mildly. Mark is still reading; Eduardo has long since stopped feeling guilty about not listening. Even Mark has admitted he's sometimes tempted to fall asleep doing the reading.
Mark chose a short passage, and he's already wrapping up. Sean steps forward and announces the short question-and-answer session, which makes Mark scowl. Sean blithely ignores him and returns to Eduardo. The audience isn't put off by Mark's expression at all, and about five people raise their hands at once.
"Fucker tries to make this shit go faster every time," Sean says. Eduardo snorts.
There's finally a break in the questions, and Sean stands up to move them onto the book-signing portion of the event. "Just twenty more minutes," Eduardo hears Sean tell him, and Mark's shoulders droop, just a little.
"Where's Chris?" Mark asks, twisting to blink at Eduardo.
"He left," Sean says. "He had to go fuck his fiancé."
"Shut up," Eduardo says, and tells Mark, "They got engaged last week, and now he's busy seeing all of his family."
"They're getting married already?" Mark says, turning further around in his chair and ignoring the girl in front of him, who's holding out her book.
"They've been together for almost three years," Eduardo says. Mark still looks perturbed. He's known Chris for almost five years, just like Eduardo, and he still hadn't quite accepted Chris was seriously dating anyone until about a year ago.
It's not just Chris - Mark has this weird skepticism about significant others no matter whose they are. Eduardo has it on good authority that he'd ignored his older sister's fiancé's existence right up until the day they got married. He's also refused to remember the names of the few boyfriends Eduardo's had, instead calling them various derivations of bad words in French. It wasn't a problem until Eduardo had had to stop by Mark's apartment to pick up a manuscript and thoughtlessly brought Owen, boyfriend of five months, along and it turned out Owen spoke French. Their relationship ended very shortly after.
"We've known each other longer," Mark says.
Eduardo raises his eyebrows. "We're not in a relationship."
"Of course we're in a relationship," Mark says scornfully. "We've known each other for five years and frequently spend entire weeks together. You control my entire career and know where I am at every moment—"
"Kinky," Sean interrupts, grinning. "Fuck off," Mark retorts, without breaking stride.
"—and we've met each other's families. What you really mean is 'we're not having sex,' which is an arbitrary standard society places on our relationship to qualify them as 'real' or not, and is the root of most problems and almost definitely one of the reasons marriage is so complicated and prone to divorce."
"You think people get divorced because they have sex with their spouses?" Eduardo says.
"No," Mark says impatiently. "People get divorced because of their choice in spouses, and those faulty choices are largely based on sex. Society teaches people to categorize their relationships. Anything sexual is automatically more important, anything nonsexual automatically less so. Relationships should be based on compatibility and friendship, not fucking. It would make everything less complicated. Sex isn't important."
"So sex just complicates things," Eduardo says.
"So people should just marry their friends," Mark corrects. He holds Eduardo's gaze. "You can have sex with anyone. You can't marry anyone."
"Um," the girl in front of Mark says, still holding out her book. She and the next five people in line behind her all look shocked. Mark ignores her.
"Okay," Sean mutters under his breath. Eduardo, ears hot, stares down at his phone.
Mark says, "For example: Sean, you wouldn't marry me right now. Would you marry me after three years of having sex?"
"Dude," Sean says, "I wouldn't have married you once I'd known you for two weeks."
Mark makes a face and says, "You're deliberately missing the point."
"Eyes front," Sean says.
Mark grumbles and turns back to the fan, scribbling his name across the front flap of her book and entirely ignoring her request for a note. Eduardo ignores Sean's persistent attempts at mocking the fans coming by and pulls out his Blackberry to dig through email.
They get through the rest of the morning with little excitement. There's a harrying moment when a girl presents her copy of the book and then asks, "Why are your novels so sexist?" Sean is on his feet immediately, and Eduardo holds his breath, but Mark eyes the girl for a moment and says, "You'll have to try harder than that to bait me."
Sean sits down again while the girl smiles sheepishly and says, "Don't blame me for trying."
Mark's temper is widely known amongst most of the literary world. There are only so many times someone can freak out on national television before the country starts to notice. Most of the fans admire Mark for it and skirt around him as if he were literally combustible, but there's always a couple that want to see him go off. Mark usually accommodates them. It's unusual for him to put up with harassment, but even Eduardo has to admit the girl's attempt was weak; who else but a fan brings a book tattered and torn from use to a book signing where they wait in line for three hours only to tell the author, "your novels are sexist"?
There are still people in line when the event is supposed to end. Eduardo gets up, allows as many more people in the room as he thinks Mark will stomach, and then has to close the rest of them out as he shuts the doors. Their disappointed faces and mumbled complaints make him feel horribly guilty. Chris is so much better at this.
When the last of the books is signed – though really the last woman has three, and Mark glares at her as he scratches his initials in them – Sean hustles the remaining stragglers, all probably hoping for more time to talk to Mark one-on-one, out of the room. Mark leans back in his chair and moans pathetically.
"Why do I still have to do this?" he asks, like he does after every publicity event.
"Because despite your active online presence, there will always be fans who want to see your face. And some of your fans are lovely old people who don't know what the Internet is. We all suffer for our art," Sean says. "Also your publisher has your balls on this one."
Mark's extensive online presence was the first major change Sean implemented after he was hired. He'd gotten Mark to compromise, somehow, and in exchange for the publisher dropping the clause in the contract that allowed them to schedule international book tours – one they'd never even had a chance to exercise – he'd arranged for Mark to spend a minimum of three hours a week on his website, communicating directly with his fans. Mark also blogs, but there had been an incident, and now either Sean or Chris look new entries over before they go up.
"Fucking contract," Mark grumbles.
"Yep," Sean agrees cheerfully. "You know I hate to ditch," and isn't that the biggest lie Eduardo's ever heard from him, "but I've got places to be."
Mark grunts and Eduardo raises a hand in a half-hearted goodbye as Sean darts out the door, cellphone already pressed against his ear.
"Come on," Eduardo says, and Mark stands up and stretches.
Store employees start poking their heads in, anxious to start clearing the room. Eduardo thanks them and waits for Mark to go downstairs.
"Are you hungry?" Eduardo asks as they head off down the street, waiting for a taxi to come by.
Mark shrugs. "Sure."
The taxi drops them at a little Thai place down the street from Mark's new apartment. Eduardo doesn't really like Thai but he agrees to the restaurant because Mark says he hasn't tried it yet, and he likes to know all the restaurants nearby.
Eduardo understands, especially considering Mark's mode of subsistence is pretty much ordering in. Eduardo knows every restaurant in the eight-block radius around his apartment, but that's because he's lived there for almost four years. He doesn't move as much as Mark, because he doesn't feel the same restless urge; nor does he share Mark's talent for pissing off landlords and neighbors.
Eduardo's still not sure how he does it – as a writer, Mark's work is pretty quiet, even if he is home all the time. And Eduardo pays Mark's bills for him, so there shouldn't be a reason for all his landlords to despise him, but they do. Eduardo hasn't figured any of it out yet, unless Mark is driving them away by sheer force of personality alone, but Eduardo becomes more determined to figure it out with each successive relocation on Mark's part.
"So, Mark," Eduardo says, once Mark has food in his mouth and might be sufficiently preoccupied, "Chris asked me about your next novel again."
"Not yet," Mark says after swallowing hurriedly. He digs his fork through his noodles. "I'll tell you when it's done, Wardo."
"I know you will, but we need to know how much to push dates back, Mark," Eduardo says bluntly. "There are some things that don't respond instantly to your will, and the publishing house's schedule is one of them. It's okay to be late; it doesn't make you a failure. I just need you to tell me."
"Publishing date isn't for over a month," Mark says stubbornly.
"It has to be edited," Eduardo says, and Mark makes a face. Editing is a perpetual source of conflict – it's necessary, but Mark considers it a violation of his work. They used to spend weeks going back and forth, with Mark threatening to delete his draft rather than let it be defiled and Eduardo holding fast to his conviction that everyone's work could be improved – even Mark's – as well as his knowledge that Mark wanted attention and credit for his ideas too much to let a finished draft sit untouched and unpublished.
It got a lot easier when Chris found Dustin, who was both stubborn enough to stick by his edits and calm enough to withstand Mark's attacks of temper, all while being so sociable even Mark ended up grudgingly liking him.
"I can get Dustin to do a weekend edit job," Mark says. "We've done it before."
"Yeah," Eduardo says, "to get in before the editing deadline, not before the publish date!"
"If we give the publisher a finished novel two days before it's due to be published, it doesn't matter whether it's been sitting on their shelf unused for three weeks or still in my possession," Mark insists, and Eduardo sighs and gives up, making a mental note to tell Chris to hold the slot as long as he can.
Eduardo walks Mark back to his apartment out of old habit. At the front steps Eduardo slides his hands in his pockets and says, "Well."
"Do you want to come up?" Mark asks, eyeing him.
"No," Eduardo says. "I mean, there's no reason I should."
"Right," Mark says, and rolls his eyes, turning away.
"I'll see you—" Eduardo starts, and then has to pause. There's nothing scheduled with Mark until the meeting about the movie in a week and a half. It's an odd thought; Eduardo has seen Mark at least every week since he began working with him, mostly because Mark is very demanding. "The week after next," Eduardo finishes, blinking. "Unless you finish—"
"I'll call you," Mark says, "if I need you."
"Alright," Eduardo says unhappily, and takes a step back. Still, he doesn't head down the street until Mark has disappeared into his apartment building.
Of course, on Monday he gets a pile of paperwork from Mark's publisher. It's just a notice of another printing of Mark's second and third novels going through, new editions with slightly different covers. They're also rereleasing hard copy editions, probably in the hope the movie deal will go through and they'll be able to cash in on it.
Eduardo barely remembers to grab the paperwork as he's leaving that evening. He sees it on his desk as he's heading out the door and he curses, grabbing and shoving the folder into the side pouch of his computer bag. He texts Mark in the elevator, asking whether he's home. He hasn't responded by the time Eduardo gets in a cab, so Eduardo sighs and resigns himself to dropping in unannounced again.
He gives the driver the wrong address at first because he's still thinking of Mark's old apartment, and it's almost eight by the time he gets to Mark's building. He pays the fare, plus an outrageous tip because the driver didn't laugh at him too much for the address mishap. The doorman nods at him politely, letting him into the building, and Eduardo shakes his head as he heads across the marble-floored lobby to the elevator. He can't really believe Mark's living in a place like this.
He knocks on the door for a couple of minutes, but he can't hear any noise from inside the apartment at all. He decides to give it another two minutes. He texts Mark once more just to be sure and then resumes knocking. When the allotted minutes pass with no response, he digs the key out of his computer bag and opens the door. The inside of the apartment is dark except for a soft glow from under Mark's bedroom door.
Eduardo sets the folder down on the corner of Mark's desk and takes a step back towards the front door. Then his curiosity gets the best of him and he walks to Mark's bedroom door. He can't imagine that Mark could be here and still sleep through almost five minutes of near-constant knocking, but Mark might be lazy enough to avoid getting out of bed despite the knocking. He opens the door quietly. If Mark is asleep he doesn't want to wake him.
The bedside lamp is on, which is the only source of light. Mark is here, and he's got his mouth on some girl's belly. She's bare-breasted and smiling at the ceiling, but she squawks loudly when Eduardo opens the door.
"Shit," Eduardo says, freezing instinctively.
"What," Mark snaps, sitting up. The girl hauls the sheet up over her breasts. She's really pretty, Eduardo notices, and then stares determinedly at the wall.
"Sorry," he blurts. "I wasn't sure if you were—"
"If I was what," Mark snaps. Even he looks a little embarrassed, which makes Eduardo feel better.
"Oh, God. I should—" the pretty girl starts.
"No, I'll—" Eduardo tries to say.
"Wardo, what—" Mark gets out, and then they all stare at each other.
"I'm going to go," the girl says, and scrambles out of the room, head down.
"You have wonderful timing," Mark says sourly, after the front door slams behind her.
"You didn't text me back!" Eduardo says.
"I was sleeping," Mark says.
"Yeah, uh," Eduardo says, and holds back what would probably be really inappropriate laughter. "Did she even get her clothes?"
"They're in the living room," Mark says, as if Eduardo were an idiot.
"Right," Eduardo says. His face feels hot. Still, he has to know, "Do you normally hook up on Monday nights?"
"She's still here from yesterday," Mark says flatly.
Eduardo wonders exactly how much worse he could make things and decides it's past time to shut up. "That's…nice," he says. He clears his throat. "Um, I came to drop off paperwork. The publisher needs it signed by the end of the week."
"And you couldn't have sent it by messenger tomorrow?" Mark says.
"You wouldn't have signed it," Eduardo says. "And I really need you to. If you want to just sign it now—"
"Fine," Mark grumps, and claws his way out of bed. Eduardo retreats to the living room to give him time to put on pants, turning on lights as he goes. Mark comes out, blinking and scowling, and promptly turns half the lights back off.
There's actually only three forms that need his signature. He gets done within seconds, initialing every page before Eduardo can even explain what he's signing.
"That was it?" he says at the end.
"It was simple paperwork," Eduardo says weakly. "That's why I wanted to get it out of the way."
"You ruined my chances of getting laid tonight for three signatures," Mark says. "Next time, you can forge them."
"I thought sex wasn't important," Eduardo says, teasing, before he can stop himself.
"I didn't want to marry her," Mark says bitterly. "I just wanted to fuck her."
"I'm going to go," Eduardo says.
"Yeah," Mark says, glaring viciously, and Eduardo flees.
When Eduardo gets into the office the next day, the place is more excited than he's ever seen it. Every intern the agency employs is clustered around the front desk, and they appear to be arguing about something. They're being handed stacks of drafts. Eduardo does the math in his head and realizes it's the right time of year for this round of interns to be allowed to try their hands at actual client management – and they're jostling around the front desk because Claudia has the stack of drafts they can choose from, and they're all anxious to get the best possible potential author.
Eduardo eyes them and then skirts carefully around. There is nothing so terrifying as an intern trying to prove him or herself.
As he heads back towards his office, he passes several other agents, all hurrying up and down, muttering about losing their intern assistants. Eduardo is very careful not to smirk, heading into his office and dropping his laptop bag off. He sees Lenore's office, two doors down from his, and several more agents – mostly the junior ones, who haven't developed the proper respect for Lenore's cool anger – are hanging around her door.
"What's going on?" Eduardo asks, coming up on their periphery.
"Some bitchy author is in Lenore's office with her agent, screaming," says Maria. She's the office gossip and veteran of all the biggest scandals. She was the one who initiated Eduardo into the melodrama that was Mark's recruitment and subsequent excitement, up until Eduardo got him.
Mark had been even more of a terror when Eduardo first met him. There’d been nothing and nobody he held in respect, and he had written, indiscriminately, every thought that passed through his mind. His first book was written in that attitude, and from what Eduardo's heard, it was dark and unrepentantly terrible. Mark had gotten it published, because he'd submitted the draft and Lenore, at least according to Maria, had snapped it – and Mark – up on first viewing.
And then the novel had tanked. Nobody had wanted to read it; no booksellers had wanted to buy it. Mark had actually gotten some fame simply on the grounds of being "that author nobody wanted anything to do with."
Maria, taking full advantage of her position over newly hired Eduardo, had gleefully informed him that everyone, including herself, had repeatedly told Lenore to drop him, and Lenore had refused.
"But his second book is a bestseller and just won a Pulitzer," Eduardo had said, confused. "So wasn't Mrs. Lanning right?"
"Lenore," Maria had said pointedly. "And his second book is doing well because he's learned to adapt. He edited out the nastiness. But the first book was more honest. You'll see—he's just as awful as that book, and there's a reason you're the twelfth agent he's had. You'll learn that people are what they write."
Eduardo, already acquainted with Mark better than Maria had known then, hadn't entirely believed her. Still, that stuck with him – they are what they write – and it's always at the back of his mind when he's meeting new clients.
"Who is it?" Eduardo asks, because the screaming is very definitely a female voice, though the words are indecipherable. "What's she angry about?"
"Her agent made some suggestion that pissed her off," Maria says, which Eduardo knows means she has no idea but doesn't want to admit it. "So Lenore called them into her office to settle it herself, probably because poor Amy looked like she was about to start crying."
The voice inside goes up in pitch. Everyone leans closer to the door. Eduardo shakes his head and goes back into his own office.
There's a knock a little less than half an hour later, and Lenore opens his door before Eduardo can answer.
"Eduardo," she says. "Hello."
"Hello," Eduardo says, eyeing her. She never comes to anyone's office; she prefers her own domain.
"You don't have anything going on this week, do you?" she asks. "Your only deadline is Mr. Zuckerberg's, I believe, and that's next week?"
"Yes," Eduardo says, and knows he's just agreed to whatever new assignment she has lurking around the corner.
"Then I wonder if you'd be willing to do something for me?" Lenore asks, as expected.
Eduardo nods and Lenore steps all the way into his office. She brings another woman with her, well-dressed and pretty. Eduardo fights the urge to stand up, and makes a jerky gesture at the chairs opposite his desk.
They both take seats, and Lenore says, "Eduardo, let me introduce you to Christy Lee. She's another one of our authors."
"Hello," Eduardo says, and Christy Lee leans forward to take his hand, smiling with white teeth and brushing styled hair back over her shoulder.
"It's nice to meet you," Christy Lee says, and then Eduardo looks back at Lenore expectantly.
"Christy is one of our novelists. It will only be temporary, of course, but her agent is really busy – you know how it is when schedules happen to overlap – and her book has been left a little to the wayside. We would like the novel to be published soon, and I was hoping you could help her with that."
Eduardo wishes Lenore didn't phrase every order in the form of a request. One day he's going to forget himself and just say "no," and shock everyone involved. He catches himself today, and lies through his teeth to say, "Of course."
"Christy, I believe your agent has a copy of your works and associated paperwork in her office. Do you think you could grab that for us?"
Christy looks taken aback, but nobody says no to Lenore. She gets up, sweeping out into the hallway and managing to look only marginally confused as she tries to figure out how to get back to her agent's office. Eduardo doesn't blame her – he got lost the first three weeks he worked here, and his cubicle was only about fifty feet from the elevator.
Eduardo looks at Lenore. Lenore looks back.
"You might have heard," Lenore says, glancing down at her lap in a rare display of embarrassment, "the disagreement going on in my office this morning."
Eduardo doesn't say anything.
"Christy Lee writes romance novels," Lenore says. "Have you heard of her?"
"No," Eduardo admits. "But I don't read romances much."
"They're not very good ones," Lenore says. "But we would like to keep her, not least because I don't like the idea of a client leaving us and complaining about how terrible her representation was."
"No," Eduardo agrees. "What happened with her agent?"
"Well, like I said, her novels are generally pretty bad." Lenore looks disapproving. "She's also very prolific. Her agent, she's one of our younger ones, Ritter, I'm not sure you know her, has done a very good job with her so far. Especially considering how difficult Ms. Lee herself is. However, the sheer number of books she produces makes it difficult to find a publisher for them. She finishes them on a rather erratic schedule, as well, and combined with how terrible they are – well, Ms. Ritter did her best. The most recent novel, however, hasn't found a publisher. It's been almost a month and Ms. Lee is getting a little anxious."
"Her anxiety was the cause of the argument," Eduardo says.
"She doesn't react to sarcasm well," Lenore says, "just for reference. So you might want to avoid that around her."
"I can take her on temporarily," Eduardo says, "but next week I have the meeting with the studio rep for Mark's optioning. I'll be busy."
"I know," Lenore says. "I've told Ms. Lee that she will be assigned to you for the next week, and that you would take care of the most recent novel. After that, I'm hoping she'll have calmed down enough to return to Ms. Ritter. If not, well, I'll deal with her then."
"Okay," Eduardo says, a little doubtfully.
"I'm sure she'll be fine," Lenore says, in her best approximation of a comforting tone. She's actually rather good at it, and it works on most younger agents, but Eduardo hasn't trusted that tone since she used it on him while lying through her teeth about how much faith she had in his ability to handle Mark, back when he was one week on the job and torn between awe and terror of the literary disaster that was Mark Zuckerberg.
Christy reappears, and Lenore stands up. Eduardo stands too, and takes the two boxes that Christy is carrying. She's straining slightly under their weight, and Eduardo doesn't blame her – they weigh a ton. He suspects these are all her novels, and, as Christy turns to the couch and empty table in the corner of his office, Eduardo gives Lenore one last dirty look. Lenore just smiles at him vaguely and goes back to her own mysterious doings.
They start going through her novels, from the earliest to the most recent, as Eduardo takes advantage of having the author present – a privilege he rarely has, except with Mark, but then Mark isn't cooperative even when he is present – to have her explain her novels, past experiences, and upcoming goals to him.
Her novels are all very similar. They're trite, and boring, and Eduardo is very glad he shouldn't have to read any of them. He's a little surprised, but starts to understand her anger, when she explains that it's not one novel that's late to be published, it's three - and Ritter hadn't told her about the dearth of publishers for any of them.
She starts wringing her hands as she describes her frustration to him, and Eduardo finally reaches over and touches the back of her wrist, stilling her.
"What did you and Ms. Ritter argue about?" he asks, and withdraws his hand when Christy looks at him.
"She wants me to bundle them together," she says. "She says they're short, so nobody would care if there were more than one story per book. She called them stories! Like they're for kids!"
Eduardo smiles a little. "Well, didn't you tell me all three novels were related?"
"Yes," Christy says, frowning. "They're about three friends, and each book focuses on a different friend."
"Well, then maybe Ms. Ritter was only suggesting they be published together because they would work well like that."
"But I wrote then as separate novels because I want them to be a trilogy." She frowns, wrinkling her nose.
"A lot of authors – especially with romance novels; just look at Nora Roberts – publish their series in one large novel. Readers pay more, but they're guaranteed to get all the characters' stories. It works really well," Eduardo says. It honestly would be a lot easier to publish all three in one go, but of course he's not going to say that to her.
"Well," Christy says. She's still clearly against it, but she doesn't want to come out and say that.
"Just think about it, okay?" Eduardo suggests. "It would be a unique take on your works, since you've never published any sort of anthology before. You've written plenty of trilogies."
"My works usually present best as trilogies!" Christy says, bringing her chin up.
Oops. "Yes, of course," Eduardo says quickly. "I was just suggesting a change. Liven things up, catch people's interest, you know how this works."
"I'll think about it," Christy agrees grudgingly.
Eduardo doesn't even get a break for lunch. At twelve thirty they're a little less than halfway through her backlog of novels. When Eduardo had asked for a rundown on her work, he hadn't meant an in-depth verbal explanation for everything she's ever spat out through a keyboard, but she's been more than happy to provide that; he's starting to think it would've been quicker to read things through himself. Maybe there's a reason they don't usually ask authors to describe their own works.
When he suggests they take an hour for lunch, she agrees cheerfully and then instructs him to wait while she gets her coat. Eduardo can't think of a polite way of telling her he meant for them to go to separate lunches, so he ends up at his favorite café with her.
It's only his favorite, probably, because he's very familiar with it. He always eats lunch here, whether he's meeting Chris or feeding Mark before delivering him to Chris or Sean or Dustin for other obligations. It's become a part of his routine, and now he gravitates towards it, which he supposes makes it one of his favorites.
Christy calls it "cute," and spends five minutes talking to the waitress about what best to order, until the waitress – Ellie, her nametag says; Eduardo knows her, and knows it's short for Elizabeth and also that she's been with her boyfriend for three years – tells her she'd be best off asking Eduardo, since he's had everything on the menu. She gives Eduardo an amused look as she leaves them with glasses of water and tea for Christy. Eduardo can't respond in any way, because he's busy trying to recommend to Christy what she might like.
"Do you really come here that often?" Christy asks, once she's decided on the tilapia. Eduardo is getting a hamburger, because it may not be a very professional food, but it'll at least keep his mouth busy enough that he'll have an excuse to avoid talking.
"It's close," Eduardo says. "And I like it."
"It is charming, I guess," Christy says. "But I prefer more excitement in my daily life. I don't think I could go to the same restaurant for lunch more than a couple of times."
"There isn't a lot around here," Eduardo says, smiling. "The places that are tend to be the same sort of food, anyway. This restaurant at least has a good variety, and their food is good."
"Still," Christy says stubbornly.
By the end of the day, Eduardo wants to strangle her, and the rest of the week doesn't go any better.
Christy likes him, which Eduardo does appreciate, because she's terrifying enough that he can't imagine what it would be like if she decided she didn't. On the downside, that means he sees her all day at work, and usually past hours as well. By Friday she is determinedly asking him out every evening. Eduardo can't convince her to stop, because she doesn't believe him when he says he refuses to date his clients, and finally he has to tell her he's gay. She doesn't believe that, either, because apparently he looked at her breasts when he first met her. He fully believes that's the sort of thing girls notice, and he supposes he should be glad she didn't get offended; however, it's not his fault they're nice breasts, and now he's being punished far worse than one moment of indiscretion deserves.
He also hasn't had luck getting her books published. He's called all his contacts at the major publishers, and he started branching out into the minor ones, but Christy found out they weren't big name houses and threw a fit, so he's stuck emailing and calling people he doesn't know in the hopes one of them will bite. Of course, if someone who knows and trusts him won't take a book, much less three, it's nearly impossible to convince people he's never worked with.
Christy asks him what time he'll be in on Saturday, taking it for granted that he'll be working over the weekend. She doesn't appear to keep any schedule – she's actually as bad as Mark in that respect; Eduardo never expected to say that – so she's perfectly content to give up what seems like just another day.
Saturday they devote to arguing at length over whether the books could be packaged as an all-in-one trilogy. Christy is still adamantly against it, as expected, and she isn't willing to listen to Eduardo's input at all. By three o'clock Saturday, with almost half his weekend gone, he's had enough.
"Nobody will take all three books separately, Christy," he says, "so you need to decide right now whether you want them published together or not at all, because those are your only two options."
Her face falls and she stares at him, and Eduardo instantly feels bad. Still, he's tired, and he holds his ground.
"Look," he says, when she doesn't say anything for another half a minute. "Give me tomorrow. If I can get you a good contract for all three books published together, will you look at it? If not, or if you don't like the deal, you're welcome to move on to another agent, but there isn't anything else I can do for you."
"Everyone said you were one of the best in industry," she says.
Eduardo's taken aback. "Oh," he says. "Really?" He can't help it.
"You're Mark Zuckerberg's agent," Christy says, with a tone halfway between mockery and admiration. "I've even been told that he's more difficult than me."
"Christy," Eduardo says softly. "You're not bad."
Her gaze drops to the floor, studying her perfect leather shoes, and Eduardo feels like scum. Then she glances back up at him and her mouth curls.
"Oh," Eduardo groans. "You are good at pouring on the guilt, aren't you?"
"If you're the best," Christy says, smiling wider, "then I suppose you're telling the truth. You can publish them as a combined trilogy."
"Thank you," Eduardo says fervently, ignoring the obvious teasing. "I'll call you Monday with a contract."
She stands up and lets him walk her to his office door. "Well, that's it then," she says. She kisses his cheek. "You're really not interested?"
"I really don't date clients," Eduardo says, a little regretfully.
"That's a terrible rule," Christy says.
"It is," Eduardo agrees, and thinks of Mark.
"Oh, well," Christy says. "Thank you."
Eduardo goes back to his desk, stacking all three manuscripts on top of each other, and thinks she really isn't that bad after all.
Nobody will take her books. Eduardo starts back over with his closest contacts, swearing to them that they're bundled and complete and they won't be tied into guaranteeing to take Christy's next two books, since there won't – or shouldn't, at least – be any sequels. The argument doesn't sway anyone one bit, and by the time Eduardo gives up and goes home at six, he's lost most of the goodwill Christy had managed to establish in him upon her parting.
Sunday he calls around for two hours, runs out of publishers, publisher's assistants, and editors who he even vaguely knows, and finally gives up, setting his cellphone down on his kitchen table.
He can't give up. He doesn't want to. He's never failed to get one of his clients' books published. Admittedly, he mostly has the very successful clients, where the contract issues are arguing how many books the publisher is guaranteed (Mark) or how much each book is worth in royalties (Mark and Grace) or how important it is that each book come to the publisher on time, especially if it's part of a series (every other author he's ever worked for).
There's really only one option left.
Chris answers his phone, sounding groggy. "'Lo?" he says, and then there's a shushing sound and some rustling.
Eduardo frowns at looks at the clock. It's almost eleven in the morning. "Chris?" he asks.
"Oh, hi," Chris mutters, and then clears his throat. "Hello, Eduardo."
"It's eleven," Eduardo says. He's surprised, and it comes out like a question, as if he's checking that his time zone hasn't changed overnight.
"Yeah," Chris says, sounding annoyed. "We argued about whether to look at houses or condos, or whether we should just stay in our apartment for now. We were up until almost midnight going over options and finances and things."
That still means he would've gotten eleven hours of sleep. Eduardo says, "You were up a lot later than that."
"Yeah," Chris says. He yawns very loudly right into the mouthpiece of the phone. "You know, never go to bed angry and all that."
"I don't, actually," Eduardo says. "Not from personal experience, anyway."
"You've never fought with a boyfriend or girlfriend in the evening?" Chris says doubtfully.
"I've never had a boyfriend or girlfriend I've seriously fought with," Eduardo says. "The only person I've really fought with is Mark."
"While surviving any argument with Mark is impressive, he doesn't count," Chris says. "There's no opportunity for make-up sex there, so it's not the same kind of fight."
"Yeah," Eduardo says, and sighs into his own phone.
Chris snorts. "So what did you call about?"
"I need a favor," Eduardo says.
He explains the situation with Christy. Chris has never heard of her, unsurprisingly – he doesn't deal with the romance genre, and he's not actually a big reader. Even if he were, he's not the type to read romances. He doesn't believe that Eduardo can't find any other publisher, and Eduardo finally has to resort to reading off his list of contacts, trying to prove by sheer volume just how many people have already rejected the novels.
"I can't really get it published for you," Chris says doubtfully. "I mean, it's not my area. Even if you gave me the manuscripts and we negotiated a contract, it would be flagged and sent back through the regular channels."
"Right," Eduardo says and sighs. "Can you think of anyone else I could try?"
"Uh," Chris says, and then is silent for a very long time.
"Well?" Eduardo prompts, a little sharply.
"I'm exhausted still," Chris says, grumbling. "Cut me some slack."
"You're exhausted from too much sex," Eduardo says flatly. "I don't feel sorry for you at all."
"When was the last time you got laid?" Chris asks.
"Shut up," Eduardo says.
"Is Mark not putting out?" Chris asks. "I know how that feels. I feel about ready to beg for his book at this point."
Eduardo says, "Please don't ever compare books to sex again. It makes my profession sound dirty."
"Your profession is dirty," Chris mutters.
"You sound like Mark," Eduardo says.
"I might have someone," Chris says. "Can you send me the manuscripts? I'll take them to one of my coworkers this afternoon. She owes me a favor – I referred her one of her best contracts when she first started – and I can probably make her put them through. You'll have to go through the rest of the process with her, though," he warns.
"That's fine," Eduardo says. He almost sighs in relief. "Any way you can tell her we need to get the contract tomorrow?"
"Yeah, maybe," Chris says doubtfully. "I'll let you know."
"Thank you," Eduardo says fervently. "I owe you."
Chris just laughs a little. "Consider us equal. You let me take off early last time."
"Still," Eduardo says.
He sends the manuscripts over by messenger with a post-it note on top that says, I know they're crap. Don't read too far into them, just get them out in hard copy as quickly as possible.
He gets a call from the coworker, Miranda Schwan, late that evening. She introduces herself, sets up a meeting time for the next day, and says she's taken the liberty of drawing up a rough draft of the contract.
"We can talk tomorrow," she says. "Chris said you wanted to get this done as soon as possible."
"Yes," Eduardo says. "I'd really appreciate it."
"You can bring the author," Miranda-call-me-Ms. Schwan says. "Hopefully we'll be able to get a contract signed by tomorrow afternoon. I'll come to you – Lanning Literary Agency, correct?"
"Yes," Eduardo says again. It seems to have been his only contribution to the entire conversation. He asks, "How much room is there for negotiation of terms? I only ask because the author can be a little...difficult, and I'd like to be able to prepare her. It will make things go much more smoothly."
"Not much," Ms. Schwan says. "She's sort of oversaturated herself in a market that doesn't want her to begin with. I wouldn't have taken this at all, except Chris asked me to."
"I know," Eduardo says. "For what it's worth, I appreciate it."
Christy doesn't take the news well. She's initially overjoyed to hear the books will be published, but when Eduardo tells her that her only choice will pretty much be to take what she's given, her face turns stormy. Eduardo spends the next forty-five minutes while they wait for Ms. Schwan – she's fifteen minutes late, which only worsens Christy's mood – trying to calm her down.
Ms. Schwan, when she arrives, is revealed to be a slightly dumpy-looking woman with a brisk business-like manner and little to no sympathy for an author's theatrics. Christy begins their conversation with, "Before you show us the contract, please tell me you understand how an author's novels are like her children? I don't like them being undervalued or mistreated."
Ms. Schwan says, "Some writers' works are like their children. You, however, churn one out every three months. If you view them as your children, it's on scale with a bitch birthing puppies."
The meeting only goes downhill from there.
Ms. Schwan remains unmovable, Christy screeches a couple of times, and Eduardo does his best to stay out of the way. They resort to using him as some sort of mouthpiece, for a while, making him attempt to explain the other's point of view, until Christy realizes that isn't getting her Ms. Schwan's sympathy, either, and resorts back to the yelling.
One of the interns drops lunch off for them – a platter of sandwiches, a pot of coffee, and a refill of Eduardo's pitcher of water. There are several more interns out in the hall, Eduardo can see, and they all look as interested now as everyone did when Christy was screaming in Lenore's office at the start of all this.
Around five p.m., when Ms. Schwan announces that she'll be leaving at five thirty on the dot, regardless of whether Christy's chosen to accept the publisher's offer, Christy suddenly deflates. She gives her acceptance, grudgingly and with much glaring, and then storms out of Eduardo's office. On her way out, she denounces him as a failure as an agent, a man, and a decent human being. Eduardo is so grateful to see her go that he's almost willing to wish her a goodbye anyway.
"How did Lanning Literary happen to get a client like her?" Ms. Schwan says, sitting back in her chair. She suddenly looks as exhausted as Eduardo feels.
"I have no idea," Eduardo says honestly. "But I am never dealing with her again."
"I should be so lucky," Ms. Schwan says. She stands when Eduardo does and they both gather their things.
"Well, thank you," Eduardo says. "I appreciate you giving us your whole day."
"It was nice meeting you," Ms. Schwan says, sounding as if she means the opposite, and clacks off down the hall. Eduardo closes his eyes, rubs a hand over his face, and grabs his coat and laptop bag.
He knocks until Mark yells that the door is unlocked. They look at each other through the distorted reflection on the computer monitor in the dim light and Mark says, "Hello."
"One day you're going to have a break-in and you'll be dead before you can insult the burglars," Eduardo says.
"Your door wasn't locked!" Eduardo says.
"It is now," Mark says.
"Yeah, because I—never mind," Eduardo says. He sighs and sits on the couch. He's pretty certain, at this point, that by the time Mark dies or the couch finally gets replaced – it seems to be an even toss up as to which will happen first – there will be this permanent imprint of him on it, sitting on the left half and leaning against the arm.
"Why are you here?" Mark asks. He sounds somewhat bemused. "I don't have anything until that studio meeting, so it's not for me."
"I'm here…" Eduardo says, and pauses to take in the slow click of Mark's fingers over his keyboard. "I'm here to remind myself what an actual author looks like."
Mark smirks. "Bad day at work, honey?" His face is reflected faintly in the computer screen. Eduardo leans over and flips on the light. Mark winces but doesn't protest.
"I like books," Eduardo says. "I like books and poems and plays and pretty much anything someone can give me so long as it's fiction. Today was the first time I've ever honestly wished someone would give up writing and go do something – anything! – else."
"Who was it?" Mark says, eyes narrowing consideringly.
"It doesn't matter," Eduardo says.
"Of course it matters," Mark says. "You want to know if I hate them as much as you do so you won't feel guilty about it anymore. Who is it?"
"Christy Lee," Eduardo says. "And knowing you hate her too won't make me feel less guilty tomorrow." He will feel guilty tomorrow; he knows that. But as of tonight he's still furious. He doesn't want Mark to make him feel better – he wants to hear Mark trash her.
"She writes those cheap novels, right?" Mark says. "The romance ones that Harlequin rejected for being too shitty?"
"Did Harlequin really reject her?" Eduardo asks, amazed. "Actually, that doesn't surprise me."
"Yeah," Mark says, smirking. "Lenore took her on because her father is some important literary critic and Lenore wanted the publicity. I think she has a friend who's one of Lenore's poets."
"Someone mentioned her friend," Eduardo says. He vaguely remembers hearing that, but the rest is a surprise. Sometimes he forgets that Mark has been with the agency longer than he has.
"I told Lenore she was horrible," Mark says. "She didn't care."
"She's an amazingly quick writer," Eduardo says. "Even we have trouble finding a publisher who will take all of her books. Her agent fought with her, trying to convince her to let them be bundled as a series of novellas into one large book, but she didn't like the idea. I had her all week, and I only barely managed to convince her to do it."
"Her agent's nice. Her name's Amelia, she actually went to school in Paris. I'm pretty sure every book of Christy's she has to read kills part of her soul," Eduardo says.
Mark snorts. "Is she a bitch? She writes like she'd be a bitch."
Eduardo smiles, standing up and heading into the kitchen. "Do you want a beer?" he calls. He brings two out automatically and hands one, already open, to Mark. "Yes, she's a bitch," he says, and settles back onto the couch. "I wanted to like her at first, but she made it so hard."
"Was she hot?" Mark asks.
"Mark," Eduardo says. "I don't sleep with clients."
"You said you wanted to like her. It obviously wasn't because of the quality of her work," Mark says. "There must've been something else."
"I don't know," Eduardo says. "She was, I guess. But mostly I just felt so bad for her – she was so stressed about her books, it was like she cared about them too much." She'd reminded him of Mark, but Eduardo's not going to say that. He's willing to put up with a lot of rude behavior if it's for the right reasons. "But no, she's pretty much like that about everything."
Mark stands up abruptly, making his chair squeal and Eduardo jump.
"I want to watch TV," he announces, and turns it off of mute. He sits next to Eduardo on the couch, stealing his beer from the coffee table. Eduardo sighs and gets Mark's from the desk, swapping them out when Mark's too busy making disparaging comments, because of course the movie went to commercial just as he sat down to watch it.
Eduardo isn't even sure what's on, but Mark doesn't require his input when he's going on to himself about the relative quality of all mass-produced entertainment today, and Eduardo falls asleep to the familiar tones of Mark in the middle of a rant.
He wakes up in the morning a little after dawn, which is what happens when you fall asleep around dinnertime. He's also starving.
He helps himself to the contents of Mark's fridge, grabbing coffee and a sandwich to go, and scribbles a note to Mark before he leaves.
Sorry about last night. I was in a weird mood, I guess. I saw you were writing. Call me today and tell me how it's going.
Mark is still passed out face down on his bed when Eduardo lets himself out of the apartment, locking the door behind himself.
It's Tuesday, which means Eduardo has to look at his three other clients, one of whom needs a new proposal submitted by the end of the week. Eduardo hasn't even read the novel yet, thanks to Christy, so he cheats and skims through all of it before lunch.
The author's name is Grace Hallock, and she writes the sort of heartwarming personal growth stories that Lifetime loves to adapt for television. She's nice, and low-key, and doesn't get offended when Eduardo has to interrupt their meetings to deal with something of Mark's, as inevitably happens.
This most recent novel seems to be a reliable reproduction of her previous novel, down to the touching memories of a family pet. Eduardo is sure that, if he'd been reading properly, he'd have been tearing up at the resolution. As it is, he finishes, pulls up his proposal for her previous novel, edits the pertinent information – change in protagonist's gender, initial age, and childhood pet of choice – and sends it to the usual rep for Random House.
Then it's shortly after 1 p.m. and Eduardo has finished just in time to meet Grace for their monthly meeting. She knocks on his door and Eduardo smiles and waves her in. She sits, looking just as comfortably middle-aged as always, and pulls a packet of peanuts from her purse. She offers them to him; Eduardo declines.
"No candy today?" he asks. She usually offers at least Skittles.
"I've decided I'm going to make at least a gesture at eating more healthily," she says, and shakes the peanuts for emphasis.
Eduardo bites his lip on a smile and nods. "I'm terrible about it myself," he admits.
"You're just a baby," Grace says. "You don't need to watch your weight yet."
Eduardo nods obediently.
"Of course, I nag my grandkids, and you're older than them, so maybe I shouldn't make exceptions," she continues.
Eduardo nods obediently again.
"Oh, don't let me bore you," she says. "Come on, what do we need to talk about today?"
Eduardo shakes his head to get himself back on track. "I don't have anything all that important today," he says. "I've already submitted your most recent novel, but of course you know that's just a formality. I have had one request that you might be interested in – one of the more popular women's TV networks has asked whether you'd be interested in writing a sequel to Callie's Heart. They want to film one, but they'd like to be able to say it's based on an official sequel of yours."
"Sure," Grace says, shrugging. "It shouldn't be too hard."
Eduardo always forgets how easy she is. He smiles gratefully and opens his mouth, but his phone goes off before he can say anything. "Just a moment, please?" he asks, already grabbing it off the desk. "Sorry."
Grace hums agreement, smiling indulgently.
Eduardo's surprised to see it's Mark – Mark so rarely does as he's told, it's difficult to believe he might actually be calling. Of course, if there's one thing Mark manages to do unerringly, it's interrupt Eduardo's meetings with Grace. It's almost uncanny.
"No, I'm not done with the novel," Mark says, instead of hello. "Why do I have to call you?"
"Okay," Eduardo says mildly. "I need you to make sure you have a nice shirt and jacket to wear to the meeting on Thursday. You can get away with jeans and no tie as part of the hip young author image, but you need a collared shirt, at least. Do you still have the one from that luncheon two months ago?"
Mark's silence is suspicious.
Eduardo says, "You didn't actually find some way to burn it like you threatened, did you?"
"No," Mark says, sounding sulky. "But I did throw it away."
Eduardo sighs. "Are you busy right now?"
"I'm writing," Mark says promptly.
"No, you're blocked or on a break, or you wouldn't have called me," Eduardo says. "Come on, meet me and we'll buy you clothes."
"You could do it," Mark says. "You know my size."
"I could," Eduardo agrees. "But I'm not actually your personal assistant, so I won't. Besides, your sister's birthday is in a week. You need to buy her a present so you can mail it in the next couple of days and have it get to her on time."
Mark sighs, capitulation and annoyance in one breath. "Half an hour," he says, and hangs up.
Eduardo puts his phone down and looks at Grace apologetically.
She laughs, standing up and waving him off before he can say anything. "Don't worry," she says. "I know where I am on the totem pole." She points at him sternly and says, "Remember what I said about eating."
"She reads," Mark says grumpily. "She would appreciate the books."
"You can't give your sister hand-me-down books for her birthday," Eduardo says.
"I always give her hand-me-down books!" Mark protests, and ducks down to peer at the lowest display in the jewelry shop Eduardo has taken him to. "I'm pretty sure she doesn't wear jewelry."
"All girls wear jewelry," Eduardo says.
"No, they don't," Mark says, and stands back up.
"Okay, yeah, they don't," Eduardo admits, and lets Mark lead them back out onto the street.
They go a couple doors down, to Mark's favorite used bookstore. "She's started trying to collect first editions recently," Mark explains. "Even if she hasn't read the book or liked it."
"Okay," Eduardo says, in a hushed voice. He believes Mark. It sounds like something Donna would do. Mark is pretty oblivious but he keeps careful track of his family's literary preferences, mostly unconsciously. He doesn't like to admit that he always knows what the most recent book his mother has read is.
Eduardo leaves Mark in the rare book section – a bookstore is pretty much the only place he can be left unsupervised, and even then, only if he's not presenting anything in said bookstore, but he tends to be calm and a little civil when surrounded by cheap, shoddy furniture and musty books – and heads into the fiction section, past the shiny hardbacks and the newspapers and the cheap romances, all the way to the back corner where the truly used books are – the ones that are cheap or unappreciated and unpopular. There's one book in particular he's never been able to read, but he holds out hope. The odds are with him: in a city the size of New York, if he checks every bookstore, he should get his hands on one.
And there it is.
The spine is torn nearly to shreds, flakes of glue and hints of threading showing through, and the cover, when Eduardo gently works the novel loose from the packed shelf, isn't in much better shape.
There are water rings all over it, and something sticky on the bottom corner. The title is almost completely worn away, as if someone had run their fingers over and over it. Below the title, in flat block lettering on the grey-and-white blocked background, are the words by Mark Zuckerberg.
It's his first novel.
Eduardo flips it open, scanning through to make sure no pages are missing. It's almost impossible to find a complete copy – but it appears, despite the mistreatment evidenced by the cover, that the book is whole.
Looking around carefully, Eduardo takes the book to the counter and pays for it. The girl working gives him a disapproving look when he requests a paper bag. Once it's safely inside the bag and hidden from sight, he goes to find Mark.
Mark is sequestered in a chair in the back corner, poring over what looks like a really old textbook. He's got a stack of war novels next to him, which might be his, or might be left over from the chair's previous occupant.
As Eduardo watches, Mark frowns tremendously and turns the page. He likes arguing with books. Normally Eduardo leaves him to it, because it always puts him in a good mood and is usually good for his creativity, too. Today, though, they really do have to get going.
They don't end up getting a present, though. It starts raining as soon as they get outside, and by the time they get to the corner it's pouring.
"Fuck," Eduardo says. His pant legs are already soaked up past the cuffs, and he doesn't have an umbrella.
"Here," Mark calls, and grabs Eduardo's elbow to tug him into a cab. He gives the cab driver Eduardo's address while Eduardo tries to shake the rain off his jacket. It doesn't work very well, and Eduardo eyes Mark's hoodie – which is wet-spattered and will dry none the worse for wear – balefully.
The cab drops him off at his apartment, and Eduardo pays enough to cover his fare and the rest of Mark's, because he knows Mark isn't carrying cash. It isn't until he gets up to his apartment that he realizes he left the book in the bag in the backseat with Mark.
He swears, calling Mark, but Mark must've left his cellphone at home because he doesn't answer until the third time Eduardo calls, almost half an hour after he dropped Eduardo off.
"Yeah?" says Mark, master of impolite greetings.
Eduardo can't think of any way to ease into it, so he just asks, "Did you grab my bag from the taxi?"
"You mean do I have that ruined copy of my book," Mark says. "No."
"Mark," Eduardo says, disappointment settling over him. "Where is it?"
"In the dumpster behind my building," Mark says.
Eduardo's disappointment doubles. Mark always does this – he claims he isn't ashamed of his first book, but he destroys every copy he can get his hands on. Eduardo has only ever seen three copies of it, including the one he just bought and the first copy he ever saw, which was also from a used bookstore. Mark used to go through all the bookstores in New York, buying and destroying every one he could find. The third is Lenore's, in her office, and she just laughed at Eduardo when he asked if he could read it, and said Mark would kill them both.
Eduardo's always been curious, but he's never been able to get ahold of a copy before Mark takes it. He could get one online, but they're so rare – the book was so unpopular – and so expensive – because that's what happens when the terrible author of the first book writes a second book that becomes world-famous – that he's never bothered. Besides, it would feel a little like cheating.
"I don't know why you care so much," Mark says. "Everyone has assured me it was a terrible book."
"Not its quality," Eduardo argues, "just its subject."
Eduardo believes that Mark isn't ashamed of the book, despite what his behavior would suggest. It's much more likely that Mark is just as protective and invested in that first novel as he has been in the succeeding five, and with that sort of emotional investment, the mass criticism and hatred of it would be incredibly painful. Mark, if Eduardo knows him at all, is collecting and destroying all the print copies so that nobody can ever think badly of it again – his own sort of protectiveness.
This theory is the main reason Eduardo wants to read it. He wants to prove to Mark that he would like the book as much as Mark's other ones, but he can't do that if he can't get a copy of it.
"There go my plans for the evening," Eduardo says, another futile attempt in a long string of them when it comes to appealing to Mark's sense of pity.
Mark snickers, as if Eduardo were joking.
"I'll go out tomorrow and get my sister a birthday present," Mark says after several seconds of silence.
"Good," Eduardo says, taking the peace offering for what it is. "You'll need to mail it tomorrow afternoon, Monday at the latest if you want to make sure she gets it."
"I could always overnight it," Mark says.
"Yes, if you want to pay fifty dollars for the privilege. Or you can get the present tomorrow and remember to send it on time."
"Yes, alright," Mark says, sounding vaguely annoyed.
"We'll go buy you a suit on my lunch break," Eduardo says. He makes Mark promise to meet him on time – and sets a reminder for himself, to call Mark and remind him to leave the apartment – and then he says goodbye.
Then he checks the Internet for a copy of FaceMash, and finds that yes, it is still rare and ungodly expensive.
Buying a suit is always an adventure. It's one Eduardo could do without repeating, at this point, because they've done this at least six times before. Mark always manages to ruin them – he either sticks them in the washing machine, or spills something permanently disfiguring on it and doesn't get it dry cleaned, or just flat out gets rid of them in the futile hope that, somehow, lack of proper clothing will ever get him out of something he doesn't want to do. But it never worked with Lenore, and it hasn't worked with Eduardo yet.
So they go to the first name brand men's clothing store Eduardo can physically shove Mark into, and then Eduardo chooses Mark's clothes while Mark stands there glowering. He's better than he used to be – now he'll actually try on the clothes before they buy them.
This was brought about mainly because of one horrible agency dinner where Lenore had been parading Mark around as a symbol of success for the company, and Mark spent the entire evening with a pin sticking into his rear, as well as several along his sides and under his arms. Eduardo had ignored him when he mentioned it, thinking he was whining as usual, and it hadn’t been until Mark dragged Eduardo into the bathroom and stripped, shoving the suit at him, that Eduardo had believed there actually were pins. There had even been tiny beads of blood along Mark's sides where they'd been digging in, and Eduardo had felt awful. Of course, then Eduardo had been left with a mostly-naked Mark who’d needed to be snuck out of the rest of the dinner, and that was awkward for everyone.
Their relationship is unprofessional enough with birthday present buying and dragging Mark into bed when he passes out on Eduardo's shoulder as soon as he hands in a final draft; Eduardo wants to keep what few boundaries he has left. For his own sanity.
This time Mark gets a black suit with a dark blue shirt, which is very somber and almost too mature for him, but Eduardo and Mark need to be as impressive as they can be. Eduardo's only talked to Peter Thiel, studio project manager, on the phone, but he doesn't seem like a man to be impressed easily. Eduardo is determined to keep Mark from fucking this deal up any more than he already has.
They spend twenty minutes looking for a post office so Mark can ship his sister's present – he got her a first edition copy of some book Eduardo's never heard of, but it's very pretty and very old, and probably cost too much money, as well as a gift card to Hollister, because Mark may not approve of crass commercialism but he can't choose where his sister buys her jeans. Eduardo has always gotten his packaging and postage from the office, and when they can't find the post office – Google Maps says it should be there, but it just isn't – he takes the gifts from Mark to have the office secretary mail them.
At the corner where they should part ways, Mark keeps plodding along beside Eduardo. Eduardo asks, "Are you going to come visit Lenore?"
"I don't know," Mark says. "I don't have anything to do today."
"You could write," Eduardo says, unable to help himself.
"Shut up," Mark says. He sounds amused, which offends Eduardo – this is his job, and Eduardo has duties as his agent, and he's just blowing everything off. On the other hand, Eduardo knows that if Mark is blocked, there isn't anything that'll get him writing again, not even threats of grievous bodily harm from Lenore, who is just strict enough she might actually follow through on them.
The office is still in a panic. It's usually a quiet place, but the interns are set to meet with their chosen new authors tomorrow, and they're panicking down to the one. Mark makes the mistake of wandering past a group of them and asking Eduardo loudly what the fuck has the kids wound up, and several of the interns whirl on him to yell, and then most of them recognize him and shut up, gaping.
Maria mutters something nasty – she still refuses to change her opinion of Mark, despite the fact that Eduardo has said nothing but good things about him for almost five years – and Eduardo has a brilliant idea.
"You're not doing anything today," Eduardo says, parroting Mark's earlier words.
Mark looks suspicious.
Eduardo's logic is this: one, that Mark is the most terrifying author in the industry. Two, that all the interns are terrified of meeting with their authors tomorrow. Thus three, that if they survive Mark, they won't be so terrified of anyone they may meet tomorrow.
"This doesn't mean you have permission to be horrible on purpose," Eduardo says sternly. Mark had abruptly perked up, and Eduardo doesn’t trust his new-found interest.
"Doesn't this waste your time, too?" Mark says, in an apparent last-ditch effort to get himself out of this. "You can't sit in here all afternoon and just supervise this."
"Well, I'm not going to leave you alone with them," Eduardo says. "Maria and I will offer them feedback; we need to watch them with you to be able to do that."
It actually goes really well. The interns mostly settle down once they realize Mark didn't actually hang the moon, and they get through their interview questions without much pain. Mark gets bored partway through and starts varying his answers, and Eduardo lets him do it – the answers from the real potential client interviews might get weird, too, so it's good experience – until one young woman asks the standard, "Why do you want an agent from Lanning Literary?"
"I don't," Mark answers promptly. "I don't want an agent at all. They take your work and whore it out to the highest bidder, take most of the profits themselves, and then bind you into a contract that gives them license to do it with your next work, too. They're the enemy of the honest author."
"Thank you, Mark," Eduardo says, rolling his eyes, while the young woman stares in confusion.
"Ms. Cliff, that's all," Maria says, and stands up to escort her out of the conference room.
"Really?" Eduardo asks.
"If you ever want to stop, just say the word. I'll give you my laptop and you can get back to writing."
"You're a dick," Mark says, without much heat, and ignores Maria's warning glare as she brings the next intern in.
Lenore comes in late afternoon, just as Eduardo has handed his notes to Maria. She'll distribute them to the interns, and then the interns will study them obsessively as they prepare for their nine o'clock meetings in the morning.
"Mark," Lenore says, and inclines her head in that pretentious greeting that manages to look graceful despite itself. Every round of interns comes up with some rumor about how Lenore is secretly royalty or at the very least married to it. She isn't, of course, just comes from old money and really expensive schools, but it keeps the interns occupied and Lenore doesn't discourage it—probably not least because it's not exactly unflattering to be compared to a princess.
"Lenore," Mark says.
"You're being so helpful," Lenore says.
"Eduardo asked," Mark says defensively.
"Oh, all right," Lenore says, and smiles.
"What?" Mark says, a near snarl.
Eduardo frowns and decides to stay out of it.
"Did you need anything?" he asks Lenore.
"Ms. Lee is here again," she says. "She wants to talk to us in my office."
Eduardo makes a face before he can stop himself.
Lenore looks amused. "I understand your frustration," she says, "though she doesn't seem as emotionally charged this time."
Eduardo sighs and looks at Mark. "If you want to stay, you can—"
"I want to meet her," Mark says.
"That's probably not the best idea," Eduardo says. He looks to Lenore for help, but she's already walking back down the hallway.
Eduardo says, "Really."
Mark looks unimpressed.
"She's very volatile," Eduardo says futilely, and Mark follows him to Lenore's office.
Eduardo knocks on the door, sticking his head in. Lenore waves at him, and Christy smiles brightly. Her face falls when Mark follows him in.
"Who are you?" she asks.
"Mark," Mark says. He sits in the only other chair in the room. Eduardo is left to stand, hovering between Mark and Christy's chairs.
"Mark Zuckerberg?" Christy asks, leaning towards him. Eduardo steps back, out of the way.
"Yeah," Mark says.
"I'm Christy Lee," Christy says, reaching across to him. "I'm a fan."
"Wardo's mentioned you," Mark says.
Eduardo winces. Lenore eyes him narrowly.
"Has he?" Christy asks. "Wardo is so sweet."
"Not really," Mark says. "He—"
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Ms. Lee, but I have a meeting soon. What did you want to talk to us about?" Lenore prods gently.
Mark smirks a little as Christy turns her attention away. Eduardo gives him a warning look.
"I wanted to talk to you about my agent," Christy says. "I really don't agree with being assigned back to Amelia after our last argument."
"Conflicts occasionally happen," Lenore says. "Ms. Ritter knows that. You two can agree to forgive and forget."
"No, I mean it. I don't want her again," Christy says.
Mark is still watching Christy avidly. It's making Eduardo uncomfortable.
Lenore sits forward. "While I understand, we don't just reassign agents at whim, Ms. Lee."
"No, I understand," Christy says. "But I thought if everyone was in agreement, you could assign me permanently to Eduardo?"
Lenore just blinks once, politely. Eduardo briefly considers praying. Mark has gone very still.
"Eduardo," Lenore says.
"Yes," Christy says. She's still smiling. "You see, he was so helpful with my last books, and we really enjoyed working together—" Mark snorts; Christy, thankfully, doesn't seem to notice, "—and I just think that it would be nice if our arrangement for the week became a more permanent one."
Eduardo shakes his head minutely, attempting to appeal to Lenore's sense of humanity. Lenore flounders, which doesn't instill much confidence in Eduardo. "Well, Ms. Lee," she says.
"Why do you want an agent?" Mark interrupts.
Christy blinks, turning to him. "Excuse me?"
"You're a widely-published author," Mark says, "with some modicum of success no matter what standards you're judged by. Why do you still need an agent?"
"I'm successful because of my agents," Christy says, an admittance which is both true and a lot more modest than Eduardo ever expected from her.
"You're successful because your works are published," Mark says. "But you have your name established, why do you still want to work with an agency that takes a large commission and failed to get your books published properly anyway?"
Christy looks confused. "Well," she says, "but you still use an agent."
"I don't like dealing with people," Mark says. "I do it because I'm lazy. You're attractive and outgoing. You'd have no problem getting your own works published."
Eduardo can't believe those words just came from Mark's mouth. Lenore is staring, wide-eyed, and Eduardo makes a slashing motion when she starts to open her mouth. It's a testament to her shock that she obeys.
"I've never thought of it like that," Christy says.
"We're brainwashed into thinking there's only one way to navigate the industry," Mark says, nodding.
Christy thinks for a moment longer, gazing at the wall speculatively. Suddenly, she nods her head decisively and stands. "You're absolutely right," she says. "Thank you!"
Mark raises his eyebrows at her.
"Ms. Lanning," Christy says, nodding at her. "I'd like to cancel my contract with you. Eduardo," she says, and kisses him on the cheek.
She leaves, just like that. Eduardo grabs for her vacated chair and sits wordlessly. Lenore looks shell-shocked. "And I was worried you'd insult her," she says to Mark after a minute.
Mark says, "You don't need her."
Lenore frowns. "I know you've hated her since we first signed her, but you know it's none of your business who my agency represents."
"It is when she was trying to steal my agent," Mark snaps. "And for all your acting, you're useless at telling people no."
"Your opinions are valued as always, Mr. Zuckerberg," Lenore says. "But you know we fully support any and all efforts on behalf of any of our authors."
"Give her someone else," Mark says. "There are other agents that can do what Eduardo does."
"I'm more aware of Mr. Saverin's value and abilities than you, I think," Lenore says.
"Don't call him Mr. Saverin," Mark says.
"I just think it's important to keep in mind," Lenore says, ignoring Mark, "that while you're anxious for him to focus on you, we have other important clients, too."
"You're anxious for him to focus on me, too," Mark says. "You'd love to have a novel you represent make it to Hollywood."
"While I suppose that's true—" Lenore starts carefully.
"Yeah," Mark says. "So stop giving him to someone else."
"I have work I should get back to," Eduardo tries.
"Of course," Lenore says.
"Of course," Mark says at the same time, in a drastically different tone. He snorts and leaves. Eduardo, after a minute staring at Lenore, where she glares back – and it will never quite seem fair that Eduardo gets shared blame in everything Mark does, even when he was obviously not complicit – trails him out.
"You're welcome," Mark says.
"I know, believe me," Eduardo says. "Thank you, though. Really. Some of that must've been really difficult to say."
"My tongue is nearly bleeding," Mark agrees. "Besides, it was self-interest. There is no way she'll get published on her own. It essentially removes her from the market. And you were in a terrible mood after dealing with her last time."
"Well, I appreciate you looking out for me," Eduardo says wryly.
"I shouldn't have to," Mark says. "You're too nice. Lenore wouldn't take advantage of you and your time if you wouldn't let her."
"She doesn't take advantage—"
"Yes, she does," Mark says. "Even if we don't get the movie contract, this is the closest she's ever come to one. And she just uses you."
"I'm her employee," Eduardo points out. "And I don't mind."
"And I'm saying you should mind," Mark says. "She should be sucking your dick, not the other way around."
"I had no idea you felt so strongly about it," Lenore says. Eduardo cringes. "However, we tend to frown on sexual favors here. I think such outrageous expressions of gratitude are best left for our clients to negotiate."
Mark sneers at her. "If he gets me the contract, I'll suck his dick, too."
"Always a pleasure, Mark," Lenore says.
Eduardo stands carefully still until she's disappeared around the corner of the hall. "Mark—" he starts. His face is burning.
"I need help plotting," Mark says.
Eduardo holds his breath. Mark does this sometimes, more and more often as they've worked together longer. He doesn't actually need help – he really just sits Eduardo down and talks at him, figuring things out by himself. Eduardo loves it; he gets to listen to Mark at his weirdest, and sometimes best, moments. Mark does it with Dustin, usually, which makes sense, since that tends to be the usual double duty of editors anyway, but Eduardo always likes it when Mark wants him. Of course, it's also a diversionary tactic – he either has to let what just happened go, or he loses out on talking to Mark.
"Okay," Eduardo says. It's not a particularly difficult decision. "Are you working on the end, or—"
"Not this novel," Mark says, "the next one."
Eduardo hesitates, but Mark ignores him, and he starts talking. It's not coherent, really, not at this phase. He tends to get halfway through verbalizing an idea, his mind will finish the rest of it, and then his mouth moves on to the idea after that. He talks the whole way back to his apartment. They stop for pizza on the way, and Eduardo has to order for them, because Mark doesn't stop to acknowledge the guy taking the order.
Mark talks through dinner, mumbling around mouthfuls of pizza, and finally starts making sense as he starts talking about his characters. He's basically planning a series, it sounds like, which Eduardo finds simultaneously exciting and terrifying, because Mark's never done one before. He's always written by throwing himself at a book until it was finished, and with a series, there's no way he can sit down and type the entire thing out all in one go.
Eduardo tentatively points this out, and then gets his head torn off for twenty minutes as Mark tries to pretend he isn't hurt at being underestimated. At the end Eduardo says, "You're right, of course," and has quite a lot of fun watching Mark's face contort as he tries to figure out how to get offended when he isn't sure whether Eduardo is making fun of him.
Sometime around eleven Eduardo starts yawning and can't stop. Sometime around midnight Mark gets fed up and says, "Okay, go to sleep then."
"Sorry," Eduardo says sheepishly. He stands up, stretching, and grabs his coat from the back of the couch.
"Where are you going?" Mark says, puzzled.
"Home?" Eduardo says. It comes out like a question.
"You can sleep here," Mark says.
"I have work in the morning," Eduardo points out, and swallows everything else he wants to say while he does up the buttons on his coat. "Besides, your couch is uncomfortable."
The couch is really the only bad thing about the apartment. Eduardo has a nice place, because he gets paid more than enough for one person to live on – a lot of it courtesy of Mark and Mark's novels, of course, but that is the way things work – and he's lived in his current complex for three years, so it's very comfortable and pretty much exactly the way he wants it now.
Mark's apartment, on the other hand, is just absurd. When Eduardo first met him he lived in a one-room efficiency, a rattrap unbefitting human habitation. In the intervening years and five different moves, Mark has upgraded, and now he lives in an apartment so obscenely nice that Eduardo is actually fairly certain Mark shouldn't even have a key. He may have the money for it – money which, come Thursday, and barring any major problems, will only increase – but he just doesn't deserve the place. Hardwood floors and windows the size of cars and enough bedrooms to raise a family in, and Mark only uses his bedroom and the living room. Eduardo occasionally uses the kitchen.
His furniture remains from his first apartment, as well as what he's cobbled together since then. Eduardo has decided that upon publishing his next novel, they are going to go out and buy him an apartment's worth of proper furniture. Chris has already agreed to be Eduardo's ally, and there's no way Mark can escape both of them.
But as of right now, Mark's couch is terrible, and Eduardo has already spent more nights on it than he should have.
"So use my bed," Mark says.
"Uh," Eduardo says. "No, I don't think so."
"I'm not going to use it," Mark says. "I'm going to write. You can sleep. It's almost half an hour to your apartment, isn't it?" He has to ask, because he's never been.
"No, I'm just going to go home," Eduardo says. "I'll need clothes for tomorrow, and a shower, and—" He backs towards the door as he talks, feeling hunted although Mark isn't even looking at him.
"Whatever," Mark says, hunching over his keyboard.
"You are going to finish the current book before starting the series, right?" Eduardo asks, standing in the front doorway.
"It's almost ready for you to read," Mark says. He turns his head just enough to see over his shoulder. He's smiling a little, like he's humoring Eduardo.
"That's wonderful," Eduardo says, grinning widely. Then he yawns even more widely and locks the front door behind himself.
Mark, once Eduardo texts him, sends an email, and calls, ends up getting to Eduardo's office around eleven, leaving them more than enough time to meet Peter Thiel for their lunch meeting. Of course, they use all the extra time going back to Mark's apartment so Eduardo can make him put the new suit on, but at least they're not behind schedule.
The lunch is being held at the restaurant in the hotel Thiel is staying in. Eduardo doesn't begrudge him choosing the location, since he's really only prolonging a business trip stopover to be able to meet them. Mark isn't very happy about it, but he doesn't voice anything. Eduardo is relieved—it gives him hope that Mark might be taking enough of his lessons to heart to shut up during important things, like meetings with studio representatives who hold the keys to multi-million dollar contracts.
Thiel is already seated when they arrive, and the host brings them over without a word. Mark sits across from Thiel, leaving Eduardo to sit next to each of them, which is not what Eduardo would've preferred; Mark in a direct line of sight means a Mark who's got too much opportunity to do something offensive.
"Hello," Thiel, a competent, bland-looking man says, and shakes Mark and Eduardo's hands in turn. "Eduardo Saverin, it's nice to see you in person." He turns to Mark, watching him closely. "And Mark Zuckerberg, of course. It's hard to believe we haven't met, considering we've been working on optioning you for so long."
"Everyone tries to keep me out of the public eye," Mark says. "I'm bad for business."
"Well," Eduardo tries to say.
"I've heard," Thiel says and laughs.
"I prefer it anyway," Mark says. "Business is boring."
"And you despise capitalism," Thiel says. "I'm familiar with your book, you know."
"I despise commercialism," Mark says. "I don't give one fuck about capitalism as an economic policy. And what does familiar mean?" Mark raises his eyebrows. "Have you deigned to skim a couple of pages?"
"Mark," Eduardo mutters, and nudges their feet together under the table. The waiter appears, thankfully, and Thiel orders. Eduardo orders for himself and for Mark, since Mark has been so busy glowering at Thiel he hasn't even touched the menu at his elbow.
"No, by all means," Thiel says, picking up right where they left off. "I'm interested in all of Mr. Zuckerberg's opinions. It helps to know your partner in business matters."
"You don't need to know me," Mark says.
"No?" Thiel says.
"No," Mark says. "You just need to know that I won't give my work up to some idiot's hands so they can smear it with enough pop culture to be deemed suitable by your studio."
"That's not a business attitude I hear very often," Thiel says. He sounds less amused than he did a minute ago.
"Mark is protective," Eduardo says.
"So I've been told," Thiel says. He doesn't even glance at Eduardo. "Mr. Zuckerberg, surely you realize that Facebook as it stands cannot translate directly to screen? There will need to be major rewrites."
"I know," Mark says. "I'm not an idiot. But I'm the only one who's going to do those rewrites."
"You have no experience with screenplays," Thiel says.
"I can learn," Mark says. "It can't be difficult. They're so spare. 'Character A stands here; B watches them from there.'"
"You don't have a very high opinion of the movie industry," Thiel says.
"I don't have a very high opinion of most things," Mark says. He stands up. Eduardo really, really wishes he had a cocktail or three right now. "Let Eduardo know what you decide. You've heard my opinion, and that's what you wanted."
He walks off without a glance backward. Eduardo is almost cringing as Thiel looks at him, eyebrows raised.
"When everyone says he's direct..." Thiel says.
"It's difficult to describe Mark," Eduardo says. "Particularly since sometimes he manages to not be quite as much of an asshole as he was right now."
Thiel just shakes his head and waves the approaching waiter off. He stands and Eduardo scrambles to his feet also, but Thiel just leaves, heading towards the lobby of the hotel without another word.
Eduardo follows Mark's path out onto the street.
"Well, I hope you're happy," Eduardo says bitterly. "You've successfully ruined one of the most promising deals of your life and you did it in less than ten minutes."
"I was just being honest," Mark says.
"That doesn't work in business, usually," Eduardo says.
Eduardo grits his teeth, following Mark into a cab that the valet has caught for them. "I'm serious," he says, in as controlled a voice he can manage. He doesn't want to be one of those crazy people in the backs of cabs who have shouting matches. "You really fucked that up, Mark."
"Wardo," Mark says. "He said he was familiar with my book. He must've had some idea of what I was like. Didn't you warn him?"
Eduardo usually does warn people. This time, however— "No," he says. "Because I was trying to give him the best possible impression of you."
"Bad idea," Mark says.
"Jesus Christ, Mark!" Eduardo snaps, losing the battle to keep his voice down. "I've been working on this for almost six months! And it took you ten minutes to ruin it!"
Mark rolls his eyes.
"I realize you don't have much respect for me or my job," Eduardo says, which is a cheap shot; Mark does, he just refuses to admit it, "but this is you and your novel I'm working for."
Mark bristles. "Why is this taking so long?" he demands. "It's not difficult. Either I get to write the screenplay or I'll sue them for the rights and they won't get to make the movie at all."
"It's not that simple!" Eduardo snaps. "The legality issues are not entirely on your side. If you sue, they can countersue—"
"I don't care," Mark says. "I want to write the screenplay. You're my agent, it's your job to get me what I want."
Eduardo sighs and slumps further down on the seat. The cab driver is clearly eavesdropping. He's even turned the radio down. "Mark," he says, "I don't know if I can get you this."
Eduardo says, "What you want – people don't do that. Novelists don't write screenplays."
"Some do," Mark says.
"I've never done this before," Eduardo says. "I don't know how to get you this. You might be better off getting a proper Hollywood agent to help you."
Mark looks at him for a long time. Eduardo stares at the window, where he can vaguely see Mark's reflection studying him. Finally Mark takes a deep breath, and Eduardo braces himself, but Mark just says, "You can get them to do it. You just have to quit giving up."
He probably meant it to be encouraging, but Eduardo is just so tired. "Right," he says, and pulls on the door handle as the cab pulls to a stop. "I'll have to not give up tomorrow. Tonight I'm going home and drinking myself to sleep."
The corner of Mark's mouth quirks up. Eduardo gets out, and Mark blinks at him curiously. "I feel like walking," Eduardo says, sulking a little.
"Hey!" someone calls, and they both look towards the front of Mark's building. Dustin pushes through the doors, grinning at Mark. "Dude, you're late. Any longer and your doormen were going to actually throw me out. I'm not good enough for their lobby."
"Nobody's good enough for anything in this building," Eduardo says automatically. "Hi, Dustin." He's a little confused as to what Dustin's doing at Mark's apartment. Dustin's a good editor, but Mark always claims to find him really annoying. On second thought, he realizes he shouldn't be surprised – Mark's been working with Dustin for years. Eduardo knew they were friends, he just didn't realize that the friendship extended to one where Dustin actually visited Mark.
"Hey, Eduardo," Dustin says gamely. "What's up with the pissed off expression?"
"Mark is being a dick," Eduardo says.
"Oh," Dustin says, and nods understandingly. Mark is ignoring them. "Ready to get to work?" Dustin asks, switching his attention to Mark.
"Yeah," Mark says.
"Wait. Are you working on edits?"
"Dude, I am an editor," Dustin says. "I know we haven't seen each other in a while, but I'm not that unimportant to the whole process."
"Is the novel finished?" Eduardo demands.
"No," Mark says, infuriatingly brief.
Eduardo asks, "Can I see it yet?"
"Bye," Mark says, and Eduardo smiles thinly at Dustin, who's looking at him sympathetically and with a little bit of amusement.
The end-of-project party for the interns is that Friday. Everyone's required to attend, from interns up to senior staff, and all the authors who the interns chose are in attendance as well. Because it functions almost as much as a networking event as an actual party, there are usually another several dozen people who attend every year - some clients of the firm who want to meet other writers, and some unsigned and hopeful writers who want to change their fortunes.
Eduardo, because he's still furious with Mark, gets Lenore's permission to tell him it's mandatory and drags him along.
Lenore, when he had asked, had laughed a little and then waved him off, reminding him that he doesn't need her permission to do anything, anymore—that's one of the perks of being senior staff. Eduardo had nodded and fought the urge to duck his head, because Lenore will always be, in part, that terrifying woman who decided the fate of his career half a decade ago.
"Why," Mark says, with great feeling, while Eduardo is helping him reassemble the suit strewn about the room after yesterday's meeting.
"Because you helped us with the interns," Eduardo says, "and this party is for them. Some of them want to see you."
"I don't believe you," Mark says.
Eduardo shrugs, because Mark has to come to the party whether he believes him or not, and the lack of response will just infuriate him. Eduardo is absolutely petty enough to take any sense of revenge wherever he can get it.
The best thing about work parties is that, with enough people and the right company, they're the best mix between actual work parties, where there's little to no alcohol and a lot of terribly mature people standing around discussing terribly mature things, and college parties, where there's a fuck ton of alcohol but too many naked and/or puking people.
Lanning Literary is not usually the right company to have the good kind of drunk, somewhat-mature office party, but the party for the interns is one of the few exceptions, both because the interns are usually college students and provide some much-needed life, and because Lenore always makes herself scarce about an hour in.
Mark is half-drunk on wine before Lenore even takes her leave and the hard booze comes out. He's been downing one glass per person he has to talk to, and Eduardo hasn't been saving him from the admirers and well-wishers and curious passersby that want to know any and everything about the creative genius that is Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark is kind of adorable when drunk, is the thing. So he gets a little tipsy in order to cope with having to socialize, and then he has to socialize more because people realize that, for some reason, he's actually approachable right now. It's a vicious circle.
Eduardo can't bear just watching after a while, and he hovers by Mark's elbow so he can listen to Mark go off on tangents about philosophical ideals or the most recent newspaper advertisements and watch whoever he's talking to try to keep up.
Somewhere along the line the hard liquor comes out, and the interns start to take over the party, and this batch is one of Eduardo's favorites, okay, so he and Mark hang around a lot longer than they otherwise might've, and sometime around ten Eduardo starts to lose track of his evening.
He wakes up with a disgusting taste in his mouth and an overpowering reluctance to open his eyes. He tries, a little, and the sun stabs in, but more importantly, he's not up to categorizing just what he's doing in Mark's bed. Mark is still next to him, warm. His head is against Eduardo's arm and his leg is draped over Eduardo's, and it's mostly comfortable despite the hangover.
So he wiggles out from under Mark's various body parts and goes back to sleep.
He wakes up later to a finger poking his shoulder blade, which means he's shirtless as well as pants-less. It's Mark poking him, of course, and Eduardo considers telling him to fuck off, but his mouth is now so toxic that he's afraid he might vomit from the taste if he so much as moves his tongue. Instead he squeezes his eyes open and discovers the sunlight has abated to a somewhat-reasonable level.
"Good afternoon," Mark says, and the poking stops.
Eduardo manages to squirm to the edge of the bed away from Mark and get his feet to the floor. He checks, and is relieved to see he's got his underwear on. That doesn't necessarily resolve that nothing happened last night, but it means he isn't bare-assed when he stumbles into the hotel-quality bathroom and sticks his head under the faucet.
He hears quiet snickering and resents Mark for following him to witness his humiliation.
He takes a couple slurps of water and then spits them out, until his mouth feels clean enough that he actually gargles with it. Then he drinks some, and then he rinses his mouth out again, and then he considers how much longer he can stay under the faucet to avoid Mark, and eventually decides his dignity is already on the rocks and any longer will be worse than anything Mark can say.
"I thought you weren't the type to wear boxers," Mark says, nodding, and why does Eduardo ever underestimate his ability to be an awful person?
"Urgh," Eduardo says. He grabs Mark's shoulders – Mark blinks at him – turns him around, and pushes him out of the bathroom. Then he peels his underwear off and climbs into the shower.
By the time he's used half of Mark's soap and some of his shampoo, he feels healthy enough to deal with Mark's inhumanity. He reluctantly shuts the water off and locates a towel, then peels himself back into his underwear and steals the bathrobe off the hook.
He walks out of the bathroom, through the empty bedroom, past Mark in the living room, and into the kitchen, where he steals the last of Mark's pot of coffee and downs the whole lukewarm cup in one go.
"Make yourself at home," Mark says wryly.
"Shit," Eduardo says, as he finally sees the clock.
"I said good afternoon," Mark says. He spins around in his chair and watches Eduardo, amused.
"Shit," Eduardo repeats quietly. Mark has a red stain on his collarbone, visible above his t-shirt, that may or may not be a hickey, but Eduardo can't tell anything for sure. Reluctantly, he asks, "What happened last night?"
Mark tilts his head. "You don't remember anything?"
There's something weird about his voice, and Eduardo goes cold. “Is there something I should remember?"
Eduardo stares at him. Mark stares back. "Well?" Eduardo asks impatiently.
"Are you going to get dressed and give my bathrobe back before you run home or are you going to trek the whole way without your clothes?" Mark asks.
"Mark," Eduardo says. "What happened?"
"You should find your clothes," Mark says. "You really would regret running away in a bathrobe."
"I'm not going to run away," Eduardo says. He hesitates. "Do I have a reason to run away?"
"No," Mark says, suddenly turning back to his computer. "Don't worry. Nothing more than the usual groping occurred."
Eduardo feels betrayed. "We don't talk about that," he says.
"Uh huh," Mark says.
"Thanks," Eduardo says, shifting uncomfortably.
"For letting you steal part of my bed or for not taking advantage of you?" Mark asks.
"Hey," Eduardo says.
"It's a valid question," Mark says. "Personally, I think it should be for both. You took up more than your fair share of the bed. And you drool at night."
"Alright," Eduardo says, relaxing finally. He snorts. "Do you know where my clothes are?"
"You folded them on the chair in the bedroom," Mark says, and Eduardo goes to check. They are indeed folded very sloppily on the chair, but they're neat enough to wear home without too much embarrassment.
"Uh," Eduardo says, hesitating by the door once he's ready to leave.
"You're welcome, no, you can't read the book, yes, I know you'll call me when the movie studio calls you back, and yes, I still want you to get me writer permission if they ask again."
"Okay," Eduardo says, blinking, and there's not really much to say after that, so he takes his leave.
He isn't expecting the call bright and early Monday morning.
"We're still discussing it," Thiel says, as soon as Eduardo has said hello. "I'm in full support of him, I want you two to know, and most of the studio production team doesn't care. There’s some opposition from the writers, of course, but who could blame them?"
"You're still considering it?" Eduardo asks. There's a weird sort of excitement buzzing in his ears.
"I liked him," Thiel says, laughing.
Eduardo blinks and sets his pen down slowly. "Excuse me?"
"He tried to convince me otherwise," Thiel says. "But he is exactly what his books suggest, isn't he? I have to admit, I'm not a fiction reader, but my wife loves them."
"Oh," Eduardo says. "So you're willing to go forward with the deal?"
"I can't guarantee anything, of course," Thiel says. "But he's a compelling person, and he may be a pain in the ass but he's an honest one. Usually the writers I deal with are only the first. I'll make my recommendation to my studio and we'll come to a decision in the next couple of weeks."
"Thank you," Eduardo says, stunned. "I'd appreciate it if you'd keep me updated as much as possible. Cooperation on anything is easier to get from Mark with some advanced notice."
"Is that so? I can't imagine just anyone could do that."
"I'm sorry?" Eduardo asks, confused, but Thiel has already hung up.
Eduardo just skips the rest of work. He doesn't even let anyone know—he just turns off his lights, shuts the office door, and leaves. He feels like he's vibrating the whole way to Mark's apartment. He can't even believe—
But then, things always do tend to turn out well for Mark.
"You owe me your firstborn," Eduardo says, letting himself in.
Mark doesn't even look away from his computer screen. "You can have it," he says. "I hate kids."
Eduardo sits on the couch. He grabs the remote to the TV, clicking it off.
"Wait," Mark says after a moment. "Why do you deserve my offspring?"
Eduardo says, "Thiel called me today."
Mark jerks, spinning around and staring at him. "We got it?"
"We probably did," Eduardo says, but he's grinning too widely to be cautioning. "And you owe me," he adds, trying to sound severe.
"Thank you," Mark says.
Eduardo freezes, gaping at him.
"You—" Mark says, and leans forward. "I knew you would do it."
"Oh," Eduardo says faintly. He clears his throat. "You're welcome."
Mark is smiling, looking plainly happy like Eduardo's rarely seen him.
"They'll call us later," Eduardo says, making a guess. "We still have to sign the contract, and then it still might be months before they're ready for a script. They also might want it immediately, so you should be ready in case they—"
"I can convert my own book into a mass-market consumable," Mark says dismissively. "It would take a day, at most."
"Okay," Eduardo says, but he's so happy Mark's arrogance doesn't even register.
Mark turns back, typing at his computer with short, jabbing motions that means his attention is really elsewhere, too.
Eduardo watches him for a long time. He needs a haircut, and he's still slumping in the way that means his back will kill him by the time he's fifty. This actually does concern Eduardo, as he plans to know Mark when he's fifty, and he doesn't want to deal with the bitching. Finally, though, Eduardo has to admit that Mark seems preoccupied and there's really no reason to hang around any longer.
"I should go," he says, clearing his throat. He's decided he's just going to go home, lounge around and read and take the time to make a really good dinner.
"Wait," Mark says, head jerking up, and he points at Eduardo to stay put while he retreats to his bedroom. He comes back out with a small package in his hand, wrapped in really crappy paper. "Here," he says, and holds it out to Eduardo.
"What?" Eduardo says. He doesn't take it.
"It's your birthday," Mark says. "And this is a birthday present. Take it."
Eduardo blinks in shock and does take it, slowly. "Should I open it?"
"No, you're meant to admire the shitty wrapping," Mark says, and then shrugs a little. "Yeah, open it."
Underneath the worst wrapping job ever cobbled together is the most perfect copy of Mark's first novel Eduardo's ever seen—and that's including Lenore's copy, high on the shelves in her office.
Eduardo just stares at it. He runs his thumb of the simple gilt of the F in FaceMash.
Mark shifts a little in front of him. "Um," he says, "is it—"
"Holy fuck," Eduardo says.
"Oh," Mark says.
"No," Eduardo says. "Mark, this is—I don't know what to say. It's perfect."
"You haven't even read it yet," Mark points out.
"No," Eduardo says. "I meant—"
But of course Mark knows what he meant. Mark rolls his eyes and smiles a little and says, "Yeah. It's—it was my copy."
Eduardo's stomach sinks. "I can't take it," he says.
"You can't give it back," Mark says. "I don't accept returns."
"Seriously, Mark," Eduardo says. "I can't take this."
"You want it," Mark says. "And you're one of the only people I would let read it. I don't even look at it—and it'll have company. You probably have a lot more books than I do."
That, at least, is very much true. Mark doesn't read much, but Eduardo does, and he can't always help telling Mark about his more recent acquisitions. He usually talks about it when Mark is busy doing something else and Eduardo is bored, so he wasn't sure Mark actually listened. Eduardo takes a shaky breath and thinks about protesting more, but he's not that selfless. "Thank you."
"Yeah," Mark says. He fidgets. They've apparently reached the end of his capacity for sentimental interaction.
"I didn't even know you remembered my birthday," Eduardo says, laughing a little. He keeps the book tight in his palm, tucking his hand against his side. "That would be a pretty amazing gift by itself. It's nice to know I rate high enough." Mark shuffles his feet and looks down at them, pleased. It makes Eduardo want to hug him, or worse. He clears his throat. "So really. Thank you again."
"I only remember because your birthday's right after my sister's," Mark blurts. "And you always remind me of hers." He turns a little red, and Eduardo stares, charmed. "Just so you know not to give too much credit."
Eduardo always knew falling in love with Mark was a terrible idea. It just sort of happened—he went from admiring his writing to enjoying his company, and somewhere in between there and the moments when he wants to bash Mark's head against a table because he's so goddamn stubborn, Eduardo had realized one day that he intended to stay with Mark the rest of his life, and not because Mark made him a lot of money.
It was a very alarming discovery. Eduardo had reacted by recruiting two new clients – one of whom he later had to fob off on a younger agent, because he honestly didn't have the time – and avoiding Mark for almost a month in the hope that he would get over it. Mark usually called him for help on everything from fact-checking to demanding Eduardo bring him food, because he wanted Indian from that place two blocks away and he was too involved in writing to get up and they didn't deliver on weekends. Mark hadn’t called any less the whole month Eduardo was trying to ignore him, not even when it was the beginning of the fourth week and Eduardo was still only reluctantly answering the text messages that he absolutely had to, and Eduardo had realized that Mark, whether he realized it or not, was as attached in his own way as Eduardo was, and had decided that would have to be enough.
Now he's not sure what to think.
"Not too much credit," Eduardo says idiotically. "Okay."
Mark smiles. "Are you doing anything?"
"What?" Eduardo asks.
"Tonight," Mark clarifies. "For your birthday."
He looks almost hopeful, and Eduardo feels panic well up in his throat. He had imposed certain boundaries, such as refusing to stay over until three a.m. every night, for his own sanity. Mark had laughed at him while he was making the boundaries clear, and still only reluctantly adheres to them. Eduardo had always assumed he just liked the ease of being able to order Eduardo around, but he's beginning to suspect Mark may simply not realize how often he does it.
But this doesn't sound unwitting. If Mark means—"Yes," Eduardo says suddenly, loud. "I'm going out with friends."
"Oh," Mark says, his face closing down. "Good."
Eduardo swallows back his first instinct, which is to invite Mark along, because that would be enormously stupid, considering he's not going out with anyone. Especially not Mark. "Yeah," he says. "Even if I can't drink much. Work night."
"Yeah," Mark says, voice cold. He turns away.
"I'll – see you," Eduardo says. "I'll let you know as soon as Thiel calls me with a contract."
"Bye," Mark says.
Eduardo doesn't have the guts to ask about the novel, and he slinks out of the apartment, clutching Mark's book and feeling horribly disappointed.
His only real plans, of course, involve Mark's book. Eduardo goes home, grabs a cup of coffee, ensconces himself on his couch, and mainlines it.
FaceMash is about a group of people who are bored with their lives. Basically, the premise is just like every other self-discovery novel written by a young adult author in the twenty-first century, but just as the reader settles in for the expected read, they're reminded that this is Mark Zuckerberg writing this novel, and suddenly self-discovery takes an unusual direction.
It probably wouldn't be so disturbing, Eduardo thinks, putting the book down at around one a.m., if Mark didn't manage to sound utterly sympathetic to all of them. He's practically talking out of the pages, and Eduardo can hear his voice narrating the introspective passages, trying to explain to the reader, if they would only listen, how these life choices are perfectly valid! Stealing office supplies and becoming a serial rapist are both parts of the general path one takes to adulthood.
The book manages to moralize pretty well: the bad people get caught or punished, depending upon their particular crimes, and the good characters – there were two, even, and they were mildly intelligent and sympathetic – get happy endings, so the problem isn't that the book seems to endorse violence or sociopathy. No, the problem is that Mark writes the ending in a quick, mocking style, as if the aftermath is unimportant to the overall story. That, combined with the indulgence in the first sections of the book, make it seem less like the novel and characters are interested in terrible things and more like the author himself is personally acquainted with them.
Eduardo, when he finishes the last page, goes to put on another cup of coffee and start over from the beginning. He knows how and why Mark writes, and there's something he's missing, he's sure; Mark doesn't write misery just because.
Eduardo had been forced to give up on the book around six a.m. Then he poured himself into the shower after an hour's nap, downed enough coffee to guarantee himself acid reflux disease by the time he hits thirty, and went into work.
He's groggy, and in an admittedly foul mood. It's not that he didn't like Mark's book - he did. It's just that he liked it mostly because it was Mark's, and because he was just so happy to finally read it. Dumb as the idea was, he'd been hoping that he would get whatever it was Mark had meant by the novel. Mark trusted him, by giving him a copy and permission to read it, and he feels like he hasn't measured up. And he's still curious enough that he's going to ask Mark—he has to. He wants to know why Mark wrote it, what inspired it – his novels are always inspired by something, and Eduardo's figured it out for every other novel he's already written – but there's no way he'll be able to talk to Mark about it without admitting that he failed.
Mark, depending upon just how important this first book really is, may or may not forgive him.
Eduardo could soften the blow by telling Mark how much he enjoyed it regardless, but Mark will ask why, and he can't explain it without cooing over how adorable the idea of baby, eighteen year old author-Mark is, or resorting to just cooing about Mark in general. And Eduardo has worked too hard on keeping those embarrassing tendencies out of the way; he's not going to let them resurface now.
Eduardo is brooding, glaring at his office door every time someone knocks, looking for him, when his cellphone goes off right by his elbow, making him jump. It's Peter Thiel.
Eduardo swallows on a dry throat and waits for the second, then the third ring, before pressing the Accept button and bringing the phone to his ear. "Eduardo Saverin," he says coolly.
"Mr. Saverin," Thiel says.
Eduardo swallows again and wishes he'd thought to take a drink of water. Instead he clears his throat and says, "Mr. Thiel. Glad to hear from you. Good news, I hope?"
"We're definitely ready to sign a contract," Thiel says. "We've gone through it pretty fast, you can tell, usually we don't have a two-day turn around on these things, but an agreement was reached pretty quickly."
"Ready to sign," Eduardo says, trying very, very hard to keep the excitement from his voice. "We're very glad to hear that."
"Well, I do have to warn you," Thiel says. "We're open to negotiations on price and timing, as always, but the main clause is final for us."
The excitement sinks and becomes dread. "Main clause?"
"We're not able to offer Mark the screenplay," Thiel says. "The best we can do is a partnership. We'll be choosing his co-writer, of course, from among our staff."
Eduardo closes his eyes and counts very slowly in his head. When he doesn't feel like either fainting or yelling, he says, "This is not a good thing to hear."
"For what little it's worth, I fought them on it," Thiel says, and Eduardo believes him. "But they're a little nervous about letting a novelist at the screenplay for what will potentially be a hundred million dollar picture."
"Mr. Thiel, I'm not sure your studio realizes just how difficult Mark is to work with."
"Actually," Thiel says, and he sounds brighter. "I thought that would be a bit of a saving grace, actually."
"Excuse me?" Eduardo says.
"Well, none of our writers are used to anyone quite as outspoken as him, I imagine," Thiel says. "I was going to try to get one of the newer, more cowardly ones on the project. I figured we'd let him run right over them."
Eduardo snorts a little, almost relieved. "Yeah," he says. "Okay, thank you."
"We're having our lawyers write the contract up for the first round of bargaining," Thiel says. "That won't be as quick. It'll take at least a week, or the law firm won't be able to overcharge us for as much of their time as they usually like to."
"That's fine," Eduardo says. He has to talk to Mark anyway. He's not going to tell Thiel, not yet at least, that co-writer only as a condition may very well blow the entire deal out of the water.
Eduardo completely forgets about the first book. He lets himself into Mark's living room without bothering to knock, and startles Dustin, who's on Mark's couch. They both shut up as soon as Eduardo comes in.
"I need to talk to Mark," Eduardo says. If there were ever a time to dispense with pleasantries, this would be it.
"Okay," Dustin says hesitantly. Mark turns around, frowning.
"Alone," Eduardo says.
"I'll come back later?" Dustin says to Mark cautiously. He gives Eduardo a weird look and backs his way to the door.
"I'll text you," Mark says.
The door shuts quietly behind Dustin, but then Eduardo has no idea how to broach the subject. He sits on the couch.
Mark says, "If you're building suspense, it's working. I'm about to suspect the revelation of an elopement."
Eduardo frowns and shakes his head. "Why would you automatically jump to elopement?" he asks.
"The half-fearful demeanor and the almost visible unspoken dread," Mark says. "It's almost straight from a horror novel."
"Elopements usually aren't the subject of horror—never mind," Eduardo says. "Thiel called." Mark's gaze narrows, and Eduardo knows he's done a terrible job at easing into this but it's too late now. "You can't write the screenplay," he says, "without accepting one of their co-writers."
Mark is silent and still for just a moment. Then he tilts his head and says, "Fuck them."
Eduardo starts to sigh out. He doesn't quite get there.
"What the hell do they think they're doing?" Mark says. "It's my fucking novel, it'll be worth hundreds of millions to them, and none of their writers can do shit anyway. If they could, the studio wouldn't be forced to dig elsewhere for movie plots. If they really think I'm going to agree—"
"It's not a matter of agreeing," Eduardo says. "Either you accept a co-writer, or the screenplay doesn't get written."
"You're giving up again," Mark says. "I'm not taking a co-writer. I don't need one. It would only drag the quality down and increase the time it takes to get it written. Call them back and tell them—"
"Their lawyers are drawing up the first round of contracts," Eduardo says. "This is their formal offer. If we reject this, we'll be rejecting their first contract. Thiel has told me it's their one non-negotiable point."
"I won't do it," Mark spits.
"Then you won't write the screenplay," Eduardo says tiredly. "I don't know a lot, but it's possible they have the right to sign you a check and produce the screenplay on their own, if you won't cooperate. If you turn this down, Facebook might become a movie without you. If they don't write it anyway then rejecting the contract will have guaranteed the movie never gets made."
Mark seethes. Despite his attitude otherwise, he really desperately wants Facebook to become a movie. It might be because it'll reach a larger audience, or it might be because Mark likes all the bragging rights he can collect, but he does want this deal.
"No," Eduardo cuts him off. "If you're going to ask if I can do anything else, let me save you the breath. We lost that one."
"You lost it," Mark says.
Eduardo frowns, stung. Still, he says, "Look, Thiel said he'll make sure he gives you someone weak, someone you can just—"
"Thiel also said he would get me the contract the way I wanted," Mark says, "or so you told me."
"What?" Eduardo says. "Look, Mark, he's just one person—"
"And you didn't look for anyone else who might be more—"
"He is the one arranging this deal, there's nobody else handling it, he just couldn't—"
"This is useless," Mark snaps. "What was the fucking point?"
"It'll still be a movie," Eduardo says, trying to hold onto his temper and be soothing. "It'll still—"
"It won't still be a movie," Mark says. "There was never a guarantee it would be. Just because it gets optioned, and even if they got my screenplay and finalized it, there was never a guarantee there would be a movie. There won't be a movie for sure until one gets put in theaters."
"Mark," Eduardo starts.
"No," Mark says. "It's not fucking worth it."
"It's too late to back out," Eduardo says tiredly. "If you sign the contract, you have to co-write a screenplay. And like I said, if you reject the contract—"
"Yes, I know," Mark says. "Somewhere along the line I was stupid enough to let you sign away rights to my own fucking words."
Eduardo grits his teeth and doesn't say anything.
Mark twists his chair back and forth, muttering a little and glowering at the floor. "So" he says, several minutes later when he's appeared to wind down a little. "That's it."
"Yeah," Eduardo says. "When we get the contract, we argue over minor terms and conditions – we'll have to use the company lawyers, of course, it'll be complicated – and then you sign it. I don't know anything about how much time you'll have to work on the screenplay, or even what they're proposing as reimbursement—I guess there are royalties of some kind—"
"No," Mark says, "I'm not signing it."
Eduardo gapes. "What?"
"I'm not," Mark says, slowly and clearly, "signing it."
"But," Eduardo says. When he explained that Mark had two options, he hadn't actually expected him to consider the second one viable. "You have to."
"No, I don't," Mark says scornfully.
"Why not?" Eduardo bursts out, a little more loudly than he meant. "You'll have a co-writer, Mark, and you can write better and faster than almost anyone, and argue the rest of them into the ground. It'll practically be a formality, there's no reason—"
"I don't want to," Mark says. "It's my fucking book, and I deserve to write the fucking screenplay. If they won't give me that unconditionally, their deal can go fuck itself."
"I've been working on this for months," Eduardo says helplessly.
Mark shrugs. "So?"
"Jesus Christ!" Eduardo yelps. "It's a movie, Mark! You're incredibly lucky they want to make a film from one of your books at all! It's worth at least several million dollars, even if the movie doesn't do well! Why are you being so childish?" He regrets it as soon as he stops talking.
"Childish," Mark says, cold and dangerous. "I suppose it's childish to have respect for what I do, and expect the same from other people? No, actually, it's downright gauche to even mention respect, isn't it? After all, this is Hollywood! Our culture doesn't have room—"
"I didn't mean—"
"And I forgot you get commission on these things. You must've really been looking forward to this deal," Mark says, in a viciously sympathetic tone.
"Fuck you," Eduardo says. "I don't work with you for the money. You know I don't—"
"No," Mark says. "You work with me because Lenore needed an agent for me five years ago and she was at the bottom of the barrel when you cropped up."
Eduardo just looks at him. Mark holds his gaze, unrepentant, and Eduardo blinks and looks away first. "Well," he says unsteadily. "If that's what you think—"
"Dustin's been waiting for a long time," Mark says. "You don't look like you can handle any more honesty today, and I'm tired of talking to you."
"Yeah," Eduardo says, and heads for the door. "I know how you feel."
Eduardo hasn't seen Mark for a week. It took three days of fuming – he had to shelve FaceMash as soon as he got home, fighting the urge to take a pen to it and point out all the shitty parts – and he only started to calm down over the weekend. He still hasn't called Mark, because there's no reason, except to ask about the upcoming deadline, and Mark has made his opinions on Eduardo's management very clear. He didn't expect Mark to call or anything, so he hasn't been surprised.
Chris has been emailing him every day, asking him about the novel, and Eduardo has let all of them sit in his inbox untouched. There's nothing he can say—he doesn't feel like putting Chris off anymore by lying about a novel that will in no way be ready to publish by the end of the week, since Eduardo hasn't even seen the rough draft yet, and he doesn't feel like explaining Mark's failure to meet deadline because it reflects equally poorly – or worse – on him, and he's taken enough abuse on Mark's behalf recently.
Everyone at work is giving him a wide berth, and he takes two days reading a novel from another one of his clients, a Mr. Smith who writes good, if formulaic, detective novels, and sending the proposal out for it. Normally it would take a day or less, but Eduardo takes his time and actually reads the whole novel for once, because it offers at least a little distraction. Lenore has started eyeing his office every time she walks past in that way that suggests she's going to feel obligated to ask him what's wrong soon. That's always awkward for everyone involved, so Eduardo would like to fake a good mood, but he's just too tired and pissed off.
He starts to consider taking a vacation, and spends one whole afternoon researching where he might go.
And then suddenly it's the day of the deadline, and Chris starts calling his cellphone every five minutes, and Eduardo realizes just how much of a dick he's being, screwing Chris over, and he decides he needs to face the music. Still, he waits until after lunch to answer his phone.
"Hey," he says, a little feebly, expecting Chris to tear into him.
"You guys," Chris says, "never cease to amaze me."
"What?" Eduardo says, brow furrowing in confusion.
"The novel," Chris says. "I've been sitting here frantic the last couple of days because the deadline was coming and I haven't heard anything from any of you. I was about ready to kill you this morning."
"Sorry," Eduardo says, cringing. "Look, I can't really explain—"
"Hey," Chris says. "I understand. You guys got it in on time, that's all I care about."
"We did?" Eduardo says. He clears his throat. "I mean, what?"
"Yeah," Chris replies, sounding happy. "Haven't read it yet, but I'll let you know if I need anything further."
"Right," Eduardo replies faintly. "You actually have it?"
"Yes. I just can't believe you got it finished. Poor Dustin must've been working around the clock," Chris says.
Eduardo closes his eyes. "Listen," he says. "I've got—"
"Yeah, of course," Chris agrees. "I should go too," and he hangs up.
Eduardo stares down at his hands for a long time. He has no idea what novel Chris could be talking about—Mark hasn't shown him anything.
But of course, Eduardo has been working off the assumption that Mark would show him. But Mark is more than capable of meeting with Dustin by himself – and God, Eduardo can't believe he didn't figure it out; they're friends, yeah, but they were working at Mark's apartment, and Dustin even said as much – and if Mark wanted to, he could submit the manuscript to Chris directly, too. Eduardo's only around to make everything easier for him. And considering Mark's recent comments about what he thinks of that, Eduardo's starting to think he shouldn't be surprised that Mark has apparently taken a novel all the way to publishing without him.
Eduardo sits there for another long ten minutes, staring at his desktop and considering what to do. Then he decides to take the easy route first, and he puts his coat on.
"Uh, hey," Dustin says when Eduardo knocks on his door. Dustin looks remarkably unsurprised, considering Eduardo's never even been to his office before. "How's it going?"
"So Mark's most recent book has already been sent to the publisher," Eduardo says.
Dustin cringes. "You don't sound happy."
"Chris called to congratulate me on our apparent last-minute rush to meet deadline despite the impossible odds. It was a little unexpected, considering I've never even seen a draft of the novel."
"Have you talked to Mark, by any chance?" Dustin asks, looking shifty.
"Why did he come straight to you?" Eduardo asks. He tries to keep his voice even, but something gives him away, because Dustin winces again.
"Um," he says. "Would you believe that Mark knew you were so busy with the whole screenplay thing that he didn't want to add to your workload?"
"No," Eduardo says. He leans forward. "Come on, Dustin, what's wrong? I know he's been angry with me recently, but you two must've been working on this for weeks—"
"I promised I wouldn't tell you anything," Dustin blurts. "Please talk to Mark."
Eduardo almost asks if he's going to be fired, if Mark has only been waiting for this thing with Facebook to go through before asking for a new agent. Dustin already looks terrified though, so Eduardo just nods and says, "Thanks."
Mark is at his desk, back to the front door, TV murmuring. When Eduardo comes in, slamming the door a little hard, he jerks, spinning around. They stare at each other. Eduardo crosses his arms.
"You went very quickly from being reluctant to use the key to coming in whenever you like," Mark says, which is not an auspicious beginning to the conversation.
"So tell me about the book," Eduardo says.
"Which one?" Mark says, frowning.
"The one Chris received for publishing this morning," Eduardo says.
Mark opens his mouth, and then appears at a loss for words. "Oh," he says, and shuts his mouth again.
"Mark," Eduardo says desperately, "aren't you even going to try to explain?"
"I don't need to," Mark says stiffly.
Of course not. Eduardo isn't sure why he expected anything different. "Why did you lie to me?" he asks.
"I never lied to you," Mark says.
"I asked you about the draft dozens of times!" Eduardo says. He steps closer to Mark's desk. "You always told me it wasn't finished!"
"No," Mark says. "I told you it wasn't finished once, and it wasn't then. You always asked me whether you could see it. I said no."
Eduardo feels like he's had the breath knocked out of him. He's worked with Mark for five years and Mark has never told anyone he didn't want them to see a manuscript once the first draft was completed. He turns slowly, walking on numb feet to the familiar couch. He sits, scrubbing his hands over his face.
He takes a deep breath and says, "You know, there are more direct ways to fire someone."
"What?" Mark says sharply.
"If you wanted to get rid of me," Eduardo says. "That's what the copy of FaceMash was about, right? A farewell gift. You could've just handed it over and said, 'Oh, by the way, I don't need you to be my agent anymore.'"
"What?" Mark repeats.
"It would've saved me a lot of trouble," Eduardo says. "I could've used the intervening time for something productive. Have you already gotten a new agent? Or are you finally following through on your threats and trying to go it on your own?"
"I'm not firing you," Mark says, sounding perturbed.
"You've made it very clear you have no use for me," Eduardo says. He manages to meet Mark's eyes. Mark still looks puzzled and mildly startled, as if Eduardo is something he's suddenly been confronted with. "You didn't have to handle this your usual jackass way. I think five years and our friendship deserved at least a little more."
"Our friendship," Mark repeats, making a face. "Our personal relationship isn't supposed to have anything to do with business. You made that rule."
Eduardo made that rule to protect himself. It hasn't worked very well. "Somehow," he says, "I always thought you were better than this. It's disappointing to realize everyone else was right."
Mark snaps, "Better than what?"
Eduardo ignores him. "You know," he says, "I was going to ask you something. I read FaceMash, and I was going to ask you what the secret was. Because I just didn't get it—I couldn't figure out what you were actually trying to say."
Mark has gone very still and he's less angry than a moment before; he looks wary.
Eduardo smiles humorlessly. "But there is no secret, is there? Maria was right—that book was all you. You're that much of an asshole. You don't give a fuck about anyone else."
Mark looks stricken. "Why are you being such a dick?" he asks.
Eduardo snorts and says, "You've heard of irony, right?"
"I haven't done anything!" Mark says. "You come in here a week after freaking out about my movie contract and start yelling because I sent a manuscript in on time."
"Ugh," Eduardo says. "You are one of the most oblivious people I've ever met." He shifts, sitting forward, and then gives up and stands, pacing a little. He adds, "And I hate your fucking couch."
"Fuck you, too," Mark says. "What the hell? You barged in and started babbling. I'm not oblivious, you're just insane."
"I'm fed up, too, okay?" Eduardo says. "I'm tired of getting the blame for things I haven't done wrong. I'm tired of weird hours and unrealistic expectations and dealing with you."
"I've never blamed you for something you didn't do," Mark says.
"Facebook?" Eduardo says pointedly. "You handled that disappointment well—you just said I screwed everything up, and then you could be angry instead of unhappy!"
"You did," Mark says coldly. "You handled the negotiations for all of it, the whole way through. It went wrong somewhere, and wherever that was, it was your fault."
Eduardo feels cold and defeated. "You're right," he says, "of course. But it doesn't matter."
"No?" Mark says, raising his eyebrows.
"No," Eduardo says. "You fired me and we're not each other's problem anymore."
"I haven't fired you!" Mark says.
"Well, I quit," Eduardo says, and it comes out with an impressive air of finality. As he says it, he realizes he means it.
"You can't," Mark answers promptly. "Lenore won't assign me to someone else."
"No, she won't," Eduardo agrees. "That's why I'm quitting the agency. I've been considering switching careers anyway." He hasn't, but he imagines he will be after this. He'll look at publishing or editing; something to get him away from authors like Mark and close working relationships.
Mark scowls. "You wouldn't," he says. "You love your job."
"Yes," Eduardo says. "It's amazing, being at the beck and call of spoiled creative types who have no respect for what I do."
Mark looks lost. Eduardo just feels tired. He stands up. "Here's your key." He throws it onto the coffee table; it bounces, skittering across the surface and onto the floor where Eduardo loses sight of it. "It's been nice knowing you." He means it, of course.
Mark's derisive noise as he shuts the front door behind him is worse than anything Mark could've said, which, Eduardo decides bitterly, is rather characteristic.
Before Eduardo can talk to Lenore in the morning, Chris calls. Eduardo stares at the caller ID, undecided on whether to answer, but Mark is still technically his responsibility and Eduardo doesn't want to end all his hard work with a black mark on his employment record.
"Hello, Chris," he says, careful to sound cheerful.
"Eduardo," Chris says, and his tone is not nearly so bright.
"What can I do for you?" Eduardo asks.
"We need to talk about Mark's latest novel," he says. "And I would've appreciated an advance warning."
"What's the problem?" Eduardo asks, closing his eyes as he sinks into his desk chair.
"What's—" Chris starts, exasperated. "Have you read it?"
He obviously means it as a rhetorical question, but Eduardo grits his teeth and says evenly, "I haven't, actually."
"You haven't?" Chris asks after a pause. "I thought you—"
"I normally do," Eduardo says. "But there's been a few incidents this week that have prevented me from getting to it."
"Yes, but I assumed, considering the subject matter—" Chris trails off. "What do you know about the book?"
"Very little," Eduardo says. "But I can—"
"Can we meet over lunch?" Chris asks abruptly, saving Eduardo's ass. He was about to say he could skim it today and call Chris back, but he's not sure how he would get a copy, with Dustin sworn to silence and the situation with Mark. "I think this is something we should go over face to face."
"Of course," Eduardo says, and hangs up after they make arrangements. He still has to go talk to Lenore, but he takes a minute and puts his head in his hands, deep-breathing.
Lenore is less than pleased with his announcement.
"Need I remind you," she says frostily, "that the agents in our company, while they can request reassignments, do not have the power to end their contract with their clients. Only I can do that."
"Of course," Eduardo says.
"Eduardo," she says, and sighs. "I'm more than familiar with Mr. Zuckerberg and the difficulties he presents. But are you sure you're not overreacting? Conflicts in our line of work aren't uncommon, and—"
"Lenore," Eduardo interrupts evenly, "if it isn't possible to reassign Ma— Mr. Zuckerberg, I'm afraid I'll have to give my two weeks' notice."
She breathes out slowly, sitting back and assessing him. "That bad?" she finally asks.
Eduardo nods, and he can't help but drop her gaze as he admits, "Our conflict has gotten personal."
"Alright," she says, and stands up. "On two conditions. One is that you help reassign Mr. Zuckerberg. You've worked with him the longest, you know him best."
Eduardo nods. She says, "Let's hope we can avoid moving him through half the company this time," startling a laugh out of him.
"The second," she says, and holds up a finger, "is that you must finish handling his movie deal."
"Of course," Eduardo says. It would make no sense for someone new to take over now, when they would have to play catch up and learn how to handle Mark. They would would have no idea what's going on, and on the off chance Mark doesn't decide to reject the contract himself, Eduardo doesn't want to fuck him over like that.
He spends the rest of his morning digging through employee profiles searching for his replacement. There are some he can throw out immediately, but the pool gets significantly more difficult to narrow once he gets it down to about twenty candidates. At least, it's more difficult until he thinks to check who Mark has been assigned to previously. That knocks another eleven of them out of the running. Finally he starts looking at their current clients, seeing which ones have experience dealing with other difficult authors.
He eventually picks out three: one man and two women. The man is older than he is, and primarily handles poets and first time authors—both groups which probably, Eduardo is sure, approach the level of difficulty Mark presents on a good day. Of the two women, one of them flies through clients except for two she's had for years, so Eduardo figures she and Mark would either be perfect or disastrous, and there's no way to predict which way it would go. The third candidate is a young woman who's only been working for Lanning a couple of years, but she's kept all three authors that have been assigned to her since she was hired.
"Lenore," Eduardo says, and knocks on her open door. He can't decide, so the final choice will have to be hers.
She waves him in, gesturing for him to sit, and Eduardo settles into the same chair as earlier, spreading the three agent profiles out in front of her.
She gets off the phone quickly, while Eduardo sends Chris a confirmation for lunch. "Hm," she says, drawing his attention back off his phone, and taps her fingernail on one of the profiles. "Her," she says.
It's the youngest agent, the girl with the three clients.
"Her?" Eduardo asks, surprised.
"Yes," Lenore says, and picks up the profile. "She's the most like you."
Eduardo doesn't know what to say, so he excuses himself for lunch.
Chris is late due to traffic. Eduardo orders coffee and a salad while he waits and scrolls through the list of unassigned authors Lenore emailed him. His experience with Mark gives Eduardo the right to choose his replacement client, instead of being assigned from a random pool.
Eduardo has no idea who he wants, though. His other clients are all so low-obligation because Mark was always so difficult, and now he doesn't know what he prefers. He also doesn't want to take anyone famous, because he wants to minimize his chances of running into Mark at future industry events. But the problem with looking at unknowns is that he doesn't know any of their work—he'll be doing a lot of reading over the weekend.
"Hey, sorry," Chris says.
Eduardo startles, almost dropping his phone. "No problem," he says, sliding it back into his bag. "I was just catching up on work anyway."
"Right," Chris says, and immediately looks uncomfortable.
"Let's order lunch first," Eduardo says. "I'm starving, and whatever it is will probably need my full attention."
Chris makes small talk while they eat, telling Eduardo about his fiancé and the sordid details of wedding planning. He makes Eduardo laugh more than once, which Eduardo appreciates, and he doesn't let the conversation stray to Mark, which Eduardo appreciates even more.
By the time the waitress is clearing their plates, though, they're out of excuses to ignore business, and Chris pulls a manuscript out of the computer bag by his feet.
"So," he says, staring at Eduardo.
Eduardo is too busy peering at the manuscript he's holding up. "He sent you an untitled novel?" Eduardo says, appalled. He can't imagine Mark letting a book be seen unfinished.
"No," Chris says, and he sounds amused. "I had to call him to ask, and he told me quite emphatically that First Draft is, of course, the title."
Wincing, Eduardo says, "He yelled at you?"
"For a while," Chris says. "He seemed to be in a pretty bad mood."
Despite the unvoiced question, Eduardo doesn’t comment.
"So," Chris finally says, sighing, "you haven't read it."
"No," Eduardo says. "Mark always refuses to let me see anything until the first draft is complete, and until yesterday I didn't know this was. We're—" Eduardo hesitates. "Look, nothing's been announced yet, but I've resigned as Mark's agent."
Whatever reaction Eduardo might have been expecting, it wasn't for Chris to eye him appraisingly and say, "I don't believe you."
Eduardo raises his eyebrows. "We've had some difficulties recently."
"That I believe," Chris says, and then rolls his eyes. "I need you to read it," he says, and pushes the manuscript across to Eduardo. "I'm not sure what you want me to do with it."
Eduardo says, confused, "Publish it? I mean, if it's ready—"
"I don't mean you as your company," Chris says, "I mean you, personally."
"I don't understand," Eduardo says.
Chris snorts. "Just read it."
Eduardo takes the rest of the afternoon off, heading back to his apartment with the manuscript. As he's letting himself in the door his phone goes off, and he swears.
"Hello?" he says, almost snapping. "I've left the office for today, I—"
"Eduardo?" Dustin asks.
Eduardo freezes. "Yeah?"
"Did you—you're not really dropping Mark, right?" Dustin says.
"Mark is being reassigned," Eduardo says shortly. "Not that it's any of your business."
"You weren't supposed to fight!" Dustin says. "You were supposed to talk!"
"Sorry to disappoint," Eduardo says, rolling his eyes. "Now, if you don't mind—"
"You have to read the book," Dustin asks anxiously. "Mark didn't want you to see it until it was done, and I don't know why he didn't give it to you first, but—"
"I'm trying to read it now," Eduardo says pointedly.
Dustin goes silent.
"Look, you'll still be working with Mark," Eduardo says, setting his bag down slowly. "And I'll take care of everything through this most recent novel."
"Just tell Mark to call me tomorrow," Dustin says and hangs up.
Eduardo scrubs a hand across his face, sighing and grabbing the manuscript, but before he can sit down his phone goes off again.
"Hello?" he snaps, and then winces.
"Hey, Eduardo, sorry," says Chris, voice dry. "I know you're probably very absorbed, but I forgot to mention earlier that, whatever you decide to do, if the book is going to be published I need a proper proposal to submit. It's too different from his other books to trade on his name only."
"I understand. I'll have one for you Monday," Eduardo says.
As soon as Chris says goodbye Eduardo turns off his phone, and he finally settles himself on the couch to read.
It's just before dawn when Eduardo knocks on Mark's door. He wishes he hadn't made that gesture with the key, because it would've been really nice to have been able to let himself in right now.
It takes almost ten minutes before Eduardo's pounding gets Mark to the door, and when he answers he's in sweatpants and a t-shirt, rumpled and sleepy and pissed off.
"I know even you don't start work this early," he says. "What are you doing?"
"It's Saturday, I don't work at all," Eduardo says absently, and pushes his way past Mark.
"Come in," Mark says sarcastically. He lets the door slam shut.
"You turned us both into girls," Eduardo says. It's not what he wanted to open with, but it'll have to do.
Mark freezes, staring at him. "Who gave it to you? I told Dustin—"
"Chris," Eduardo says. He feels like he's going to laugh, but he doesn't actually want to. "Mark, we— Mark." He sounds like an idiot, but he doesn't know what he's supposed to do. "Why are we girls?" he asks. "It doesn't do anything to hide the autobiographical nature of the stupid book."
Mark's chin comes up. "I wasn't trying to hide anything."
Eduardo snorts. "Obviously."
Mark doesn't say anything.
"Mark," Eduardo tries again. "You wrote us a romance novel."
"It's not a romance novel," Mark says, bristling. "It's a contemporary study of—"
"You turned us into girls and put us in a romance," Eduardo repeats. "You were getting it published."
"That's generally what happens to novels," Mark says.
"Why didn't you just tell me?" Eduardo asks. "Instead of all of this?"
"I tried," Mark snaps. "You were always too busy with the fucking books. You always missed the point."
Eduardo says, "I didn't miss it. I was ignoring you."
Mark frowns. "Why?" His shoulders are hunched. "If you don't want—"
"I didn't think you were—you don't believe in relationships," Eduardo says helplessly.
"I don't believe in relationships based on sex," Mark says defensively.
He starts to turn away, but Eduardo catches his shoulder. "I'm sorry," he says. "The other girl— she does—" He stops, casting around. "It's pretty shitty as far as romances go. You need more practice."
Mark says, "It was the only thing I thought would work." He steps closer, and Eduardo holds carefully still. Mark just takes the manuscript from him, looking at it appraisingly. "It's not a romance," he repeats finally, and holds it protectively against his stomach.
"Fine," Eduardo says, "it has romance elements," because God, why does Mark have to be such a pain in the ass?
"Yeah," Mark says, and he's still holding the manuscript when Eduardo gives up on words and kisses him instead.
Mark kisses him back, clutching, a hand going to the small of his back to pull him closer. He makes a quiet sound when Eduardo touches him, unguarded, but still the hesitancy grows and grows until the kiss is the lightest brush of his mouth on Eduardo's, as if the way Eduardo is trying to bury himself in Mark's skin weren't encouragement enough.
"Mark," Eduardo says, "Listen: the book is right. I love you, too."
"The book is flawed," Mark mumbles, mouth against Eduardo's chin. "It's a love story on the surface, but it's really examining the contrast between fictional expectations and real life experiences in—"
"I was still using the book itself as a metaphor," Eduardo says. "And I mean it. I'll write it out if I have to."
Mark takes a sharp breath and finally pushes closer. He kisses clumsily, eagerly, licking Eduardo's lip and making a low sound when Eduardo lets him in.
"I thought you were trying to get rid of me," Eduardo confesses quietly as Mark's fingers tangle up in his t-shirt.
Mark's mouth brushes his as he says, "You're an idiot."
"Yeah," Eduardo says. "I'm understanding that."
Mark only kisses him again, but his breath rattles out shakily like relief.
They kiss for what feels like forever, Mark's fingers digging bruises into Eduardo's skin and Eduardo going dizzy with breathlessness and exhaustion. When he starts swaying on his feet, Eduardo pulls away, panting. He presses his forehead to Mark's shoulder and asks again, "Why didn't you say anything?"
"We've worked together for five years," Mark says. "You've never acted as if you were in love with me. You've never even looked at me the way you look at Chris, and he's just your friend."
"I don't have to worry about being too unprofessional with Chris," Eduardo says. He slides a hand up the back of Mark's shirt, touching warm skin. He feels tired and at home.
"I don't care if you're ever professional," Mark says. His hands scratch along Eduardo's scalp and finally catch handfuls of hair. He lifts Eduardo's head.
"I had to be," Eduardo says. "It was so hard not to touch you." He traces the bottom edge of Mark's lip as if to demonstrate.
Mark loosens his grasp on Eduardo's hair enough to let Eduardo move forward and kiss him again but he twists away when Eduardo tries to grab him properly. "My bedroom," he says, licking at his reddened mouth. "And you're not going to run away in the morning."
"No," Eduardo promises. "I'm not going to run away."
Mark pushes him down on the bed, impatient, and straddles his hips. His hands tug insistently at clothes and make it almost impossible to get undressed, and his teeth and tongue are everywhere. "I want you to stay," he says, pushing Eduardo flat with hands on his chest. "Here. Don't ever leave."
"Okay," Eduardo agrees. Mark smiles at him.
When Eduardo wakes up it's early evening. He's lying on his stomach and his whole back is warm from dying sunlight and he never wants to move. Mark's apartment is always beautiful, once you get past the mess, but with the dying sunlight casting strips of light across the floor and bed the way it is now, it's gorgeous.
"Hey," Mark says from the doorway, and Eduardo lifts his head to look back at him.
"Hey," he answers and then swallows; his voice is rough.
Mark smiles and wanders slowly over. "You sleep a lot," he says, lying down on the edge of the bed.
Eduardo rolls onto his side to face him. He yawns right in Mark's face as a result, but Mark doesn't even seem to notice. "I was up all night reading," Eduardo says, and yawns again.
Mark smiles, looking pleased. He presses his head against Eduardo's arm. "Did you like it?" he asks quietly.
Eduardo almost snorts, because only Mark would be arrogant enough to ask for a critique of his work when Eduardo is still in bed. Then he stops to consider. Mark would also be difficult enough to continue using it as a metaphor in his bid for reassurance.
So he answers, "I loved it. Even if one of the girls was a bitch."
Mark snickers and moves closer. His breath is hot on Eduardo's skin. "It's okay," he says. "She came around in the end."
Eduardo does snort then. "I'm pretty sure I was talking about the other girl."
Mark says, "I know who you were talking about," and scrapes his teeth across Eduardo's skin.
While Mark showers, Eduardo sneaks onto his computer. It's pretty much the only thing Eduardo's never been allowed to touch, and this is the first time he's been left alone with it. The temptation is too great.
There's a lot of the stupid shit that collects on everyone's computers – old downloads, stupid pictures, emails and their attachments all over the place – but there's also a lot of the normal stuff like family photos. Eduardo's met Mark's family, so the pictures aren't that interesting; Mark only has recent ones. If he'd had any from his childhood Eduardo would've emailed them to himself immediately, but he's disappointed, though not surprised. Mark is not the type to keep embarrassing material at hand.
He clicks into Mark's writing folder last. It's just sitting there on his desktop, and inside is neatly categorized into subfolders by project. It shouldn't be surprising, because Eduardo knows how protective Mark is of his novels, but the level of organization is uncharacteristic for him. After careful deliberation Eduardo decides he wants to see what Mark has for his newest project – the series, and it looks like Mark has something written for more than just the first book already – more than he wants to dig through everything for First Draft or Facebook. It's a difficult decision, but he'll probably have more access from here on out, and next time he comes over he'll bring a flash drive and steal everything in the folders.
He's just settled in to read, checking to make sure Mark's still showering, when somebody knocks on the door. Eduardo swears to himself and stands up to check the peephole. Dustin is on the other side, staring suspiciously at the door and looking impatient.
Eduardo retreats to Mark's bedroom. He calls into the bathroom, "Dustin's at the door."
"Don't let him in," Mark calls back, voice echoing faintly over the hiss of water.
Eduardo sighs and grabs his shirt off the floor, buttoning it up. He tries to smooth the wrinkles out of it as much as he can, and then he heads back into the living room. At the door, Dustin has taken up knocking continuously, and he's calling, "Mark, Mark, Mark. Mark, I'm going to keep knocking, you have to come let me in eventually. Mark, Mark, it's dinnertime, I know you're awake, come on, you have to open the—"
"Hello, Dustin," Eduardo says.
"—door," Dustin finishes. "Hey, Wardo!" He lets himself in, stepping around Eduardo. He glances around the living room once quickly while Eduardo closes and re-locks the door, and then he stares Eduardo up and down. "Guess you two made up then," he says.
"We—" Eduardo starts, shifting uncomfortably. He's barefoot in shirtsleeves and rumpled pants, and the patter of the water from the shower is distinct in the quiet hush of the apartment. "Yeah, I guess," he says.
"Hey," Dustin says. "Cool."
They stand around, a little awkwardly. Eduardo fights the urge to fidget. He doesn't know Dustin as well as Mark does because they don't work together very often.
After a minute Dustin says, "Well, I actually only came by to ask Mark how you two were doing. He was supposed to call me earlier. Since you two seem fine..."
"Mark and I are getting along again," Eduardo agrees, nodding.
"You and Mark are fucking," Dustin corrects, tilting his head at Eduardo. "I think that means you're more than getting along."
"We're not—" Eduardo starts, embarrassed, but Mark's voice from the bedroom says, "Yes, we are fucking, so yes, we are more than fine, and we're busy now, so leave, Dustin."
Eduardo closes his eyes, mortified, and counts to ten.
Dustin says, "You can't even put pants on before coming out to yell at me?"
Eduardo counts higher.
"Leave," Mark repeats. "Wardo, I told you not to let him in. And quit snooping around on my computer."
"Well, that's unfair," Dustin says. "You won't even let him see—"
"I'm dropping the towel in thirty seconds," Mark says. Eduardo opens his eyes and is relieved to see he does at least have one wrapped around his hips.
"I'm going, I'm going," Dustin surrenders, raising his hands. "I would just like it on the record that I was absolutely right. You owe me, Zuckerberg."
"I already promised Eduardo my firstborn," Mark says. "So you're out of luck."
"That does not surprise me at all," Dustin says. "Also, ew, as if I would want your offspring. I'm just saying. I'm going to call to collect one day."
"We're going to have sex now," Mark says.
"I think I'll go," Dustin says, and the door shuts with a quiet expensive whoosh behind him.
"Christ," Eduardo says.
"I warned you not to let him in," Mark says. He takes the towel off and drapes it over the back of the couch.
Eduardo, out of practice honed by years, keeps his eyes on Mark's face. "He's never been that bad before."
"He's always that bad," Mark says darkly. "He just always behaved better in front of you."
"And that's changed now?" Eduardo says.
"I think you lost all of his respect," Mark says.
"Because I slept with you?" Eduardo asks.
"Hate to break it to you," Mark says, "but you'll lose most people's respect for sleeping with me."
Eduardo has to admit this is unfortunately true. "You won't announce our sex life to everyone, though, right?" he asks.
Mark looks doubtful.
"Very funny," Eduardo says. "Let me rephrase: you will not announce our sex life to everyone."
"I'll probably do it occasionally," Mark admits.
"I know," Eduardo says seriously. "I'll work on resigning myself to it, but I'm not as comfortable sharing intimate details of my life as you are."
Mark smiles crookedly and pads closer. "I'll make it up to you."
"With sex," Eduardo says, leaning away and trying to tell himself he disapproves of this plan. "That doesn't sound like a vicious cycle."
"I owe you a blow job already," Mark says. "We should probably get that taken care of."
It takes Eduardo a second to figure out what Mark means, and then he groans, only partly because Mark's hands are on the button of his pants. "I still can't believe you propositioned me in front of my boss."
"I didn't proposition you," Mark says. "That's what I'm doing now."
Since his hand is only about two inches from Eduardo's dick, Eduardo would consider this a little beyond a proposition. He's not going to say so, however, because Mark would undoubtedly stop to defend his position, and Eduardo really doesn't want him to stop. Instead he says, "My mistake."
Mark drops to his knees, pulling Eduardo's pants and underwear down as he goes.
"We're doing this here?" Eduardo says. "Your bed is right—"
"We already covered the bedroom," Mark says. He spits on his palm and grabs Eduardo's cock. "I have five more rooms, and I intend to use them all, since they're not good for anything else."
"You still don't appreciate this place enough," Eduardo tries to complain, but Mark leans forward and takes the head into his mouth and Eduardo forgets what they were talking about.
They spend most of the rest of the day in Mark's bed. Eduardo was going to make dinner, at least, but he goes to take his own shower and when he comes out Mark has already had pizza delivered. They eat on the bed and get crumbs everywhere, which Mark tries to convince Eduardo to ignore, except then they tip the pizza box and sauce and cheese and meat particles smear everywhere, too, and then they pretty much have to change the sheets.
Which is how Eduardo discovers Mark, who is not the neatest person about anything else, has a bizarrely strict method for making his bed. He shoves Eduardo out of the way and takes forever to do it himself after the second time Eduardo fails to fold the sheets under the end of the mattress correctly.
Eduardo is laughing by the time Mark is finally done and he's fighting the urge to undo it all just to watch Mark freak out about it. He restrains himself only because he has more important things to focus on.
Mark is extremely reluctant to show Eduardo the documents for his writing. Eduardo wheedles agreement out of him when he's checking his email, kissing the back of Mark's neck and trying to sound pathetic as he talks about how he understands Mark's need for privacy, really, even if it is supposed to be their novel—and finally Mark makes a disgusted, embarrassed sound and says, "Fine."
He puts them on the bed and brings out a laptop Eduardo hadn't even known he had – and Mark looks at him as if he were a moron when he says this, so Eduardo wisely stops talking – and supervises like a hawk as Eduardo snoops through the draft versions and the pages of notes on flow and timeline and character development. He leaves the largest document for last.
"Mark," he says, when he finally clicks it open. It's transcripts of hundreds of conversations – or at least snippets of them – that he and Mark have had. "You remember all of these?"
"You don't remember times you've talked to me?" Mark asks, sounding a little sullen. His head is pressed against Eduardo's shoulder; it's like he's hiding.
"Not word for word," Eduardo says, and Mark hunches closer. He skims through, smiling as he encounters conversations that made it into the book. He does remember a lot of these, particularly the arguments, but there's a lot more than he would've thought that he doesn't remember, particularly little exchanges that he doesn't see any significance in at all. They go all the way back, even to the first night, to the award dinner for Mark's Pulitzer when Eduardo accidentally helped him escape giving his speech, almost lost his newly-acquired job because of it, and instead became Mark's agent because that was the worst punishment Lenore could think of.
"You've been writing these down since we met," Eduardo realizes.
"You're good for dialogue," Mark says defensively.
"Oh," Eduardo says, grinning.
Mark reaches over and shuts the laptop. "Yeah," he says. "Whenever I need a character to say something stupid—"
Eduardo turns and kisses him, still grinning, and Mark's face is pink and warm between Eduardo's palms. The laptop ends up on the floor.
Eduardo wakes up almost too early the next morning. He stretches slowly and then gently wriggles out from underneath Mark. He showers and then remembers the only clothes he has are the ones he's been wearing since Friday; he makes a face and decides the first thing he has to do is go to his apartment for fresh ones.
Mark is awake – barely – and glaring half-heartedly at the bathroom door when Eduardo comes out. "Just because you wake up," he says, "doesn't mean you have to get up."
"Sorry," Eduardo says. He walks quietly to the bed, where Mark's eyes are already slipping back closed.
"Come on," Mark says grumpily.
Eduardo slides back under the sheets. Mark clutches at him, hand settling on his side and tugging demandingly. "I have to go to my apartment sometime today," Eduardo says quietly.
"Why?" Mark asks. He yawns, turning his face into the pillow.
Eduardo pushes curls back so he can see one of Mark's eyes, which Mark slits open obligingly. "Clothes," he says. "Toothbrush. And I have work tomorrow."
Mark rolls his eyes.
Eduardo kisses the corner of his eyes, watching him scrunch his face up and try to hide further in the pillow. "Hey," he says. "About work. You know I didn't mean I said."
"Hm," Mark says. He blinks his eyes back open, seeming reluctant to do so.
"Last week," Eduardo clarifies. "When we were fighting."
"Yes, you did," Mark says. He shrugs a little. "It's okay. Most of it was true."
"Yeah," Eduardo admits, because there's no way he can lie about that. "But I don't mind it."
"I know," Mark says, smiling a little. He makes a slight face, looking indecisive, and then adds, "I didn't mean it, either. I don't blame you for the screenplay deal. It's not your fault you've never done this before."
Eduardo sighs and laughs. He brushes his nose against Mark's and says, "Thank you. But next time you can stop after saying you don't blame me."
"Well," Mark says. "Just because I don't blame you doesn't mean it wasn't technically—"
Eduardo kisses him, because it seems kinder than hitting him.
"I'm going to take the contract," Mark says quietly. "I really want Facebook to be a movie."
"I know," Eduardo says. He stays in bed as Mark falls back asleep.
Mark comes with Eduardo when he goes to get clothes from his apartment. Mark had complained that he wanted Eduardo around for the next couple of days, and it's not as if Eduardo was going to object to that, so he promised to get a bag of things together – because he was still going to work, Mark could go fuck himself on that point – and come back. But Mark says he wants to come, and points out, quite correctly, that he's never seen Eduardo's apartment.
Eduardo teases him for wanting to snoop, and Mark disregards all sarcasm in favor of informing Eduardo that yes, he wants to snoop, it's only fair, and Eduardo had spent the whole subway ride over – because he refuses to get a cab just to get to his own home – listening to Mark's efforts at guessing the type of place he lives.
Mark's disturbingly correct about a lot of it, which makes Eduardo wonder just how predictable he really is. Mark doesn't seem to mind, though, and he keeps absentmindedly touching Eduardo, tugging on his sleeve or nudging their ankles together, and Eduardo's really too busy being distracted by that to care whether Mark actually believes he'll have his ties and belts color-coded.
Eduardo's neighbors are nosier than Mark's, and actually know him besides, so they meet the elderly couple from down the hall in the elevator. They start asking Eduardo about work and "that weird author he's always chasing around." Mark glares at them and says, "That would be me," obviously intending to embarrass them into silence, but he doesn't know Eduardo's neighbors. He's basically given them permission to coo at him, and made them feel a level of familiarity that makes the old man start lecturing him on how long and unkempt his hair is getting, "doesn't he know nice girls like boys with well-cut hair?"
Eduardo pulls Mark out on his floor just as Mark opens his mouth, probably to tell him just what some nice boys prefer, and Eduardo would like to keep his neighbors less well-informed of his personal life, so he kicks Mark none-too-subtly and waves goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Carob as they head off toward the opposite end of the hall.
"Okay, poke around," Eduardo says, releasing Mark into the wilds of his living room as soon as the door is open. "I'll be in the bedroom grabbing clothes."
He changes first, and then he brushes his teeth. He can hear Mark faintly in the living room. He's opening drawers and cabinets, taking Eduardo's permission to dig around for all it's worth.
"Where's—" Mark calls.
"Down here," Eduardo says.
"Wow," Mark says from across the hall.
Eduardo grins. His bookshelves are the best part of his apartment. He converted the spare bedroom into an office, and the bookshelves line every wall in the room. They're mostly full—only one, right next to his desk, has a couple of empty shelves. "I told you I was an avid reader!" he calls to Mark, folding an extra pair of trousers into his bag.
"I know," Mark says. "But I thought you were saying that in the way everyone in our industry says that."
"No," Eduardo says, though his assertion is rather redundant in the face of all the proof. "I'm an extremely avid reader."
"I can see that," Mark says. His voice has taken on a funny tone.
Eduardo zips up his bag and grabs his wallet off the dresser—he'd managed to get out of the apartment without it Friday night. In the office, Mark is staring at the bookshelf right next to the desk.
"You have every one of my books," Mark says. He sounds a little overwhelmed.
"I told you I was a fan," Eduardo says, only a little embarrassed. Mark was always going to figure it out eventually.
"Yeah," Mark says. He twists, looking at Eduardo over his shoulder. He has his hand lifted to the shelf, fingers on Eduardo's well-worn copy of Facebook. "I didn't realize you meant it to quite this extent."
Eduardo sets his bag down and kisses Mark's mouth, soft with affection and vulnerability. "I was halfway in love with you the first time we met by the merits of Facebook alone," he admits. "It really only got worse with each successive book."
Mark kisses him properly, fingers in the cotton of his shirt dragging Eduardo down. "That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my novels," he says. "I'm almost not sure I believe you. I wouldn't if I didn't already know you're the type to be so completely irrational as to love someone because of shit they put on the page."
"You know, you could try just saying thanks," Eduardo says.
Mark says, "You got the general sentiment."
Eduardo rolls his eyes, pushing the books all the way back onto the shelf where Mark has tugged them out. Mark slumps loudly onto the couch against the opposite wall and looks at the stack of books on the end table—Eduardo's recent reading.
FaceMash is right on top, because he had taken it out again and dug through it, looking for hints to Mark that aren't in any of his other novels. Eduardo watches the way Mark touches its spine, just for a moment.
"What was the secret?" he asks, nodding at it.
Mark looks confused for a minute, and then he looks at FaceMash and scowls. "Oh," he says.
"You don't have to tell me, of course," Eduardo says. "But I am curious about it. I can't figure it out."
"There isn't a secret," Mark says.
"Okay," Eduardo says. He steps back, starts to turn away.
"No, I mean it," Mark says. "There is no secret."
Eduardo makes a noncommittal noise.
Mark takes a heavy breath and says, "I was writing to an audience," he says. "I wrote it to try to impress people. It's the only work I've ever done that was artificial."
Eduardo tilts his head, considering. Mark looks uncomfortable and unhappy; his hand on the table my FaceMash is curled into a loose fist. "You are ashamed of it," he realizes. "You honestly don't want people to read it."
"I was young and desperate to be a writer," Mark says. He looks a little embarrassed. "I wrote according to every convention I could think of. It got me published, which I suppose means it was successful, but everybody hated it. I hated it too, but I still wanted everyone else to like it."
"And Facebook?" Eduardo asks, though he already knows the answer. He bites his lip on a smile.
"Yeah," Mark says, rolling his eyes at Eduardo. "Then everyone loves the reactionary novel, which is as far from deliberate as possible. I wrote it because I was pissed off about FaceMash, and now I'd permanently remove FaceMash from existence if possible."
"But you gave me your copy," Eduardo says. Mark doesn't say anything for a long time. It's both worse and better, Eduardo thinks, now he knows how much Mark dislikes FaceMash. It was one of the most shameful things he's ever done, and he gave Eduardo a hard copy of proof just because Eduardo wanted it.
"I like your couch better than mine," Mark says, settling back into the cushions.
"Yes," Eduardo says emphatically. He grabs his laptop off the desk, sliding it into his bag.
"You should bring it when you move in," Mark mumbles, tipping his head back to look at the ceiling.
"Sure," Eduardo says, and he bites his lip and drops a stack of books loudly in the corner of the desk as a distraction. "Come on, we're still going to the grocery store today."
They do get groceries, but Mark convinces Eduardo to order dinner in anyway. They sit on Mark's floor eating it. The television is on, as usual, but for the first time Mark lets Eduardo choose what they watch.
"I need to get an idea of how terrible your taste is," he says.
"My taste includes your work," Eduardo reminds him. "So watch how you insult it."
Mark gets an odd expression on his face.
"What?" Eduardo asks him, digging through his carton for another piece of chicken.
Mark says, "Some of the books on your shelves were much more well-worn than others."
"Yeah," Eduardo answers, surprised. "I have favorites. Particularly some of yours." He thought Mark knew just how much, but he's beginning to consider the possibility that he's overestimated Mark's perception and ability to put things together. It's startling, to think Mark may not be as observant as his human-study books suggest.
"You’ve never told me that," Mark says. "You’ve always told me you liked all of my novels, but I’ve heard you say that even to authors I know you hate."
"They're not you," Eduardo says, but Mark stares at him expectantly. Eduardo sighs and puts his food down, reaching across to Mark. "I don't like all of your books." He catches Mark's face as he tries to turn away. When Mark meets his eyes again he continues, "But I admire all of them. And as long as you write everything from social commentary to contemporary romance, you'll have to accept that some of them won't be exactly to my taste."
He releases his hold as Mark considers this.
"Fine," Mark says. "But no more lying to me about it. I can tell when you are. I don't care about professional courtesy, or whatever you think it is—I want you to be honest."
"I promise I won't feel a professional obligation to lie to you anymore," Eduardo says, and takes a deep breath. "About that, Mark—" he starts, but he doesn't know how to explain. He was hoping to put this off, but now that it's been mentioned, avoiding it would be feeling too much like lying.
Mark looks over at him, searching, and his face closes down. Eduardo winces. "You actually did it," Mark says flatly. "You actually resigned."
"I asked to have you reassigned," Eduardo says. "I'm still working as an agent, but I won't be working with you."
"You didn't quit completely?" Mark asks.
"No," Eduardo admits, a little sheepish. "I like my job, you know."
"Okay," Mark says, shoulders relaxing. "If you just reassigned me you can transfer me back." He waves a hand through the air, chopsticks and all, sounding supremely unconcerned suddenly.
"No, Mark, I can't." Eduardo almost quails under the resultant glower. "If we're dating it'd be unprofessional to work with you."
"Of course we're dating," Mark snaps. "And you can't reassign me. I refuse. You're the only agent I'll work with."
"If it's against company policy, I could lose my job," Eduardo says.
"Nobody is going to object," Mark says, rolling his eyes. "But if it is against one of Lenore's stupid, arbitrary rules, you move companies. Or you start your own." Eduardo raises his eyebrows. "You can't be stupid enough to think that Chris and Dustin would refuse to work with us just because you aren't at the same agency."
"Or you could get a different agent and we could skip the whole mess," Eduardo says gently. "I know you don't like change, but the new agent, she should be really—"
"I won't work with her," Mark says. "If you won't be my agent, I won't write."
Eduardo snorts. "You can't stop writing."
"I can stop publishing," Mark says, and looks triumphant. "See if she'll fire you with that hanging over her head."
"Mark," Eduardo says, but he can't quite bite back his smile. He leans back onto his elbows, stretching. He's careful not to knock over his food or glass of water, but his hand touches something small and metal. He pulls it out from by the leg of the couch.
It's the key he threw away.
"Ah," he says, and holds it towards Mark. Mark is busy staring at the TV and doesn't notice. "Mark," he prompts, nudging his toes against Mark's knee.
Mark glances over, eyes catching on the key in Eduardo's hand. "What?" he says.
"It was still on the floor," Eduardo says. It's shining dully in the light from the TV.
"It's your key," Mark says dismissively, and turns back to his food.
Eduardo stares down at his own food, smiling quietly and curling his fingers closed.
Eduardo doesn't get fired.
Lenore isn't exactly supportive, but she tells Eduardo that as long as he doesn't take to whoring himself out to keep all the clients happy he can keep his job. She also tells him that she hadn't approved Mark's reassignment yet, because she doesn't believe in letting temporary personal disagreements screw up good professional relationships. Eduardo leaves her office red-faced and grateful.
He and Mark have agreed to meet Chris and Dustin for lunch. They have to write the proposal for the publishing company. Eduardo, when he'd tried, found it too difficult to look at the novel objectively. Chris had started laughing when Eduardo had called to apologize and try to explain, but he'd offered to help. Mark had gotten tired of Eduardo worrying about it and called Dustin, blackmailing him into helping also. But Eduardo is under no delusions that Chris and Dustin don't know just how autobiographical the book is, and he was not about to deal with them on his own, so he made Mark promise to come. Chris had been all for it, because talking to Mark directly makes him look good. Dustin had agreed and then made cracks about them missing out on lunchtime quickies until Eduardo had hung up the phone.
Dustin and Chris are already there when Eduardo shows up, and Dustin babbles about some really amazing new author the whole time they're waiting for Mark.
But by twenty after Eduardo has to admit Mark has skipped the meeting.
"Of course he has," Chris says. "He always misses meetings."
"Unless I drag him out," Eduardo agrees, sighing.
"So why did you expect him to show up on his own this time?" Dustin says.
"Because I'm naïve and hope springs eternal," Eduardo says, and leans down to grab his briefcase.
"Mark doesn't say naïve," Dustin says. "Mark says stupid."
Eduardo kicks at him. "Reschedule for tomorrow?" he asks.
"Yeah," Chris agrees, but Dustin just sucks on his straw, smirking.
Eduardo lets himself into the apartment. Mark is at his computer, as always, but by the time Eduardo sits on the edge of the desk Mark is smirking at his screen. "I missed the meeting, didn't I?" he says. "Oops."
"You aren't funny," Eduardo says. "Why'd you skip?"
"Because this way you have to come get me," Mark says.
"If you wanted me to come by here first I would've," Eduardo says. "I always have before. Now it's too late to go over there."
"I know," Mark says, and keys the save command. "But you still have half an hour."
Eduardo blinks. "Do you really think I'm going to have sex with you on my lunch break?" he asks, trying to sound disapproving.
Mark says, "Yes, you are." He ends up between Eduardo's legs when he stands, which was probably not unintentional on either of their parts.
They're already kissing before Eduardo remembers. "Wait," he says, leaning away, and Mark's fingers dig into his hips.
"No," Mark says.
"On one condition," Eduardo says, and then yelps, "No, wait, two! And the first is that you aren't allowed to give me hickeys in the middle of the day!"
Mark huffs but stops sucking on Eduardo's collarbone. "And the second one?"
Eduardo tilts his head. "Why weren't you going to let me read the book before it went out to the public?"
Mark says, "I was going to. The day you told me about the final contract for the screenplay, I had it for you."
"And then you didn't, because you were feeling petty," Eduardo says.
"I wasn't the only one," Mark grumbles.
Eduardo smiles. "But," he says, and Mark groans. Eduardo ignores him. "Why did you and Dustin edit it without me?"
Mark stares over Eduardo's shoulder.
"Oh," Eduardo says. "Oh, really?" He can't help the smile, even when Mark scowls at him.
"Whatever you're thinking," Mark says, "you're wrong."
"I think you wanted it to be perfect before I saw it," Eduardo says.
Mark scowls harder.
"Thank you," Eduardo says, and kisses him again.
"Conditions met," Mark says against his mouth, and pulls him off the desk.