aroceu: (family)
exclamation points! ([personal profile] aroceu) wrote2017-06-18 07:49 pm

Albrecht Effect; or, The Lifetime of a Cloud

Summary: A story about forgiveness, second chances, getting over the wrong person at the right time, and moving on.

Char/Pair: Eduardo/Erica

Genre: romance/het

Rating: PG-13



The first time Eduardo meets Erica Albright, it’s at her deposition.

Given that he’d heard nothing but her name for upward of two weeks, back about four years ago in Harvard, and Gretchen examining the list of potential witnesses and singling out Mark’s ex-girlfriend, he doesn’t know what he expected. Anyone who in their right mind—or questionably otherwise—would date Mark leaves a lot to be assumed.

It’s like meeting third cousin twice removed for the first time; or at least it should be, because things like family reunions and, “oh, Edu, this is your cousin Anna-maria” is done with a lot of dragging each other over and fake smiles and a displacement in feeling like you should know this person because you share blood even though you never met them in your life. But Eduardo walks into the law firm on a Tuesday morning, twenty minutes early because he couldn’t go back to sleep this morning, and the lobby is empty save for a young woman sitting at a couch by a glass coffee table, with a messenger bag and a book in her lap.

Eduardo joins her, because Gretchen is the one who can let them in past security and he has to answer the emails he’s been fielding off anyway. He sets his briefcase down and sits in the single chair on the other side of the table, leaning back comfortably and crossing his legs. He pulls out his Blackberry, wondering idly if either of the Winklevosses or Narendra will send him some sort of angry message regarding his testimony at their lawsuit any time soon.

It’s after a few minutes of his deleting almost every other email (and stomach dropping at the noticeable silence from his father) when he realizes that the amicable we’re-strangers-sitting-by-convenience air has been dispelled with the young woman across from him looking at him curiously. Eduardo flits his eyes up, meets her gaze, and then looks back down at his Blackberry, because maybe it’s just one of those casual observing things.

Then the woman says, “Are you Eduardo?”

Eduardo starts. Her hair is long, and brown, pulled back into a plait, showing off her round and heart-shaped face. She’s wearing a cardigan and black trousers and respectable black dress shoes, almost the equivalent of the type that Eduardo would wear to a nice ballet if a boyfriend or girlfriend was classy enough to drag him out to one.

He feels terrible because she knows his name so he must recognize her or know her from somewhere. But they’re in California and Eduardo does not know many people here—none of them, really, decidedly friends anyway—and her head is tilted like she doesn’t know if she got her name right.

“I’m,” he coughs. “Yes. Do I know you?”

“Oh! No,” and here she smiles, something bright across her face for a brief second that could get people to fall in love with her if it stayed long enough. Eduardo’s encountered smiles like that before. “No, I saw your picture in the—Sorry, I should’ve said. I’m Erica Albright.”

That’s when the pieces begin to click together. “Oh, you’re the—You’re here for the—”

“Yeah,” Erica says, and she’s smiling still, and Eduardo can see exactly why Mark had dated her. Why she dated him, of course, is the bigger question.

Eduardo evaluates her situation—not just them sitting here, not just them meeting here, for the first time, of all things—but a girl who went to BU and had dated the creator of Facebook and is now going to depose for a lawsuit that has nothing to do with her. “You’re not from California, are you?” he asks, checking, and she shakes her head. “When did you fly in?”

“Last night.” Erica gestures aimlessly. “Big of you and your lawyers to pay for that, huh?” but she looks grateful, like she’s joking. “I guess I wouldn’t have expected for Facebook to pay for my trip.”

“When it’s millionaires suing each other,” Eduardo says, with very little grace or deliberate modesty, and Erica laughs.

“I should stake my claim in it too, file my own lawsuit,” says Erica. “Lord knows what I could do with the money.”

She’s put her book down, resting in her lap; the double doors slide open then, and Gretchen walks in, serious heels clacking against the marble of the floor. She doesn’t bat an eyelash at the sight of Eduardo and Erica together.

“Oh good, you two have met,” she says, looking down at her files. Straight to business then. Eduardo stands up, glancing back at Erica, who smiles at him like they’re sharing a secret. “Shall we go up?” Gretchen says, looking between the two of them expectantly.

“Yeah,” says Erica, and along with the rest of Eduardo’s legal team, they prepare for battle.

*

For lunch, Eduardo goes to the deli place across the street for a croissant sandwich and a coffee. It’s not appropriate for him to get lunch with the witness, though he’d considered it. For all intents and purposes, he’s the one who hired Erica to be involved, so to say, even though it had been Gretchen’s idea. It’s not a bad one.

Erica has surprisingly very little to say about Mark, aside from the disastrous date of their breakup, which Eduardo feigns painful curiosity for. All he knows is what had been on Mark’s blog that night—Erica Albright’s a bitch. Do you think that’s because her family changed their name from Albrecht, do you think it’s because all B.U. girls are bitches?

He remembers the bra size comment, which he tries not to think too much about. The thing about that night, their breakup—Erica—was that Mark genuinely liked her. He remembers the evening in the restaurant where he’d gone over to apologize—and Eduardo had only deduced it was her because no one else could make Mark so focused like that, with such a stormy expression on his face. It was the same one he’d possessed the night of Facemash, which Erica had explained with exceptional dignified delivery, even anger.

“My roommate was on her computer. Someone had sent her the link to Facemash,” she said. “I think she was just clicking around, because the site had some stupid ‘History’ page or whatever, even though it had just been made that night. And it had a link to his blog, on that, and I was just reading the thing he had written about my bra, when—” She closed her eyes. “When some boys came into our dorm, out of nowhere, and had the nerve to grab a bra that was just lying around in our room, and said—”

If you asked anybody about either situation—Facemash, Facebook—they’d say that it wasn’t Mark’s fault. Eduardo knows this. He knows that Mark didn’t make everyone in the world click the link to Facemash, click the vanity About page (Eduardo remembers sitting on Mark’s desk, watching him write the few paragraphs in a flurry of drunkenness), burst into Erica’s dorm and mock some aspect of her body without consent. Mark didn’t tell Eduardo to stay in California, to freeze the bank account, to not read the papers, to sign his life away like a fool. Mark doesn’t manipulate you. He does what he wants and he expects you to bend over; and when you don’t, well, then he’ll go on without you.

Eduardo sighs around his croissant, suddenly feeling terribly weary. The lawsuit’s been in the making for a few years now, thanks to Facebook’s own legal team, but Eduardo knows how to make his way around a jury if it comes to that. He supposes he doesn’t mind, but he’s already tired of California.

The bells against the café door ring and Erica slides into the seat across from him. “Mind if I sit here?” she says.

Eduardo takes a sip of his coffee. “This isn’t appropriate, you know.”

“Mm.” Erica props her elbows onto the table. “Well, technically I’m done deposing, so I’m not your witness anymore.”

“That’s fair,” Eduardo amends.

“Then I’m gonna get something to eat.” Erica looks at the sandwich in his hand. “Is that any good?”

“It’s okay. Get the spinach and cheese crepe, though, it’s better.”

Erica comes back from ordering her food and opens up her phone, scrolling through it. “It’s weird to think about the things that happened so long ago,” she says conversationally. “Back then, at the Thirsty Scholar and in my dorm I thought Mark Zuckerberg was just your typical asshole nerd—”

“And he still is, he’s just the head of the biggest social networking site in the world now,” Eduardo finishes.

“Exactly.” Erica sighs, and puts her phone down. “What did he do to you, to bring about this lawsuit? If you don’t mind me asking.”

Eduardo’s talked about it enough—to his parents, to Chris (whom he doesn’t think about), to the random stranger at the bar when he’s tipsy and they’re sharing work woes together—to make it not hurt anymore. A worn topic.

And of course it’s only fair for Erica to know, since he was the one who brought her out here in the first place. “He diluted my shares during the initial restructuring even though he could’ve outvoted me,” he says, keeping it as business as possible. “Which would be typical—I don’t know how much you know about business,” he adds, giving her the benefit of the doubt, “—but I was singled out and essentially fired.”

“For no reason?” Erica says.

“Not… no,” Eduardo admits. “No, there was a reason. It just wasn’t reason enough—Mark doesn’t do things in spades. He doesn’t just blog about you. He blogs about you and creates a website popular enough to shut down the internet server in a Harvard dorm. It’s not that he does these things with unjustifiable cause—he hurt me, and all his reasons for it aren’t reason enough.”

“So you’re suing him for hurting you.” Erica’s amusement is hesitant in her eyes.

Eduardo smiles back at her. “If it’s the business I’m in, then why not?”

Erica sighs. “If I could sue Mark Zuckerberg for all the—” She breaks off and looks around. “Are we even allowed to talk about this?”

“Legally, for now, yes,” says Eduardo. “I’d imagine we’ll have to sign NDAs in the future though.”

“The American process,” Erica says, rolling her eyes just as her food arrives.

*

They settle into an easy silence, with Eduardo getting through the last of his emails and Erica working on her lunch. Afterward, when Erica is coming back from throwing out her trash, Eduardo asks, “Where are you staying?”

“Motel in Daly City,” says Erica.

"You're not actually from the west coast, are you?" Eduardo asks.

Erica smiles. "No. Albany," she replies. "I like it east."

Eduardo chuckles and looks around the Californian café. "I do too," he admits. "I'm from—well, my family moved to Miami when I was thirteen. I really like it tropical."

"It's a wonder why you came up to Boston for college."

"Well," Eduardo says, and shrugs. "Harvard."

"Harvard," Erica agrees, but she's rolling her eyes.

"Hey," Eduardo says. "Just because you went to BU—"

"Just because?" Erica says, though she's smiling too. Eduardo remembers what she'd said at her deposition, but right now it's funny—it's the two of them, and by the way that Erica is grinning at him Eduardo knows that she knows that he doesn't mean anything mean by it.

When he thinks about it, he doubts Mark did either. Mark just—says things, like they're plainly obvious, and if you're insulted by the truth, well, then that's your fault. Mark doesn't account for tone or delivery—right now, Eduardo and Erica in this sidelined café, and it's the perfect place for Eduardo to talk about how he went to Harvard and how Erica didn't.

"You Harvard boys," Erica says, shaking her head but smiling fondly.

Eduardo glances at his watch. He's not in a hurry to go back to his hotel—Erica doesn't react when he does, so he wonders if she is as well. "What are you doing after this?" he asks her.

Erica shrugs a shoulder, eyeing Eduardo up and down. "I don't know," she says. "What are you doing?"

*

Eduardo doesn't have an ideal person. It always seemed to be a thing that other people did, other people expected him to do. But Eduardo knows that people aren't perfect, won't ever live up to some expectation that Eduardo decides to hold him to. If he had a perfect person, it would be—well, at this point it's just not achievable anymore. Well, it never was in the first place.

When you live, though, you can come pretty close. You meet new people. Eduardo had met Mark. Mark had met Erica.

And in Erica's motel room in Daly City, the moment that they get the door closed, Erica meets Eduardo. There's a distance between them that's bridged when Erica tugs Eduardo in, and Eduardo's mouth admires the curve of her neck, thumbing at the jut of her collarbone, lips dragging up to cover her own. Erica makes these noises into his mouth, against his skin, as they tumble into her motel bed and she's undoing his belt, and Eduardo gets lost in the heat of nothing but lust and a deep feeling in his chest like he's meant to do this.

It all goes away, of course, when they're done, when he's spent and lying on her bed and she's going to the bathroom to freshen up again.

"Is it weird," she calls, through the open bathroom door, "that this feels like rebound sex?"

Eduardo leans up on his elbow, admires her waistline from here. "It's been a few years," he points out. "And I don't think you really need rebound from Mark."

She gives him a look from where she's dabbing her cheeks with facial cream. "You know what I mean," she says, before returning to the mirror. "Also, I'm not usually this kind of girl."

"What kind of girl?" Eduardo asks. He gets up from the bed and begins to put his clothes back on.

"The kind of girl who sleeps with her ex-boyfriends' ex-best friends after she meets them," Erica says. She frowns when she sees Eduardo tugging his trousers on. "Leaving already?"

"I have a phone conference at five." Eduardo winds his watch back on and checks it.

"What do you do?"

"Between lawsuits, I'm looking to help fund start-ups," Eduardo says. He buttons his shirt.

"Oh, so like Facebook all over again," Erica says, returning to the bathroom. "I'm joking," she adds, looking back at Eduardo. "How long are you staying in town for?"

"The next week." Eduardo sighs. "My deposition with Mark is next."

"Of course." Erica hums. "Well, my flight's tomorrow morning, but if you need a place to stay on the east coast—"

"In Albany?"

"In New York," Erica huffs. "My aunt and uncle have a place in lower Manhattan, but if you don't need to—"

"I mean, I can't guarantee anything, but I'd like to," Eduardo says, smiling at her.

Erica glares. "Like I said, I'm not that kind of girl."

"Usually," Eduardo reminds. And when that (obviously) doesn't get Erica to glare any less, he adds, "Don't worry, I don't think you're like any kind of girl anyway."

"Good. Not that I needed your approval." Erica dabs at her face, and then tightens at her ponytail. "You know, I never slept with Mark."

Eduardo nods. "Okay."

"Just thought you should know."

Eduardo laughs and nods again. "Okay," he says, again. "I'll be seeing in New York, then?"

"Only if you need to," Erica says teasingly.

*

The depositions with Mark last two days.

On the first, Eduardo listens as Gretchen recounts all of Erica's testimony. She's reading from a transcript of it, and Eduardo doesn't need to add anything—he wasn't there, of course, when she had broken up with Mark, when she had been at her dorm, and was only barely within earshot when Mark had tried to apologize to her—though she'd cited it as, "some months later, when I was getting dinner with my friends."

Eduardo had interjected that Mark had seemed to be intent on apologizing to her. Erica had asked if Mark had actually told him that, and Eduardo admittedly couldn't exactly answer in the affirmative. He knows Mark, though—still, after all these years. Mark doesn't do things in halves, though that doesn't necessarily mean he always does things well. He just either tries his most, or he doesn't.

(One time when they'd had a Star Wars marathon with Chris and Dustin, Mark had scoffed about just how much he hated Yoda's famous do or do not line.)

So when Gretchen's done from reading Erica's testimony, Mark insists that she's lying. Erica—the things Mark had said from so you can see why it's so important to get in to the only reason we can sit here is because you used to sleep with the door guy. Eduardo doesn't know if he's trying to make himself less rude than he is—and really, Eduardo can believe everything Erica said—or if Mark's just nitpicking, which is the more likely. You mean the chair, Mark would say, when Eduardo's telling him that Mark can sit at his desk when he was over. There were sixteen of you, Mark would say, when Eduardo said that there were about fifteen to twenty people in the Harvard Business Investor's Club.

It had been funny then, but it's a headache now. They recount Caribbean Night, and all the days Mark had worked on "the facebook," back then.

At the end of the day, as Eduardo leaves he thinks—considers—sending him a message from Erica. Erica had left about a week ago, had said ironically, "Say hi to Mark for me," when Eduardo had left, after he'd missed his phone conference because he'd dressed up and then Erica came in for a goodbye kiss and they—devolved. Eduardo had gone up to leave for real that time, and Erica pressed her Manhattan address into her palm, and Eduardo remembers the studio apartment he rented out all those years ago. During that summer.

Now, he walks out of the conference room without a second glance to Mark. It's the afternoon, and Eduardo thinks about picking up smoking.

He does call Erica, though.

"Hey," she says, because he'd told her what day the deposition with Mark would be. "How was it?"

"It was—" Eduardo says, and rubs the bridge of his nose.

"That bad, huh?" Erica says sympathetically. "I can't say I'm surprised."

"I'm not even done yet," Eduardo says. He's getting lunch on University Avenue, or at least trying to as he scans the restaurants and shops, trying to decide where to eat. "I've got to come in tomorrow afternoon, too, talk about how it all played out."

"Oh," Erica says. "Want to try it on me first?"

Eduardo chuckles. "I think that'll make me even more tired," he says. "What about you, though? How's your day?"

"I don't think you want to hear about that."

"I do," Eduardo says sincerely.

"About my last semester at BU? Unlikely."

"Try me."

Eduardo picks a café with outdoor seating that he decides to get a table at for lunch. As he chats on the phone with Erica and eats, he spots Mark walking briskly from a restaurant across the way—some Indian place that looks crazy expensive—to a car parked on the side. Mark doesn't even spare him a second glance, probably doesn't even notice him.

Eduardo tries not to think about it too hard as he makes his way through lunch. At least Erica entertains him with his sarcastic comments, and asks if he needs tips for the next day.

*

And the next day is even more exhausting—it's not even a surprise for Eduardo, with the chicken, with covering the summer, knows where this is going, the dilution, the contracts, the end. He would call it hubris since he knows that freezing the account was stupid, that not even reading the fucking contract was insanely stupid—but that would be giving Mark far more credit than he deserves.

He calls Erica again when he's on the drive back. Night has fallen and the sky is muggy and dark. Erica picks up on the second ring.

"Yeah?" she says, through a yawn.

Eduardo laughs into the receiver, despite feeling heavier than usual today. "Did I call at a bad time?" he asks.

"No, it's just late," she tells him.

"Oh, right, the time difference," Eduardo says. "I can call back later—"

"No, vent to me your frustrations," Erica says. "It can be my bedtime story."

"You're entertained by strange things," Eduardo says, and can imagine Erica just smiling at him. "Are you sure?"

"After the day you've had, I'm sure you deserve it." There's a short rustling; Eduardo imagines Erica tucking herself into bed and nestling the phone against her ear. "Talk to me."

"It was just…" Eduardo says, and then exhales a long breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "I didn't realize how much it'd hurt," he murmurs, staring at the expense of the 101. The highway lights are dim, and he drives well one-handed. "What Mark did to me, I mean."

"Well I'd imagine it did," Erica comments. "It broke your heart, didn't it?"

Eduardo sighs. "I guess that's one way of putting it. I didn't expect him to be a good person, but to…"

"Stab you in the back?" Erica suggests.

Eduardo laughs. "Don't be dramatic."

"I'm not!" Erica says insistently on the other end. "Seriously, if he hadn't stabbed you in the back, you wouldn't be suing him over this—"

"I mean, if he hadn't done what he did, I wouldn't be suing him over this," Eduardo says dryly. "Mark would never win in court. If he doesn't settle, then we'd have to get a jury—"

"Is that what you're planning on doing?"

"I'm not not counting on it," Eduardo says. "You should've seen him at the Winklevoss trials. The complete lack of appeal he extended to everyone in the room was astounding."

"I can imagine it," Erica says. "But my life philosophy is to not give Mark Zuckerberg excuses for anything. He can afford to settle your lawsuit."

"That's true," Eduardo admits. "And knowing Mark, it likely wouldn't have any impact…"

"Well, you can't change people. I didn't date Mark because I thought I could change him."

"Why did you date him?" Eduardo asks.

Erica says simply, "Because he was funny."

Eduardo is baffled. "That's it?"

"Well, you know Mark, right?" Erica says. "I mean, it's not like he tries to be, but the things he says about other people—well, it's always the things he says that are funny, even when he doesn't mean them. He's fast, I think, is the thing. Though it's not as funny when it's turned on you."

"Yeah," Eduardo agrees.

"Why were you friends with him, then, if you don't mind me asking?"

"You know," Eduardo says, deflecting. "We spend a lot of our conversations talking about Mark."

"He's our commonality," Erica says.

A common enemy, Eduardo thinks. Though after this, he wants to wipe his hands of Mark—of California—and eradicate this part of his life forever. "And not a very nice one," he says.

Erica hums. "He just sent me a friend request on Facebook, you know."

Eduardo blinks and nearly stops the car in shock. "He did what?"

"Sent me a friend request on Facebook." Erica sounds thoughtful. "Right now, right after your deposition—I just got the notification."

"What in the world is he doing," Eduardo murmurs to himself.

"No idea," Erica says. "Should I accept it? Reject it? You don't get a notification if your friend request gets rejected, right?"

"If it's Mark's, I wouldn't count on anything," Eduardo says. "I wonder why he did that."

"Maybe he's trying to apologize," Erica says, with some amusement in her tone. "Four years later."

"Four years too late?"

There's a brush of cloth on the other end, like Erica's shrugging. "I'm not saying that I don't think he deserves it," she says. "But it's kind of out of the ordinary—and Mark doesn't communicate like normal people. Apparently." Eduardo can hear her rolling her eyes from here. "Which I get now, I guess."

Eduardo chuckles. "Probably should've gotten that while you were dating him," he says. "So what are you going to do?"

"I'll let it sit and gather dust," Erica jokes. "No, I—I don't want to make that decision right now. What would you do if Mark suddenly apologized to you?"

"He wouldn't," Eduardo says immediately.

"But what if he did?" Erica says. "Just tell me. Do you know if you'd forgive him right away?"

"I'd... want some time," Eduardo admits, understanding what she means. "It's not easy. When it's the shit Mark pulls..."

"When it's Mark," Erica agrees. "Yeah."

"But I'd forgive him eventually," Eduardo says. "If Mark did hypothetically apologize to me."

"Are you suggesting for me to hit accept?"

"I can't tell you what to do."

"True." There's a smile in Erica's voice, and Eduardo smiles back as he parks his car.

Getting out, he says into the phone, "Look—I just got to my hotel, and I kind of want to pass out for a century, but you should call me again."

"For what?" Erica asks, her tone somewhere between sarcastic and expectant.

"For you to invite me to your New York apartment sometime," Eduardo says. "I should be free by next month, even if we've got to gather a jury—"

"And if you've stopped sleeping for the century."

"—because that'll take some time. And yes," Eduardo says, rolling his eyes. He's in his hotel now, pressing the button to go up. "If I'm done sleeping."

"I suppose I could pencil you in for next month," Erica says. "What, no business meetings or great investments you've got to put time in?"

"Lawsuits, neither," Eduardo says, and hears the sound of Erica's laughter as she hangs up.

*

Mark settles.

It's easy. It's too easy, but Gretchen tells Eduardo that she'd gotten the call from Mark's lawyers that Mark is willing to settle, and Eduardo—he doesn't have much of a choice. He can't drag this on, he can't storm into the Facebook offices and break laptop after laptop. He can't buy out Facebook, he can't make every person in the world stop using Facebook.

The proposal is half a billion dollars and five percent stock—the same as any other significant investor, like Thiel, like Sean Parker. Gretchen asks Eduardo what he thinks.

Eduardo takes it.

They don't have to be in the same room when they sign the settlement contracts, so they're not. And it's not long before Singapore is in Eduardo's life—he'd already picked out an apartment, prior to the deposition phase, had been flying back and forth between JFK and Changji, since the last time he went to Miami he and his father had gotten into a shouting match over Facebook.

They both know it's not his fault. They both know it's Mark's. But still, his father is full of, you should'ves and Eduardo has only enough room in his life for one asshole ruining it at a time.

So Eduardo's in Singapore, unpacking the last of his boxes, while on the phone again—

"Why Singapore?" Erica's voice is amused. "That is so random—"

"It's not," Eduardo says, laughing as he takes a delicate photo frame out with both hands, tucking his phone between his shoulder and his ear. "Singapore has a good business district."

"Good enough that you suddenly leave the fucking States for it," Erica says. "You know what New York has that Singapore doesn't? Me."

"Not sure if you can replace my career," Eduardo says, and turns the photo over. It's some old thing from Harvard, an AEPi one. Eduardo wonders if he should throw it out.

"I guess I can commend you on your judgment," Erica says.

"I appreciate your commendation," Eduardo says, grinning. He adjusts his phone again. "I think you still owe me a trip to New York, though."

"Why?" Erica says. "You stayed in my motel room, I'm the one who flew out to California for your lawsuit—"

"It's a pattern we've created, haven't we?"

"Bullshit." Erica laughs. "So what's Singapore like? Aside from the business district, I mean."

"You don't want to hear about that?" Eduardo teases. "It's nice, though. Humid, and basically the same temperature year round."

"I didn't ask about the weather," Erica says.

"Well, the weather is what I notice." Eduardo decides to keep the AEPi picture and frame, though he slips the photo out and puts it in the pile of things that he was going to store in his desk. At the very bottom. Mark hadn't looked terribly happy in the photo, anyway, and he can always put another photo in.

Erica groans. "I didn't realize you were so boring," she says.

"That's why you called me, isn't it?"

"I thought maybe I'd be proved wrong," but Erica's tone is teasing, and Eduardo keeps smiling. "When do you want to come to New York, then? In a week?"

"A week," Eduardo says, laughing. "That's really soon."

"I didn't know how early you wanted to come!" Erica says. "Or how late. I don't know how much you miss me—"

"I miss you?" Eduardo can't stop laughing.

"We slept together, like, twice, and you totally didn't even wait three days to call me," Erica says. "You broke the phone call rule, so that means we can break visitation rules too."

"I didn't realize there were visitation rules."

"Well, I'm not going to humid-ass Singapore for you," Erica says, huffing. "So you'll get what you want and come over to New York for me."

"How about a month?" Eduardo asks. "So I can get settled and get all the work that I missed done."

"Because of your precious lawsuit, of course." Eduardo can just imagine her rolling her eyes right now. "Speaking of which, I saw the news—"

"Yes, Mark settled."

"Is it true that they're going to make a movie out of it?"

Eduardo groans. "You heard that too?" he says. "I wish I hadn't talked to that writer—we were just talking about Harvard, and then—"

"You Harvard boys are so dumb," Erica says, and Eduardo can't even disagree with that—he'd met the writer in a restaurant by the campus, and the writer had mentioned that he was looking for a good, real interesting story and, well, Eduardo had been a part of Facebook—and things had spiraled from there. The writer was from Harvard, too, and Eduardo regretted telling him everything a week afterwards.

"At least it sounds like you've been keeping up with the lawsuit," Eduardo can't help saying petulantly.

"Of course, I deposed for it," Erica says.

Eduardo shuffles some books around. He picks up the photo from AEPi and looks at it again. "You know, Mark wasn't very happy about that."

"I'd think so," Erica says. "It's not like I had a lot of nice things to say about him."

"No one does," Eduardo says. "But a lot of it is just a matter of—" He thinks about the Winklevosses' depositions, about how Eduardo knew he should've, could've said anything more helpful, even though he knows how much Mark values his own ideas to even consider stealing from anybody, consider them anyone else's but his own. Mark has far too much pride for that.

"It's a matter of understanding him," Eduardo finishes.

On the other end, Erica sighs. "We're talking about Mark again," she says in sing-song.

"It's inevitable," Eduardo tells her.

"Well, it shouldn't be." Erica yawns; it has to be past midnight over where she is. "So, I'll see you in a month then."

"A month it is," Eduardo says. "Goodnight, sweetheart."

"Shut up," Erica laughs, and hangs up.

*

During the month in Singapore, Eduardo begins again. Well, he doesn't so much as begin as he resumes—Facebook had taken a chunk out of his life, far too much energy, and Eduardo didn't realize how much it was dragging him down until now, until it's all over.

It's kind of refreshing.

Of course, since he is once more a stockholder and re-established onto the masthead (for posterity's sake, but Eduardo won't admit to not appreciating it), it'll mean that he'll have to attend functions and be represented at shareholder meetings. It's not a big deal when he's got a new assistant out here in Singapore—his old assistant in New York couldn't move with him, of course—and can make those flights out to California for him. A part of Eduardo wants to be able to go to the meetings and look Mark dead in the eye and feel nothing, though. But he's not sure if he can pull it off.

Erica contacts him exactly a month after, with, so are you coming over here or what? They've been texting, something that Eduardo always looks forward to on long days at work or evenings when he can't go to sleep. They range from it disgusts me how you can afford a $2000 jacket to i miss the feeling of your hand down my pants and Eduardo wishes a little that he'd met Erica before, that he stayed in New York, that they met each other by any other circumstance and danced around each other, living out of the other's apartments for a while before ultimately cohabiting, Singapore and its humid air still foreign to Eduardo's skin.

As it is, Eduardo packs up from Singapore and lets Erica know that he booked his flight over weeks ago, the day that Erica had first called him while he was in Singapore. Erica says he's cheating, and Eduardo asks, what am I cheating at?

our game of chicken, Erica sends back. you're supposed to let me bother you to come, not give in so quickly.

I've never been very good at chicken, Eduardo replies.

Then he's in the States, wayside of the last time he was here (California.) Erica had sent him her address, instead of picking him up. Erica's place is a Victorian townhouse on the corner of a block, and Eduardo is impressed as he rings the doorbell.

"Hey," Erica says, when she answers the door. She's in a tan cashmere sweater and dark pants. "My aunt and uncle aren't home."

"That's the first thing you say to me?" Eduardo says, letting himself in with his suitcase. He looks around the foyer; it's tall, as to be expected, a colorful glass ceiling at the top.

"I was just letting you know," Erica says, shutting the door behind her. "They travel a lot. That's why I invited you here in the first place."

"You had intentions of impugning my virtue, didn't you?"

"What virtue?" Erica snorts. "You didn't even kiss me hello."

Eduardo drops his bags in the foyer, tangles one of his hands with Erica's, and kisses her deeply. She tastes kind of like she'd just had lunch—it's the afternoon—and tilts her head up, wrapping her arms around Eduardo's neck that it takes effort for Eduardo to pull himself back. "Hello," he says, grinning in the space between as she searches his eyes, panting.

"Fine," she says, pulling back. "Now you did. Kiss me hello, I mean." She seems flustered as she looks down by Eduardo's feet, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "Pick your bag up."

"Okay," Eduardo says obediently, and does so. "Where am I putting my stuff?"

Erica shows him to the room she's staying in; Eduardo can tell, because a suitcase is in the corner with some clothes spilling out. Eduardo places his own suitcase at the end of the bed and says, "I am beat."

"You've been traveling for eighteen hours," Erica says.

Eduardo shakes his head. "From work, I mean. I overwork. I know it."

"Well, self-awareness is better than nothing, isn't it?" Erica leans into Eduardo's space, and then scrunches her nose, even though she lets Eduardo kiss her upper lip. "You need to shower, by the way."

"Yeah," Eduardo says, shoving a hand into his hair.

Erica leads him to the bathroom; then, when he thinks that she's going to give him his privacy, she starts stripping too. Eduardo blinks at her; Erica goes, "Did you not get that as the invitation that that was?"

"Uh, no," Eduardo says, beginning to unbutton his own shirt. "I thought I was going to actually shower."

"You are." Erica rolls her eyes. "We can do things other than have sex, you know."

"You don't need to remind me," Eduardo says, tossing his shirt at her. She yelps.

So they're both naked, and Eduardo's too tired to get turned on anyway, even though the hot of the showerhead is sprinkling on them as Erica soaps herself down. "This water pressure is kind of crappy," Eduardo says, looking up from where he's thumbing shampoo in his hair.

"Now you can put up with it with me," Erica says. She begins soaping at Eduardo's chest; Eduardo turns the water off. "What was that for?"

"Save water," Eduardo tells her, squirting more shampoo on his palm and fingering it through her hair.

Erica rolls her eyes. "We're not saving that much, with how much was coming out," she points out. She scrapes the loofah at the side of Eduardo's neck, and adds, "So you've never had a shower with someone that didn't turn into sex?"

"I—" Eduardo starts, though he can't really think of an otherwise situation.

Erica outright laughs at him, so much that she snorts. "You're fucking ridiculous," she says.

"Shut up," Eduardo says. "If I'm naked with someone—"

"Then you can't keep it in your pants, can you?" Erica's smirking. "Don't worry, we can have shower sex later if you want."

"I do prefer bed sex, you know."

"Vanilla," Erica says, throwing the loofah at him. Eduardo laughs as it hits him at the side of his face. "Boring."

*

They talk about sex; they talk about things other than sex. Eduardo passes out on the bed shortly after the shower, and when he wakes up again a few hours later it's to the smell of something cooking. He makes his way out to see Erica in the kitchen, with an apron on and watching tv while waiting for something that's cooking on the stove.

"Good morning," Erica says, even though it's not. It's near dinnertime, actually. "That wasn't very long."

"Only napped. I don't want to get jetlagged." Eduardo yawns and rubs at an eye. "What are you making?"

Erica gestures into her skillet. "Asparagus. Tofu's in the oven."

"Tofu?" Eduardo turns the oven light on to peer inside.

"I'm a vegetarian. Although people who aren't vegetarian can obviously eat tofu, but," Erica rolls her eyes. "It's often attributed to us."

"I'm good for tofu," Eduardo amends. "And I'm not a vegetarian."

"Now I know one more thing about you," says Erica.

She's not done yet, but Eduardo comes around the compact kitchen with a fork and spears up an asparagus. "It's good," Eduardo says, after swallowing. "Could use a little more salt."

Erica huffs. "Of course," she says, before sprinkling a pinch in. "I'm always bad with salt. Too much or too little."

"Well, I'm always good with salt, if you need help," Eduardo says cheekily.

Erica just pinches his side in retaliation. "Want more?" she asks, offering some up with her wooden spoon, and Eduardo lets her feed him.

There's a basketball game on while they eat, which neither of them pay any attention to. Erica asks him if he knows anything about football, and even though Eduardo's lived here for over ten years now, he still immediately thinks of the kind he used to play all the time in Brazil. "Oh," he says, forking at a piece of tofu. "You mean American football."

"I mean real football," Erica says.

Eduardo scoffs. "Real football," he repeats. "There are more countries in the world that call your so-called 'soccer'"—and he uses real finger quotes—"football—"

"And we're not in one of those countries right now, are we?" Erica says, grinning.

"Okay, okay," Eduardo says. "Fair point. Well, I know quite a bit about real football, but American football—"

"Stop," Erica says, laughing. "So you don't know anything about American football at all?"

"As much as I need to know to have gotten through my high school gym class," Eduardo says, and shoves a forkful of asparagus into his mouth. "Why?"

Erica laughs. "I was just wondering if you had a team," she says honestly. "Otherwise I was going to see if I could get you to support my team—"

"Your team?" Eduardo says with surprise.

"I'm always one to convert someone to a Giants fan." Erica grins. "At least you're not a dolphin—that's Miami's team, by the way."

"I know that."

"Could've fooled me."

"So," Eduardo says, propping an elbow onto the table and waving his fork around. "What's with you and football then?"

Erica spends the rest of dinner talking animatedly about football, and when Eduardo lets out that what he's retained since high school is very little, she makes a point to try to educate him on the ins and outs of the sport. Eduardo still doesn't get it, when Erica is going into the whole history of the New York Giants, coach changes, team trades, why there's teams she doesn't like and ridiculous plays that Eduardo can barely make head or tails of.

He laughs and reacts in all the right places, though, and when they're done and the dishes are in the dishwasher, Erica comes up to him, slips her hands into his, and says, "You've barely remembered a thing I've said about football, haven't you?"

"Barely a thing," Eduardo agrees, and meets her for a kiss, smiling through it.

*

Eduardo doesn't have an ideal person, but mostly because that's too simple—you can never capture the complexities of a person, and they're contradictory, unpredictable, and sometimes may surprise you.

Several years ago, Eduardo thought that his ideal person may be a boy in a Harvard dorm, with an idea and a computer and a brain that couldn't be stopped. It wasn't a love or a romance or anything, but it had led to a broken laptop and a lawsuit that sort of makes Eduardo feel hollow when he thinks about it.

And several years later, Eduardo has no reason to be hollow because he's walking into a function hosted in San Jose, where Mark Zuckerberg is the keynote speaker and there's a woman on Eduardo's arm, talking in low voices about if they want a cat or a dog or both. Their apartment is on the other side of the country, but Eduardo has to come out here sometimes—and Erica is all too happy to come as his date.

"You have to come to the game," she's insisting, as Eduardo grabs flutes of champagnes for the both of them, nodding to the caterer. "It'll be fun—"

"I haven't said no," Eduardo says, chuckling and shoving the champagne in her mouth.

Erica takes it and sips it delicately. "But you haven't said yes," she says. "It'll be fun, I promise."

"For you, I have no doubt." Eduardo nods to some of the people in the room, says hello to Chris who greets him with some surprise.

Erica nudges him, and Eduardo continues on. "It'll be fun for you too," she says. "I won't even make you put on war paint—"

Eduardo laughs, buckling over. "That's your conditional?"

"Is it persuasive?" Erica asks. She sighs. "I just really want you to come, Wardo—"

"Okay, okay," Eduardo says to her, grinning. "I'll come, if it'll make you happy."

Erica purses her lips. "It will," she says. "It does."

"Good," Eduardo says, and she pecks him on the mouth.

This is when Mark Zuckerberg appears in their line of vision, and it's kind of like—it's like after a bridge has fallen away, and you see the pieces. The cement that had put them together and then had broken away, and gotten repaired without it. Erica elbows Eduardo again, and Eduardo elbows her back—the look in her eyes says, should we? and Eduardo nods.

Mark is talking to someone else, but falters when he spots Eduardo and Erica coming his way. His expression is unreadable, but Eduardo doesn't mind—Eduardo had never had an ideal person, and he has Erica now. Erica who takes him to football games and cooks vegetarian dinners and fucks him with a strap-on and calls him every night when he's away on business meetings, no matter the time difference. There's no replacing either of them.

Mark doesn't say anything, but Eduardo introduces himself to the person Mark's talking to. "I'm Eduardo Saverin," he says. "This is my girlfriend, Erica Albright."

"Mark," Erica says, nodding to Mark, a small smile on her face.

Mark looks between them, before he nods back. "Eduardo," he acknowledges. "Erica."

"It's nice to meet you," Erica says to the stranger, but Eduardo's and her eyes flicker to Mark's—and like he approves, like they're moving on, like hitting Accept on a Friend Request, Mark smiles back.

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