Word Count: 14,000 (including both Parts One and Two)
Disclaimer: Sadly, I own nothing.
Spoilers: Basic plot through 3.09, “When Betty Met YETI.”
Summary: At first, Marc holds out hope that Cliff will call. Then he thinks he can get over him. And then everything starts to seem wrong. The events after Marc and Cliff break up, plus fluffy flashbacks of random points in their relationship.
By: Tara secondmezzanine
I think more Cliff/Marc stories are needed!
Author’s Notes: While the Marc/Cliff stories I’ve read have been great, there simply aren’t enough of them! So I’m throwing mine into the mix. I attempted a mix of humor, angst, and fluffiness. I’d love feedback, especially since I found out with this one that Marc can be freakin’ hard to write for! I also think it’s a tad unfair we never even get to see Marc and Cliff kiss (despite the fact that everywhere else on TV we see m/f couples pretty much doing it all)—so I’ve thrown a wee bit o’ making out in there too. Because kissing is good. More kissing, I say.
Also thanks to Keane (who supplied the title) and the Panics, both of which kept me powering through until I finally finished this thing, and Johanna, who supplied the challah.
-- This is Part One of Two - (Go to Part Two)
Marc has to admit, a part of him had thought— or maybe just hoped— Cliff would call him back within a few days. They’ve had fights before. Huge ones, even. The difference was that one of them always called or showed up on the other’s doorstep, saying I’m sorry, sweetie, and making everything okay again. And usually it was Cliff. He was the rational one, Marc knows. The one who made Marc see how stupid their fights always were. The one who knew how to make things right again.
Marc has no practice at this sort of thing.
But he’s trying. He’s left Cliff four messages in the days since he told him the truth. The truth, unfortunately, being that he’d momentarily panicked and gone home with some random guy at Betty’s party— the sort of guy who had gone back to the party, cruising for his next hookup, immediately afterward.
He leaves the first message for Cliff when he’s still at the Mode office, stuck to the place where he watched Cliff pull away from him. Cliff probably hasn’t even had time to take the subway home yet, but Marc doesn’t know what else to do. He sits at his desk, staring at that red telephone, feeling like he’s going to throw up, until he can’t wait any longer. He takes out his cell phone and hits the speed dial.
“Cliff… it’s me. I’m sorry. I don’t—I just want—please, let’s just talk, okay? Just talk.” He doesn’t know what else to say.
He isn’t surprised Cliff when doesn’t call.
He leaves the second message the next day at lunch, when he’s supposed to be searching for Wilhelmina’s special brand of yogurt at the bodega down the street. Marc clutches his phone and huddles under his umbrella, hardly even caring, when he looks down, that his new slacks are being soaked in puddles. “Cliff, it’s Marc. I know you’re upset and probably just—want your space. Or whatever. But please call me. I’m sorry, Cliff. I’m so, so sorry.”
The third message is a spur-of-the-moment act, right in the middle of the morning meeting two days later. Across the room, Betty is buttering a bagel and writing down notes on whatever Daniel’s saying about the next Mode cover shoot. Wilhelmina is looking at her manicure, pretending to be bored (Marc can always tell when she’s actually plotting her next sabotage). Two editors are texting each other on their Blackberrys; they keep eyeing Daniel, locking eyes, and bursting into quiet giggles. Next to him, Amanda is doodling a picture of Halston on a Post-it. Everything is so damn normal that he can’t stand it. Willie’s going to make him pay for it later, but he shoves back his chair and rushes into the hall, pulling his cell from his breast pocket.
“Cliff. Okay. It’s me again. I don’t know what to…” He feels out of breath. He leans against the glass wall, out of sight of the meeting, and swallows. He was stupid to call. “I don’t… please just let me try to explain. I mean, not that I have a good excuse, but I just… can you just promise me we’ll talk sometime? Our last words just shouldn’t be like…” Marc shakes his head. It’s his last words that pain him. Cliff had hardly said anything that night. Just looked at him, looked down, and pulled away. Marc sighs. “Like what they were,” he finishes. He grasps wildly for something else to say. Something that will make it right. “It kills me that I… broke your trust.” He ends the call.
Four more days pass. Cliff doesn’t call. Marc doesn’t know what to do, so he buys two new suits, goes to a party with Amanda (he leaves after an hour), and watches a Hitchcock marathon on AMC. When he’s passing the movie rental place he and Cliff used to go to (used to—the words feel strange), he decides his fourth message will be the last. Begging—for a guy, anyway— is not his style. He can play it like Wilhelmina. If he has to. He can be the ice bitch. He’s done it before, after all. Usually he’s just catty to the most insecure of the Mode interns or to the office messengers or to Betty, not his boyfriend (ex-boyfriend, he reminds himself with a cringe, ex, ex, ex), but how hard can it be?
“Cliff,” he says when the voice mail picks up, as he knows it will. He stares into the window of the video rental store, trying to see past his own reflection. “It’s me. Look, maybe… maybe you don’t believe me. But… I love you. I didn’t say that a lot, but…” he trails off. “Please just call me? Okay?” He wonders how pathetic he sounds. He wonders how much Cliff hates him. “Okay. Just… bye.”
Three minutes later, he’s still staring into the rental store, his hands shoved into his coat pockets, when his cell phone buzzes. Marc practically flips the phone into the nearby garbage bin in his rush to pick it up.
It’s just a text message. He reads the words once, twice, and slowly puts the phone back in his pocket.
Marc… please stop. I can’t.
It’s a week before Cliff can do anything besides go to work, take photographs, go home and stare at the TV, and fall into bed. He can’t stop picturing scenes in his head. Some are real—Marc telling him about what happened at Betty’s party, Marc touching his arm as they sat on those stupid Mode stools, Marc’s voice cracking slightly as he unwillingly drives the dagger deeper, tells Cliff he slept with someone else. Marc talking, saying words, apologies, maybe a plea—Cliff can’t be sure because the rushing in his ears had drowned everything out. Some scenes in his head are imagined—Marc seeing some guy (god, who was it?) across Betty’s quinceañera decorations, going home with him, doing—whatever it was he did with him.
Cliff wishes he could just sleep this part away, the part where he has to keep picturing it all, the part where he has to go home alone and not fall apart over someone who would do this to him. And he can sleep, for awhile, but when he wakes up alone every morning, there’s a sharp pain when he suddenly remembers.
He hadn’t realized that heartache was a real, physical pain. Pain that zaps across his chest when he’s still blinking away sleep, pain that dulls to a pressing edge around his heart and lungs and won’t leave even after he gives himself a morning pep talk, reminds himself to be angry, not pathetically sad.
At first, he takes his anger out on Judith, his new assistant at the Mode set. On her first day, she nervously knocks over a lamp and struggles to pick it up, burning herself in the process. Her naïveté in touching the lamp reminds him of the day he met Marc, and he bristles at the thought. “Hey, watch it,” Cliff snaps from behind his camera. “These things are expensive.”
Judith flushes and squeaks an apology, but he’s already shaking his head at himself. “Sorry,” he interrupts her. “Sorry.” He calls for a five minute break before the re-set and goes into the hall, feeling guilty. He pulls out his phone and checks his messages. His heart flips over when he sees he has another message from Marc. Great, he thinks. His routine of listening to Marc’s voice on his voicemail twenty or thirty times in a row can begin anew.
“Cliff. It’s me. Look, maybe… maybe you don’t believe me. But… I love you. I didn’t say that a lot, but… please just call me? Okay? Okay. Just… bye.”
Cliff listens to the message twice, torturing himself a little more, then hangs up and stares at the phone. I love you, I love you, he thinks. I love you and you threw it away. His resolve weakens. If he calls again in the next minute, I’ll answer, he bargains. He waits a minute, and then another. When the phone doesn’t ring again, he throws it into the wall. It’s the most emphatic thing he’s done since their breakup. It feels good. Cliff lets out a sound that’s halfway between a groan and a growl.
A squeak from behind him makes him turn. It’s Judith, looking petrified, her dark eyes locked on the phone, which is now lying sadly on the hall floor.
“Oh hey,” he says. “I’m s—” He notices she’s clutching her burned fingers. “Hey, are you okay? Here—come here.” He takes her by the elbow and pulls her over to the water fountain. “Run your fingers under the water for a couple of minutes.”
She gives him a small smile and obliges. Cliff leans back against the wall next to the fountain, sighing, and watches her for a moment. She’s Asian-American, and seems to be just a few years younger than him. He doesn’t know much about fashion, despite the kind of work he does, but she’s dressed well. She almost reminds him of Marc’s friend Amanda, except instead of looking like she’ll scratch your eyes out, Judith seems sweet. Cliff wonders if Amanda’s glad that he and Marc have split.
Judith shifts awkwardly and Cliff realizes he’s staring. “Sorry,” he repeats. He rubs his eyes. “I’m having a rough week. I didn’t mean to snap at you back there.”
She glances at the remnants of his cell phone. “Is everything okay?”
“Oh, you know. Just the usual… guy trouble.” He shrugs.
“Bad breakup?” She flicks her fingers through the stream of water and eyes him carefully.
“How’d you know?”
“You’ve just had that glazed look of frustration on your face all day,” she says, venturing a small smile. “I thought it was my incompetence driving you nuts, but now,”—she nods her head at his phone—“it seems like bigger problems.”
Cliff stares forlornly at the phone. “It didn’t even break,” he mumbles, half to Judith, half to himself. “He breaks my heart, and I can’t even break a piece of… plastic. Or whatever cell phones are made out of.”
Judith laughs, then checks herself. “I’m sorry.” She shrugs. “Men suck?”
He scoffs. “Yeah. Well.” He picks up the phone and presses a few buttons. It’s working fine, so he just puts it in his pocket and watches Judith squint at her burned fingers under the faucet for a moment longer. “He cheated on me,” he finally says, folding his arms and looking away. He’s been avoiding everyone, so it’s the first time he’s said it out loud. “And now he keeps calling. And every time he calls, I…” He trails off.
Judith doesn’t say anything, just nods. “You’ll be okay,” she offers after a moment. “You will.”
Cliff nods, but it doesn’t feel like he’ll be okay. He wants Marc to stop calling and sounding sweet and apologetic and miserable on the phone. He wants to go up to the Mode offices and see Marc scurrying around after Wilhelmina, shouting at interns to get out of her way. He wants to stop thinking about Psycho and Appletinis and some random guy’s apartment near Betty’s party and Marc’s hand on his shoulder when he confessed the truth. Everything feels wrong.
“You want my advice?” Judith says. She looks determined. “Tell him right now it’s over. Before you give in and regret it later. That’s what happened with my ex.”
It’s the only thing that has made sense all week. Cliff types the text quickly, before he can think about it, his thumb fumbling so much he has to retype everything twice. Marc… please stop. I can’t.
“You want to go to lunch later?” he says to Judith as he shuts his phone off. She brightens.
They’ve only been on one date—just watched Pyscho at his apartment—but Cliff knows. This is it. He’s the one.
Marc is catty and snobbish and almost too colorful, but he’s the one.
On their second date, Cliff brings Chinese to Marc’s apartment and they watch Suzuki St. Pierre tear apart Mary-Kate Olsen’s latest red carpet faux pas on the fashion channel. During a commercial, Marc leans over and tugs at a loose string on Cliff’s jacket. The button promptly falls off. Marc disappears into the bedroom hallway and returns a moment later with a mini-sewing kit. He sews the button back on and tells Cliff how he begged his mother to let him take home ec so he could learn to use a sewing machine in eighth grade.
“And she didn’t suspect you were gay?” Cliff laughs.
“My mother has selective sight.” Marc smiles, but he changes the subject abruptly, so Cliff lets the topic go. When he finishes the button, Marc stands and helps him back into the jacket, sighing, “I’d like to select this jacket right out of my sight. No offense.”
“Hey,” Cliff says, feigning hurt. “This jacket has nostalgic value.” Marc takes his elbow and turns him so they’re facing each other again. He tugs at Cliff’s shoulders, swiping the fabric up and down as if to put some kind of shape back into it. “Come on. It’s a hopeless cause,” Cliff tells him, gesturing to his full outfit.
“Maybe the jacket,” Marc says, meeting his eye. “The rest… has potential.”
All they do after that is read the fortune cookies and hypothesize about Suzuki St. Pierre’s dating life, but it’s the most romantic date Cliff has had in two years. He can tell Marc isn’t as sure as he is yet, but he knows. Marc is the one.
“You should tell him,” Amanda tells Marc, absent-mindedly filing her nails at the reception desk. “Didn’t Cliff shoot like half those pictures you used for your mock magazine application? He’d probably be happy for you.”
Marc hops onto the reception desk counter and leans back, crossing his legs. “Oh, right. That’s exactly what an ex-boyfriend wants to hear. ‘Cliff, I know I broke your heart and all, but guess what? I just had to tell you that they loved the magazine and I got into YETI, so my career’s going great.’”
Amanda scoffs. “Broke his heart? Conceited much? Marc, I’m sorry to tell you this, but he probably just ate a burrito and felt better. People of his kind bounce back. Look at Betty!” She uses her emery board to point across the office at Betty, who is walking down the tube while frantically scribbling in Daniel’s appointment book and mumbling to herself. “She ate like three doughnuts, and the nerdy accountant was a distant memory. Go, little Betty, go!” she calls after Betty.
Marc frowns. “Mandy, please. I’m not telling Cliff about YETI. Besides, we haven’t even talked since that night. I’m not just going to show up at his apartment to flaunt my successes at him.”
“You could just go to the photo shoot downstaaa-airs,” Amanda sings. “Mr. Burrito’s shooting the Versace layout all morning.”
Marc reacts so spastically he falls backward onto Amanda’s desk. “What?! He’s here? In the building? What’s he wearing? What did he say about me? Mandy!”
Pens scatter and Amanda grabs Marc by the collar. “Come on, lover. Let’s go spy.”
It’s easy to hide behind the curtains and racks of clothes on the photo set, but Cliff’s nowhere in sight when Marc and Amanda arrive. “This is a bad idea,” Marc hisses as they huddle behind a rack of dresses. His voice turns worried for a moment. “He hates me. He has to hate me. What if he throws a fit when he sees me?”
“Oh, sweetie.” Amanda hugs his arm. “You’re confusing Cliff with yourself. Oooh, hey, look at him,” she says, pointing at a model in a double-breasted suit who’s looking over the craft services table. “Spicy. Back in a few,” she mumbles and makes a beeline for the model, flipping her hair on the way.
“Wait!” Marc hisses. He huffs at her and watches her flirt with the model for a few minutes. Cliff doesn’t appear to be arriving, and he’s sure Wilhelmina’s wondering where he’s gone.
Marc’s just about to bolt when he sees him.
Cliff’s walking onto the set with a young Asian-American woman. They’re laughing, the kind of laughter that means they’ve got a secret, probably a secret about someone acting stupid, which is Cliff’s favorite kind of joke. Cliff adjusts the camera bag over his shoulder, leaning in to hear what the woman is saying, a half-smile playing over his features.
Marc’s heart is beating so fast he’s certain he’s going to pass out. Or maybe just throw up.
He’s reminded of the day Cliff walked into Bradford and Wilhelmina’s wedding, when he first realized Cliff was capable of inspiring those romantic clichés in him—stopping his heart, taking his breath away, all that jazz. Except on that day Cliff had looked like someone new. Today, Cliff looks like himself—baggy jeans, T-shirt, the black vest he wears when he’s shooting. He needs a haircut and a shave. He looks exactly like he’s supposed to. And he looks… happy.
Marc isn’t sure what he expected. For Cliff to be falling apart at the seams, maybe? For him to look constantly crestfallen and miserable?
He realizes too late that Cliff is rummaging in his camera bag and the woman is approaching the dress rack where Marc is crouched. Before he knows what’s happened, the woman has pushed the dress rack back, and suddenly Marc is sprawled on the floor with dresses falling off the rack all over him. “Oh my god,” the woman cries. “I’m so sorry; are you all right?”
“Sssh! Woman! Quiet!” Marc tries to shush her before anyone notices the commotion, but he’s too late. Suddenly Cliff is standing over him, looking confused. Marc feels his face burning under a fuchsia halter top, which he shoves off.
“Judith?” Cliff says. “Are you—what the hell? Marc?”
Marc pushes the dresses aside and jumps up, attempting to look dignified. “Cliff. Hello.” He holds his chin high. A little too high. He lowers it. That’s too low. He puts it back up again and sniffs haughtily. Judith and Cliff stare at him, their mouths dropped slightly open at his display. “How—how are you?”
Cliff looks at him and Marc can’t decipher the strange expression on his face.
“Uh,” Marc says stupidly, looking away. “Did you… did you get my messages?” He remembers too late that Cliff had responded to him with that painful text message.
Cliff suddenly seems to collect himself. He shifts awkwardly. “What are you doing here?” he says, eyeing Judith.
“I just… um…” Marc fumbles. “Uh… congratulations on getting the Versace shoot. That’s… great…” He can’t stop himself from looking at Cliff, up and down, thinking about how good it is to finally just see him. He tries to stop the next question from coming out, but he can’t. “Can we… talk somewhere?” So much for being the ice bitch, he thinks.
Judith makes a move to leave them in private, but Cliff puts a hand to her elbow to stop her. He doesn’t take his eyes off Marc. “What do you want, Marc?” he asks softly.
They look at each other for a long time. Such a long time, in fact, that Judith eyes them both a few times and scurries off, despite Cliff’s obvious desire for her to stay. “Cliff,” Marc says, taking a step toward him.
Cliff steps back defensively. His jaw hardens slightly. “What,” he repeats, “do you want, Marc?”
Marc sighs. He folds his arms and shrugs. He lifts his foot behind him and taps his toe to the floor a few times. When he runs out of ways to fidget, he sighs again. “I don’t…”
Cliff stares at the floor between them. “What… do you want,” he repeats a third time, even quieter now but through gritted teeth.
Marc doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to talk about what happened, he’s so sick of thinking about what happened, but he doesn’t know how else to get past this, if that’s even possible. He didn’t want to get married, but he doesn’t want the hell that this existence is, either. He wants forgiveness, but he doesn’t deserve it. If he didn’t realize that before, the wedge that seems driven between them now clarifies it just fine. He waited too long to go see Cliff, he knows. He messed up again.
“Closure,” Marc finally says, and immediately regrets it. He doesn’t want closure, for god’s sake. He doesn’t know why he said that.
Cliff blinks. He blinks again. “Closure?” he repeats.
Marc unfolds his arms and immediately backtracks. “No. That’s not what I meant.”
“You know what, Marc?” Cliff says. “You don’t get to pick when there’s closure between us. Okay? No, there is no closure in this situation. There’s you, cheating, and me, dealing with it.”
“Okay, that’s not what I meant. Not… closure. And—hey,” Marc says, closing the gap between them. “For one thing, it was once. Okay? Once. And I hated it and I’m sorry and I keep saying I’m sorry and you’re not the only one dealing with this.”
“Well, once was enough,” Cliff says abruptly, and they’re back to staring at each other, both looking hurt.
“I know.” Marc swallows. He doesn’t know what else to say. He takes another small step toward Cliff. He wishes it were easy. He doesn’t know how Cliff managed to always say the right thing before. Before, when it was so easy to reach out and touch him when they were standing this close. “Cliff,” he says softly.
“You need to go,” Cliff says. He walks away, his fists clenched.
Marc watches him leave. He wasn’t sure how this was supposed to go. But it wasn’t like this.
Marc stumbles a few times when he first starts dating Cliff. He hasn’t had a boyfriend, a real boyfriend, since his days at FIT, and that guy had been so closeted (it was part of the turn-on, really) that they’d never even introduced each other to their friends. He isn’t sure how to treat a boyfriend like Cliff. He makes mistakes. He lets his self-consciousness over having a—shudder—sloppy, husky, unshaven, and corduroy-clad, for god’s sake, boyfriend get in the way. He makes the mistake of introducing Cliff as his “friend” to Amanda. When he manages to loosen up about their differences and even go bowling—bowling, oy—with Cliff’s friends, he makes the mistake of taking a call and then running off to meet Wilhelmina, who needed him to administer an “emergency” dose of Botox. Work, according to Cliff, simply cannot always come first—even if all he’s leaving behind is a bowling alley full of men who hate Appletinis and, apparently, moisturizer.
And of course he makes the mistake of throwing a fit at Bradford and Wilhelmina’s almost-wedding, when Cliff showed up looking like a god in his coat and tie and spent too much time talking to the slew of slutty cater-waiters that infested the event. Marc apologizes for his over-reaction, of course, but it’s Cliff, as always, who knows how to forgive him and make it right, even when it was Marc who had messed up (again).
When the excitement calms down (or as down as it can, with Bradford in the hospital, Wilhelmina in Plan B mode, and Amanda practically in hysterics that no one has offered her a recording contract even after her performance of “Milkshake” in the church), he takes Cliff back to his apartment and pushes the coat off him. “Finally,” Cliff says with a smile. “I can breathe again.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Marc says dismissively, pulling Cliff down the hallway to his bedroom.
“I hope you don’t expect me to wear a tie all the time,” Cliff says, pulling at his tie and letting Marc lead him. “I’m willing to sacrifice my wardrobe for you once in awhile, but—”
“Stop talking, Chatty Cathy,” Marc says, kissing him. Cliff shuts up and then they’re a mess of ties and buttons and belts, tripping through the doorway and spilling into Marc’s room. Marc lets himself relax a little—the stress and rigidity of a day anticipating Willie’s every mood swing isn’t easy to push aside, but Cliff is soft and strong and everything a day with the Mode crowd isn’t—so he leans into Cliff and presses a hand to his cheek. He’s surprised to find it smooth, having already forgotten Cliff shaved off the stubble for him. Marc does a double-take, pulls back to look at Cliff’s face.
“What? What’s wrong?” Cliff asks, his hands still working the buttons of Marc’s shirt.
“N—nothing,” Marc stammers. He runs his fingers from Cliff’s temple down to his chin, then back again. The beard is already growing back again, just slightly, hardly enough to scrape Marc’s fingertips.
“I’ll shave tomorrow,” Cliff promises with a slight eye roll. He presses his mouth to Marc’s ear. “Just don’t expect--”
“No—it’s okay,” Marc says casually.
Cliff leans back again. “You—” He grins in disbelief. “You want it back, don’t you? You like the stubble.”
Marc scoffs too loudly. “What? No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No. No! Mr. Assumptive.” Marc snorts.
“You do. You like Sloppy Sally,” Cliff teases.
“Can we retire that name, please?”
“Fickle Marc,” Cliff says, and they shut each other up.
“I need you to help me buy a jacket,” Cliff tells Judith at the coffee stand. He left his one jacket—the only one that isn’t a tuxedo, anyway—shoved in the back of Marc’s closet (so Marc wouldn’t see it), and there’s no way he can ask for it back. Especially not after yesterday and their tension-filled encounter on the Mode set. “And it needs to look good,” Cliff adds, emphatically tearing the top off a sugar packet. “Really good.”
“Ooh,” Judith says. “And whom are we trying to impress?”
She eyes him over her paper cup. “Oh really. Does Nobody walk around in cravats and Prada?”
“Uhh, absolutely not. I need it for work. And anyway, I don’t have the faintest clue what kind of shoes Marc wears.” Judith smirks and Cliff rolls his eyes over his blunder. “Okay, fine. So maybe… seeing Marc yesterday made me realize I’m not exactly… over him. So maybe I feel like I need to-- ”
“Rub his face in your awesomeness?” Judith says.
“You say my awesomeness, I say my dignified reaction to our breakup. Come on.” He pulls her to the sidewalk.
“Okay, fine, I’ll help you find a jacket, but you know, Cliff… it doesn’t seem to me like you guys are actually broken up.”
He throws her a strange look. “Of course we are. He—cheated on me.”
Judith shrugs as they make their way around the crowds on the sidewalk. “I know, but… he’s still calling you, right? Or he was. Did either of you actually say it was over?”
“Well, I told him to stop calling me…”
Judith takes his arm and stops him. “Okay, I know he treated you pretty badly. What he did was wrong. But—Cliff, that guy I saw on set yesterday, he didn’t look like he wanted things to be over. In fact he kind of—”
“Please, don’t even go there, Judith.” Cliff starts walking again.
“Look, all I’m saying is I think you actually need to talk with him. Even if it’s just to say it’s really over.”
“I can’t… have that conversation with him. I can’t just say…” he trails off.
“Because you’re still in love with him.” She says it kindly, but it’s so matter-of-fact that Cliff winces.
“Can we just get me a jacket, please? I just need a jacket.”
“Fine,” Judith agrees.
That afternoon she takes him to a few department stores and forces him to try on dozens of suit jackets, despite his pleas to just buy the first one she picks for him that fits. “Beauty is pain, Cliff,” she says, exactly the way Marc used to say it, and he decides to just shut his mouth until it’s over.
He wears the jacket to work the next day, pretending he’s not uncomfortable, and makes a vow to converse with every male who crosses his path, even the idiotic ones. Somehow he has to forget Marc, before the pain he’s still waking up with becomes a permanent scar.
His efforts pay off. Cliff smiles and charms and jokes and flirts with everyone, hating himself the entire time, until he’s in the cafeteria (keeping a wary eye out for the Mode crowd) and Tom from Human Resources asks him if he’s all right because he seems a little giddy. Cliff flushes with embarrassment. “Sorry. I’m fine. Just a little, uh. It’s almost the weekend, right?” He lets out a half-laugh, half-sigh.
Tom asks him to sit at his table. They talk about magazines and Star Wars and Starbucks. When Cliff gets up to leave, Tom puts a hand on his wrist. “Hey—would you want to, you know, grab a coffee sometime?”
Cliff looks at him. The guy seems sweet. His hair is thinning and there’s a mustard stain on his front pocket. He has a nice smile. He’s not wearing a cravat or Pradas. “Okay,” Cliff says. To his surprise, he feels nothing.
Marc watches Tom put a hand on Cliff’s wrist in the cafeteria and feels himself bristle. “Calm down, tiger,” Amanda whispers, her eyes locked on the same scene. “It’s just a rebound hookup.”
Marc sputters. “Just a rebound hookup? I don’t want Cliff having rebound sex with Tom from HR!” He jumps up from their table and tries to make it look natural when he steps directly in front of Cliff’s path. “Cliff! Hi.”
Cliff looks uncertain, like he’s not sure whether to be civil or to keep walking. He looks around and finally settles on acknowledging him. “Marc.” He keeps walking, but Marc falls into step beside him.
“So listen,” Marc says. “I know this could be really—awkward. But you’ve been doing a lot of work with Mode, and the chances of us seeing each other around seem pretty likely, and I was thinking that… I know you probably hate me, but maybe… we can be friends. Or just. Civil.”
Cliff holds the glass cafeteria door open for Marc to pass through, but doesn’t meet his eye. “I don’t hate you, Marc,” he says quietly. “But we can’t be friends.” He starts to walk away.
“Okay, wait. Before you go. I just wanted to tell you, that—” he suddenly notices that Cliff is wearing a new black jacket. It’s the dressiest he’s ever seen him at work. “This is nice,” he remarks carefully. “When did you get this?”
Cliff actually looks embarrassed. “Why?” he asks defensively.
Marc stares at him. “You didn’t buy this for yourself,” he says, lowering his eyebrows. “Someone helped you pick this out.” He touches the sleeve and Cliff pulls his arm away.
“Jeez Marc, I’m capable of buying my own clothes, okay?”
“Oh, please,” Marc says. “You couldn’t buy gym socks for yourself. So what, you’ve got a new personal shopper now? Who, Tom from HR? That’s what’s going on, isn’t it. He’s buying you clothes, and you’re letting him. So what, is he your boyfriend now? That was fast.” His voice is getting increasingly higher.
Cliff stares at him for a moment, and Marc can’t tell if he’s going to blow up in anger or—
But he doesn’t. Instead, Cliff laughs. It starts quietly, a small, incredulous snort, and before Marc is sure what’s happening, Cliff is doubled over, trying to catch his breath through his laughter. “God, Marc,” Cliff finally manages to say. “You’re just a piece of work.”
Marc rolls his eyes. “All right, get a hold of yourself before someone comes over and tries to administer CPR.” He can’t help but smile a little when he sees the way Cliff is looking at him, with such a genuine smile, because it seems like Cliff is telling the truth. Maybe he doesn’t hate him. “So… where’d you get it, then?”
Cliff doesn’t say anything, just looks away and shakes his head, still smiling. He hesitates, like he’s going to say something, but then just moves around Marc and starts down the hallway. “Goodbye, Marc.”
“Here, try this.” Cliff holds the spoon out to Marc, who is sitting on the kitchen counter in Cliff’s apartment. “You’ll like it, I promise.”
Marc turns his head like a five-year-old avoiding broccoli. “Cliff, I told you. You can cook all you want, but do not expect me to eat it.”
Cliff plops the spoon back into the pan of tomato sauce on the stove. “You know, most guys would love to have a boyfriend who cooks for them.” He adds some red pepper flakes to the pan and stirs.
“That’s sweet,” Marc says, eyeing the pan suspiciously from his perch on the counter.
“I’m serious,” Cliff says. “Aren’t you hungry? You’ve been at work all night, breaking into apartments or whatever it is you do for Wilhelmina. I don’t think some spaghetti’s going to kill you.”
“Carbs,” Marc says simply. He yawns and trails a finger along Cliff’s shoulder.
“Come on. Just a little bit. I’ll make you a plate.” Cliff scoops a tiny portion of pasta on a plate and adds the sauce. “Doesn’t that smell good?”
“It smells like a year’s worth of snide remarks at the office if I can’t fit into any of my clothes. Trust me. I’m usually the one saying them.”
Cliff pulls Marc down from the counter and shoves the plate into his hands. “Eat this, please,” he says matter-of-factly.
Marc’s too sleepy to argue about the evils of carbohydrates, so he sits at Cliff’s table and eats the spaghetti. He draws the line at the bread Cliff offers him, however. He takes the piece Cliff is eating out of his hands and gives him a stern look. “If I’m making changes, so are you,” he says. Cliff looks annoyed, but he obliges.
In the first three months that they’re together, Marc gains five pounds. Cliff loses twelve.
Cliff wants to smack himself, of course. He should still be giving Marc the silent treatment, or yelling, or reprimanding him like he’s always done before. For god’s sake, he’d found it in himself on what was supposed to be their first date to give Marc a piece of his mind—and now, after all that’s happened, all he can do is be charmed by Marc’s over-dramatic personality? Just laugh and walk away still smiling?
The worst part is that that moment in the hallway was the first time Cliff’s truly laughed since the breakup. It hadn’t even been that funny, just Marc being his usual over-the-top jealous self (as if he even had anything to be jealous about, not that it mattered, because they were exes, end of story), but Cliff’s been missing him so much that he just… he shakes his head as he heads down the subway station steps.
He needs to remind himself he can be happy without Marc. Just because he’s been sort of miserable so far doesn’t mean it’s not possible, he reasons.
Two days after spending an hour discussing movies and books and their hometowns over coffee, Tom takes him to a sushi place. Cliff hates the food but nibbles politely at it anyway, because Tom is wearing a suit for him and touches his hand across the table and doesn’t seem to mind that Cliff barely brushed his hair and doesn’t even remember when he last shaved. Cliff doesn’t even care because he’s so numb to it all. Being on an actual date feels surreal. He pokes at his plate with a chopstick and tries to smile at whatever Tom is saying.
“Hey,” Tom says. “Do you want to go get something else to eat?”
“What?” Cliff says, embarrassed. “No, no. This is great.” He forces himself to take another bite.
Tom smiles and throws his chopsticks down. “Let’s get out of here.”
He takes him to the nearest food stand on the street and they both buy a hot dog. “Better?” Tom asks, nudging Cliff’s arm.
“Sorry,” Cliff says. “I guess I just wasn’t feeling the sushi tonight.”
Tom loosens his tie as they walk. “I’m just glad you’re not opposed to eating bread. The last guy I dated”—Cliff looks away awkwardly at the concept that they’re dating, but Tom doesn’t seem to notice—“all he would eat was lettuce and yogurt. I swear that’s half the reason we broke up.”
“Yeah, my last—” Cliff begins, but stops himself. He changes the subject. “So what’s new in… human resources?” he says stupidly.
Tom walks him home to his apartment that night. As they climb the stairs to his door, Cliff feels overwhelmingly—well, whatever it is, it’s akin to homesickness. He hardly moves when he lets Tom kiss him goodnight. It’s not bad, it’s just not… he doesn’t know. He slips inside and closes the door behind him before Tom can see him sigh with relief that it’s over. And it was fine.
Amanda comes over to Marc’s apartment one night to convince him to come out with her, but Marc turns her down. “Cliff’s here,” he says simply. Amanda follows him through his apartment door and into the living room, where Cliff is lying on the couch playing a GameBoy.
“Marc, come on,” Amanda says. “It’s Friday night. There’s this new club that only serves chili peppers and water. Everybody’s going to be there.”
“Everybody who?” Cliff questions, not looking up from his game.
“The everybody,” Amanda says. “The everybody they say when they mean everybody who’s anybody.”
“Who’s they?” Cliff says.
“Mandy,” Marc interrupts, “I’d love to, but not tonight. I’m doing an apricot facial.”
“Marc, try to be a man for five minutes. Gwendolyn James is going to be there.” Amanda folds her arms and raises her eyebrows.
“She is not.”
Marc flails. “Will we be able to get near her? No, I can’t. I haven’t worked on my portfolio in over a year. But would we? Who else from YETI will be there?”
“What’s YETI?” Cliff asks.
“It’s the Young Editors Training Initiative—only Marc’s best shot at a real career in magazine publishing,” Amanda says. “Gwendolyn James is on the application committee. So what do you say?” she asks. “Let’s go schmooze.”
Marc looks torn. “Okay. Let’s go. No, I can’t! I’m not ready to apply this year. I need another year of experience. My magazine portfolio isn’t ready.”
Cliff sits up, shutting off the GameBoy. “The Young Editors Training Initiative? Marc, you have to apply. You have tons of experience—do you want to be Wilhelmina’s assistant forever?” He gets up and grabs his laptop. “Come on, let’s get started. We can get your portfolio together. I’ll help.”
“No,” Marc says, panicking. “There’s not enough time. I’m not ready.”
Cliff fixes him with a look. “Yes, you are. All you do, all day long, is work on making Mode happen. Go put on a tie. Amanda, make sure he gets into that club. I’ll download the program information we’ll need. Marc, where’s your résumé?” He walks down the hall to dig through Marc’s desk.
Amanda looks impressed. “Wow. Who would have thought little Cliffie was so motivated?”
Marc follows Cliff down the hall. “Cliff, wait. Those applications are due in November. There’s no way—”
“We’re doing this, Marc,” Cliff says, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You deserve it.”
It’s a lecture, part of the YETI series, that convinces Marc to do it—to make something happen.
He’s seen Cliff twice at the Mode office in the past month, and both times they exchanged awkward pleasantries before Cliff tried to walk in the opposite direction. Both times he’s tried to ask Cliff how he is, smiled his most winning smile, checked it with his most apologetic puppy-dog eyes, offered to help him carry something, done whatever seemed appropriate at the time to keep the conversation going so he can somehow prove to Cliff that he can be a good person. And both times Cliff has smiled politely, looked away, and kept walking.
But, Marc reasons, if he really wanted Marc to leave him alone, why wouldn’t he just say so? When he sees him now, Cliff never gets mad. He’s never rude. He never “rebuffs” him. He’s just—cool toward him. At times, even icy. Which is ironic, since Marc seems to get overheated whenever he sees Cliff. But all in all, things aren’t moving forward. If anything, they’re moving backward. Marc can only offer to carry Cliff’s camera bag so many times without seeming completely pathetic.
So when the guest lecturer at the YETI headquarters urges all the young future editors in the auditorium to be proactive if they want to get ahead, Marc decides it’s time to act. “It’s never too late,” the guest speaker says. Marc nods his head emphatically.
He’s stepping on to the elevator to go up to his office that afternoon when a leggy blonde wearing Gucci shoves a box, tied with a blue bow, in his hands. “You’re friends with Amanda, right?” the woman says. “Make sure she gets that.” She smirks, and it isn’t until she’s walking away that Marc recognizes her as a model Amanda’s been feuding with over some forgotten dispute for the past few months.
“Hey, I’m not your servant, wench,” Marc calls after her, but she ignores him. In the elevator, Marc opens the box to find a loaf of freshly baked bread inside. “Ecch,” he says, horrified. The other people in the elevator glance at him strangely. Somehow, he realizes, the model must have found out about Amanda’s inability to resist baked goods when they were sitting right in front of her. The smell of sabotage wafts up from the box. Marc gags slightly, imagining the carbs packed into the braided loaf.
Someone presses the button for the sixteenth floor. Marc knows this is graphics. When the doors open at the graphics department, a few people step off the elevator and scatter. Marc, feeling spontaneous, follows them on the chance that Cliff’s working there today. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say when—if—he sees Cliff. He’ll give him the bread, he decides. It’s a stupid idea, but it’s all he’s got. He racks his brain for what else he can do. Maybe another apology. Maybe he’ll just try jumping him. The point is to make something happen, he reminds himself. Be proactive.
He doesn’t have to walk far before he sees him. Cliff is standing at the back of a large, open office, leaning over a computer, clicking away on a photo-editing program. He’s underdressed, as always. He needs a haircut, as always. Marc tries to breathe slower, control his heart-rate. It’s just Cliff, he thinks, but he takes a moment to collect himself before walking over.
The woman—Janice or Judy or something—from that day on the photo set a month ago stops next to Cliff and hands him a folder, which they begin perusing. They laugh about something. Marc can’t help but wonder who this woman is and why Cliff never mentioned her. They certainly seem chummy. It occurs to him that she probably knows more about what’s happening with Cliff than he, Marc, does, and the thought gives him the push he needs.
“Hello,” he says, feigning a confidence he doesn’t feel as he walks over and stops in front of them. Cliff and the woman both look up from the folder, look at each other, and immediately revert their eyes back to Marc. Marc gets the feeling he’s been the topic of conversation between them. He wonders what Cliff’s told her. “Uh… hi.”
“Hi,” Cliff says slowly, putting the folder on the desk. “Uh, Judith—you remember Marc.”
“From the clothing rack incident,” she grins, folding her arms.
“Right,” Marc says, clenching his jaw at the memory. “Yeah, brilliant to see you again,” he says with disinterest. “Can you give us a moment thanks.”
Judith shrugs. “Okay if I take lunch now?” she asks Cliff, who nods slightly, not taking his eyes off Marc. Judith wanders off.
“So,” Marc says. “Uh, here. I brought you this.” He shoves the box with the blue bow at him.
Cliff shoots him an odd look. “What is this?”
“Nothing,” Marc says. “Well, not nothing. It’s, you know. A peace offering. Just a little, uh, token from my people to yours.” He has no idea what he’s saying.
Cliff pulls off the ribbon and opens the white lid. He scratches his head when he sees what’s inside. “Challah?” he asks.
“The token from your people to mine is challah? Marc, you’re not Jewish.” Cliff raises his eyebrows at him and fixes him with a stare.
The stupidity of this idea is becoming more apparent. Marc shifts and tugs at the scarf tucked under his collar, trying to think of something to say. He’s pretty sure the YETI speaker had not had challah in mind when he’d said “Make things happen.” “Right,” Marc says. “Well, um. You like bread, and I was always telling you not to eat it, and I just thought that—”
“Hey,” a voice behind him says. Marc’s supremely grateful for the interruption, until he turns to see Tom from HR—what is he doing here?—approaching.
To Marc’s surprise, Tom grasps Cliff’s arm gives him a quick kiss. Marc’s mouth drops open.
“Hey, have we met?” Tom asks in a friendly way. He holds out a hand to shake, putting the other around Cliff’s shoulder. “I’m Tom. Oh,” he says. “I know you. You’re one of Wilhelmina Slater’s interns, aren’t you?”
Marc bristles at the accusation. He’d like to slap Tom’s face, but instead he just gives his hand a sharp shake—but only because Cliff is watching him so closely. “Nooo,” Marc says, raising his chin. “I’m her assistant. Her only assistant,” he emphasizes. He looks back at Cliff with an expression that says this guy? Really?
Cliff shoots him a warning glance, with a miniscule shake of the head, his patented do not say a word, Marc, look. “Marc,” he says, clearing his throat slightly. He takes a tiny step out from under Tom’s casual embrace. “This is Tom, my, uh…”
“Boyfriend,” Tom smiles, oblivious to the awkwardness in Cliff’s voice. “Nice to meet you.”
“Boyfriend,” Marc repeats.
Tom notices the box Cliff is holding. “Hey, is that challah? Oh, fantastic. It looks exactly like how my mom used to make it.”
“Oh really,” Marc says, snapping out of his bewilderment. “Are… you Jewish?”
“Yeah. Wow, this smells great,” Tom says, leaning over the bread. “Save some for me.”
“It’s for Cliff,” Marc snaps.
Tom looks baffled. Cliff’s expression is strained. “So—you ready for lunch?” Tom finally says to Cliff.
Cliff is still standing between them with discomfort written all over his face, unable to look at either them. “Yeah, uh—just give me a minute?”
Tom gives Marc a tentative smile as he leaves. Marc ignores him. When Tom’s gone, he sputters at Cliff. “Wha—that guy, Cliff? I thought you said you weren’t dating him?”
Cliff sets the box down. “All right, first of all, I never said that. And second, I wasn’t, really. Not back then. And—and third, seriously, what business is it of yours who I go out with?”
“Okay—fine,” Marc says, even though it’s not fine at all. “But Cliff—that guy?”
“God, will you stop saying that? Tom’s a good guy. He’s nice.”
“Oh, Tom’s nice. Nice! Well, who can compete with that. If he’s nice—”
“What’s your problem?” Cliff snaps. “I didn’t ask for your opinion on my relationship. When I want your opinion, I memo you.”
Marc ignores him. “What kind of relationship could you possibly have with him? He’s about as exciting as a postage stamp. Oh, he likes challah. Thrilling.”
Cliff’s anger increases. “What the hell, Marc! You don’t even know that guy!”
“Oh please,” Marc says. “I could tell you his life story right now. Grew up in the ‘burbs, experimented with a drama major in college before switching to something more boring than his wardrobe, still reads comic books? Oh, I know his type.”
“All right, despite being uncanny at reading people, you don’t get to judge him,” Cliff says angrily, but trying to keep his voice down. “You and I? We are not together. We are separate, okay? Why can’t you—look, if I want to date Tom, I’ll date Tom. End. Of story.”
“Cliff!” Marc gestures behind him, beyond the glass windows where Tom is waiting for the elevator. “What is this? When we met you said I was a hypocrite for seeking out meaningless relationships. Or whatever. And look at yourself! You were such a romantic—I had to practically mop your tears off the floor after an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, for God’s sake! And now you’re settling for this? You’re going to be bored with him by the weekend!”
“Well just because my relationship with Tom isn’t as drama-filled as Grey’s Anatomy—or our relationship, for that matter—doesn’t make it boring. And you know what, Marc?” Cliff says, shoving the computer chair beside him out of the way. “Even if that were true, I’d rather end up bored than betrayed.” He grabs the coat that’s sitting on the desk and pulls it on, pushing Marc aside as he heads for the door.
Marc feels like he’s going to be sick, or maybe just faint, or possibly throw the challah. He doesn’t know whether he’s feeling desperate or just frustrated. “Well, I’m sorry I’m not as uncomplicated as Tom is,” he says at Cliff’s back. “Maybe if he’d been out of the closet for more than ten minutes, we’d share more characteristics.”
Cliff turns. “I don’t know where you’re getting that, Marc,” he says, trying to control his tone, “but so what? Not everyone can fit your standards of what a gay man should be and how he should act. Some of us just are what we are. Get over it.” He turns to leave again.
“Yeah, well, not everyone can fit your standards for what a human being should be,” Marc says sharply. “Some of us aren’t perfect. We make horrible mistakes we regret every day.” He feels like this is the first time they’ve even approached talking about it, and he can’t stop now. “I don’t know how many different ways I can say I’m sorry. I’m sorry and if I could take it back I would.”
Cliff doesn’t turn around this time. He stands there for a minute, looking down and shoving his hands into his coat pockets. Marc watches as Cliff looks up to see Tom in the hall, waving Cliff to the elevator, oblivious to what’s going on. Don’t go, Marc urges him silently. Stay and fight with me some more.
Cliff shakes his head. He looks back, barely turning his head. “Thanks for the bread,” he says, and heads for the elevator.
This is Part One - (Go to Part Two)