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
Part Two (Part One here)
Things with Tom are comfortable. That’s how Cliff thinks of it.
So maybe Marc’s right, maybe dating Tom is more like hanging out with a buddy than a boyfriend. But Cliff can ignore that. Tom’s sweet. He laughs at Cliff’s jokes. He hasn’t made him eat any more raw fish. He knows how to fix the TiVo when it breaks down. He didn’t pressure Cliff about sleeping together right away.
After Cliff finally does sleep with him, because he’s tired of making up excuses not to, he stays over at Tom’s instead of leaving immediately (like he wants to). Because that’s what a boyfriend’s supposed to do.
He watches Tom sleep next to him in the dark and thinks about all the things he’s done wrong in his life, starting with stealing Jessica Henson’s Silly Putty in kindergarten and ending with the fact that he can’t summon any feelings stronger than friendship with the man lying beside him.
The second time Marc comes over to Cliff’s apartment—their third official date— he doesn’t want to go anywhere. “Let’s not complicate things,” he says when Cliff answers the door with his coat in hand. Marc kisses him and pushes him back inside, shutting the door behind them. Cliff doesn’t protest even though Marc had promised him an actual date this time and the most they’ve done is kiss goodnight. He doesn’t seem to mind that Marc wants to do this, now, that dinner can wait.
Later, when they’re lying tangled in Cliff’s sheets, he gets up to go to the bathroom in the dark, and Cliff sits up. “You don’t have to go,” he says, sounding nervous.
“I’m not,” Marc says. “I’ll be back.”
When he returns, Cliff is still sitting upright, but he avoids looking at Marc. He seems awkward. Marc crawls onto the mattress behind him and kisses his shoulder. “What’s wrong? Are you sorry we didn’t wait?” he asks.
“No,” Cliff says. “But I get the feeling you’re using me for my body,” he adds, cutting the tension. They both laugh.
“Maybe just a little,” Marc says. “Is that okay?”
“I think I can deal with it.”
The whole “proactive” concept had been meant to bring Cliff back into his life somehow, but Marc gets the feeling he did more damage than good. He’s seen Cliff and Tom together a few times around Meade Publications, and Cliff has always taken Tom’s hand or whispered in Tom’s ear when he sees Marc, all but saying aloud, “Yeah. This guy, Marc.” Marc imagines Tom eating that stupid challah bread that was meant to sabotage Amanda’s diet efforts and cringes. He hopes those calories go straight to Tom’s hips.
He calls Amanda on a Friday night. “Let’s go out.”
“I thought you were over going out right now.”
“Well, I’m not. If he can sleep with Tom, I guess I can do whatever I want.”
Amanda snorts but agrees to meet him at the chili pepper club. When he walks in, she’s sitting at the bar. “So. This is about Cliff again,” she says, waving the bartender over.
Marc orders a martini. “Oh, whatever. You know, stupid Tom wouldn’t even be interested in him if he’d still been wearing that ratty corduroy coat. I made that man what he is!” He pounds the bar.
Amanda sips her drink. “Sweetie, I hate to tell you this, but you didn’t. If anything, you enforced his ways by indulging them for too long. Well, at least he’s using moisturizer now.”
“Oh my god,” a voice interrupts them. “Hey you guuuuys!” They look up to see Judith, Cliff’s assistant, rushing over. Despite never having had an actual conversation with the woman, Judith hugs Marc like he’s an old friend. She is clearly intoxicated. Amanda looks annoyed, but Marc sees this as an opportunity.
“Judith!” he sings, feigning joy. “So nice to see you again! Here, have a seat. Can I buy you another drink?” He offers her his stool and takes the one next to it so she’s planted directly between Marc and Amanda.
Within twenty minutes, they’ve fed her enough drinks and compliments that she’s spilling like Page Six. “Well, Cliff didn’t want to date Tom. Not reeeeeally, anyway,” Judith giggles. “But what was he gonna do? Sit around and mope over you all day?” She pats Marc’s shoulder and hiccups. “He said he thought Tom was kind of dull.” She seems to find that funny, and hiccups.
“Dull! Really. No kidding,” Marc says, pushing her drink toward her. “And how does he feel about him now?”
“Ohhhh, you know. He likes him.”
“Likes him like he likes boring foreign films, or likes him like he liked me?” Marc says.
Judith stares at him, her mouth hanging open. “What?”
Amanda exhales noisily. “Marc, honestly, she’s a drunk girl. Just ask her what you want to know. Judith, is Cliff still into Marc, or what?”
Judith holds up a finger and finishes her drink. Then she motions Amanda to come closer. “Ssssh,” she whispers loudly. “It’s a secret.”
“What’s a secret?” Marc exclaims.
Judith shakes her head dramatically as if to illustrate the gravity of the situation to Amanda. “He loves Marc. He’s going to love Marc forever. Shhh. Don’t tell Cliff I said that. I don’t think he knows. He thinks he can make it work with Tom.” She makes a face. “Tom smells like cinnamon.”
“Judy, Judy,” Marc says sweetly, swinging her on her stool to face him again. “Are things getting serious between them?”
She cracks up. “Come here.” She takes Marc’s face in her hands. “Cliff is madly in love with you, Marc. So madly.”
“But did he say that?”
“Psssssh,” she laughs, patting his cheek now. “Come here. You’re cute. He told me about your eyelashes once when he got drunk. Oh look. Another drinky?”
Marc hates flying. Cliff had been warned—“he’s like one of the interns meeting Wilhelmina on their first day—petrified and frizzy. It’s sad. But kind of funny,” Amanda had told him—but seeing just how vulnerable Marc is when he’s afraid is kind of adorable. Once he settles down, that is. Before that, Marc’s frantic head voice is put in default.
It’s the first time since becoming Wilhelmina’s assistant that Marc hasn’t been able to use his title or Amanda’s connections to secure a private plane or at least first-class seat paid for by Mode, but Cliff doesn’t mind. It’s their first trip together anywhere farther away than the video rental store, and it’s the first time he really feels like they’re a couple, not just dating. Even Marc’s ongoing panic attack over flying coach doesn’t faze him.
Marc got Wilhelmina to give him some of her little white pills, the kind that knocks a person out the second the plane lifts off, but he manages to forget where he put them somewhere between the security line and the jet bridge, which is when he reaches into his pocket, panics, and nearly shakes the nearest flight attendant. “I need that pill!” Marc is screeching, so Cliff puts his hand on Marc’s neck and pulls him away before he can create an international incident.
“Sweetie,” he says. “It’s going to be okay.” He pulls the bottle of pills from his pocket, where Marc asked him to keep them. Marc looks as if he’s going to cry with relief.
Marc sits in the window seat, but pulls the blind shut tight. He says he feels safer with the plane wall on one side and Cliff on the other. He makes a half-hearted joke about Cliff blocking him from any wreckage that might occur, then drums his fingers neurotically on the arm rest between them. Cliff slips his hand under Marc’s to stop the drumming. He intertwines his fingers with Marc’s and presses their palms together. A loud dinging rings out through the cabin, and Marc clutches his hand like a schoolgirl, a pained expression on his face. Cliff wonders how he ever managed to go to Milan or on any of Wilhelmina’s business trips before. Marc’s teeth are clenched as they begin to taxi away from the gate, his eyes squeezed shut despite the opportunities all around them to judge the hideous fashions of the fellow passengers. Cliff smiles and presses his lips to Marc’s hair.
The plane finally takes off, and eventually Marc’s pill kicks in and he falls asleep on Cliff’s shoulder. Cliff opens the window blind a bit then, lets the setting sun streak over them, blinding him for a moment. But he doesn’t mind the sun in his eyes. It makes the moment feel surreal, and everything since they met has been a little surreal. The gold scatters over Marc’s lashes, Cliff wonders why he’s never noticed how dusky those lashes are before. Even when the sun is gone and they’re flying through the darkness, he can see the outline of them. His eyes still closed, Marc murmurs against his shoulder.
He’s been in love with Marc for awhile now, but he hadn’t grasped, until now, how far gone he really is. He wonders how much it will take for Marc to love him back. To love him like this.
It doesn’t take long for Tom to catch on. In fact, Cliff can’t believe he’s gotten away with it this long. “You’re in love with him,” Tom says after they run into Marc in the lobby on their way to work. Cliff had put an arm around Tom’s waist as soon as Marc had stepped off the elevator. Marc had just looked at him, looked at Tom, and stepped around them, followed by a posse of interns on their way out to Wilhelmina’s car service. When they were gone, Cliff had dropped his arm.
“What?” Cliff says, pressing the buttons for their respective floors.
“I said, you’re in love with him,” Tom repeats. When Cliff doesn’t say anything, just stares at the elevator panel, Tom scoffs. “I can’t believe this. I mean, I can—it’s not like you’ve been totally open with me about what’s wrong lately. So that’s it. He’s the guy.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. That guy caused me nothing but pain. We’ve been over for a long time.”
Tom looks at him and then leans back against the elevator wall. “Yeah,” he says. “If you were really so over him, I’m just not sure you’d still be so… broken.”
“I’m not broken.”
“You’re broken. Maybe you don’t realize how you pull away, how you look like you’re bored when I do anything remotely romantic. Until we see him, of course. Then you’re interested in acting like a couple.”
“I don’t do that.” Cliff knows it’s ridiculous to argue, Tom’s completely right, but he feels like he should make some sort of effort to deny it.
Tom laughs bitterly. “Okay. Right.” The elevator opens at his floor. He steps off and holds the door. “I’m not interested in a relationship where I have to put you back together again. You have to do that yourself.” He lets the door close.
Cliff calls him that night, intending to make up with him. But twenty minutes later, they hang up, and Cliff is an ex-boyfriend again. He didn’t have the energy to deny Tom’s suspicions. He tried—well, sort of—but he couldn’t. Cliff looks around his apartment and feels angrier than he’s felt since Marc brought him challah bread and predicted this exact situation. Well, maybe not exact situation—but he’d predicted the break-up, at any rate.
Cliff looks at the clock. Almost midnight. But he has to do something.
Marc’s working on an article for YETI when someone knocks on his door. He answers it despite the fact that he’s wearing his silk pajamas, and finds Cliff standing there, looking frustrated. It’s been raining, and he’s dripping all over. Marc’s heart slams in his chest. “Cliff! Come in! Here, I’ll get you a towel—”
“Forget the towel, Marc,” Cliff says angrily, pushing his way inside the apartment. “Why did you do it?”
Marc stops in his tracks. “Do… what?”
“You know what.”
Marc’s face, a little eager from opening the door and finding Cliff, falls a little. He walks into the bathroom and finds a towel, trying to remember exactly what it is he’s imagined he would say if Cliff ever gave him the chance to explain himself. When he walks back to the living room with the towel, Cliff takes it but doesn’t use it, just stands there in the middle of the living room, dripping rainwater.
Marc sits down on the edge of a stuffed chair. “I just…” He plays with his fingers. Takes a deep breath. “You—you’re good at being in a relationship. I’m not.”
“That’s not an excuse.”
“That’s not it. It’s that… I always knew I was going to mess us up. It seemed like—the more I liked you—the more afraid I was that I was going to screw up. And I did screw up. All the time. Just on a smaller scale,” Marc says.
“Yeah. I know,” Cliff acknowledges and Marc can’t help but laugh just a little bit.
“Anyway. And then you wanted to move in together. And it really… freaked me out. I know you probably think it was because I wasn’t sure about you, or about us.” His nervous habits kick in. He stretches his neck to the side, arms crossed, and shrugs. “Well, it wasn’t. The thought of living with you—the possibilities for screwing us up, they just seemed—too much. And it was this whole stupid…self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Self-fulfilling prophecy. You’re telling me you cheated because it was a—self-fulfilling prophecy?”
“It’s not an excuse! But it’s the only explanation I have.”
Cliff stares at him for a moment. He appears to remember the towel in his hand, and swipes at his hair. He paces for a minute, looking like he’s trying to figure out what he’s doing here, pissed off, after midnight. Marc just watches him, his stomach in turmoil. “Well, you’re good at it at least,” Cliff finally says, fiddling with the DVDs on Marc’s shelf. “You prophesied I’d break up with him, and you made it happen. Happy?”
Marc’s not sure what to react to first. “Is that true?”
Cliff swallows. He picks up a DVD, opens the case, closes it. “No,” he says. I knew it wasn’t going to work before then. I just needed… something to…”
“But you’re broken up with him.”
“Cliff, could we just…”
“Look, I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on our moving in together,” Cliff says, still facing the shelf. “You weren’t ready, and that’s fine. But you know I would have been okay with that. If you’d just talked to me instead of panicking.”
“I know.” Marc can’t disguise the misery in his voice.
Cliff turns around and faces him again. “I don’t know if I can ever actually forgive what happened,” he says.
Marc looks away, swallowing. He nods.
“But… maybe we can still move on.” Before Marc can react, he adds, “As friends.”
Marc looks surprised. “Right. Of course,” he says finally. “Friends.”
Cliff wants to sidestep the awkward getting-to-know-you-again part. He shows up at the Mode holiday party, held in a swanky hotel downtown, fully intending to act like nothing ever happened between him and Marc. They’re going to be friends, he repeats to himself. He’s not going to fight. He’s not going to bring up the past.
And at first, it’s easy, because being with Marc has always been easy, even when they were fighting. They sit at the bar together, ordering drinks and commenting on all the people milling around. Marc comments on the fashion disasters. Cliff remarks on who’s just talking to whom to suck up. They keep laughing.
And after a drink or two, they keep finding reasons to touch each other’s knee, hand, hair. Cliff knows he’s venturing into flirting territory, and begins wondering, by his third beer, whether he’s made a huge mistake in saying they could be friends, because he knows he should be running for the hills if he wants to avoid any future heartache. But he just feels so good sitting here with Marc, letting himself just look at him and making him laugh and talking like they’ve never been apart—too good to take it all back now.
When Betty walks over wearing a large knitted snowflake sweater, Marc swirls his drink and looks her up and down. “You know, I really have to commend you, Betty,” he says, “I never thought you could pull off the snowflake look, but you really do. It’s very cutting edge.”
Betty rolls her eyes at him. “Thank you, Marc.”
“Don’t mind him, Betty,” Cliff says, “he’s just upset because Shakira wouldn’t autograph his stomach.” He grins at Marc.
“Man, I know! I can’t believe all the celebrities here!” Betty says excitedly. “Cliff, it’s so great to see you! I wanted to tell you, I loved those photos you did last month, the World War II layout. And I know Daniel was really happy with them.”
“Thanks, Betty!” Cliff notices Marc smiling at him out of the corner of his eye, almost like he’s proud, and Cliff can’t help but smile back, suddenly feeling shy about the praise.
Betty looks back and forth at them. “Oh,” she says, her face lighting up. “Are you two—are you guys back—”
“No,” Cliff says hurriedly. “No.” He moves over a bit so he’s not sitting so close to Marc. Relax, he tells himself. Back off a little. “No, no, no.”
“I think she gets it, Cliff,” Marc says, looking uncomfortable. “Excuse me a second.” He hops down from his stool and disappears into the crowd.
Betty looks embarrassed. “Oh,” she says. “I’m—I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to… it just looked like you were—”
“It’s fine,” Cliff says, before she can finish that sentence. He takes a swig of his beer. “Here, have a seat. Tell me what’s happening with the higher-ups at Mode.”
They talk for a few minutes, but Cliff grows increasingly distracted when Marc doesn’t return right away. “Sorry, Betty,” he finally says. “Can you excuse me?” He makes his way across the room until he sees a flash of Marc’s green tie in the hall. He catches up with him at the coat check. “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah, it’s just getting late,” Marc says.
“Marc, it’s ten thirty.” Cliff knows he’s playing a dangerous game, trying to get too close to him, but he doesn’t want Marc to leave yet. “Stay. Just for awhile.”
Marc looks pained. “No, I think I’m just going to…” he hesitates for a second. “Hey listen, there’s this—thing I have go to this week, just a dinner-reception thing, and I was wondering if you might want to… you know. Come to it.”
Cliff watches him hand his ticket to the coat check girl. Marc’s invitation sounds like a date. Cliff’s instincts are to say yes, and to kiss Marc right now, let him just be his boyfriend again. Risk it all again. He realizes he’s just staring. “Uh… I don’t think so,” Cliff forces himself to say. “I’m—busy.”
“I didn’t tell you when it was.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Because I can’t.”
Marc sighs and leans against the coat check counter. “Cliff, are we friends?”
“Are. We. Friends.”
No, Cliff thinks, we’re more than friends. And I can’t figure out how to make that stop. “Yes,” he says instead.
“Well, it’s not working out,” Marc replies. The girl at the counter hands him his coat, and he looks relieved. “This doesn’t feel like friendship,” he says, and leaves Cliff standing there, wondering how things went from being so familiar and good, to this.
Marc works long hours. He arrives at the office before Wilhelmina, and he goes home after she leaves. He only gets a lunch break when Wilhelmina goes out for lunch, otherwise he eats at his desk. She never gives dinner breaks. (It’s not hard to maintain his weight, since all he usually has time for is a fruit cup he buys from the sandwich guy Betty’s always fighting with.) Wilhelmina never stops working, really, and it’s his job to anticipate her every need.
After they’ve been together for awhile, this frustrates Cliff. “Just give me a general idea of when you’ll be over tonight,” he says when he calls Marc’s office. “Like… six? Or ten.”
“A quarter after Wilhelmina’s finally satisfied with her progress for the day,” Marc says, glancing through Wilhelmina’s window to make sure she’s not watching him on the phone. Amanda sits on his desk, watching him intently.
“So a quarter after never? Or a quarter after she finishes signing her contract with the Devil.”
“The second one.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie… just don’t wait up for me.”
“Come on, I haven’t seen you all week. I miss you.”
Marc is acutely aware of Amanda eavesdropping. “Me too,” he says, trying to be vague.
“You remember that I’m leaving for LA tomorrow, right? I’ll be gone until next weekend.”
“Right. Gotcha. Don’t worry, I’ll be home tonight.” He realizes he just called Cliff’s place home, but Cliff misunderstands.
“Oh—you want me to come over to your place?” Cliff asks.
“No, your place. I meant—” Marc turns away from Amanda’s gaze, twisting the phone cord in his hands. “Wherever we both are.” He tries to muffle his voice with a cough, but he can practically feel Amanda’s eyes burning into him.
There’s a silence on the other end for a moment, and then Cliff says, “Right. See you soon.” He sounds like he’s smiling.
“Aren’t you a sweetie-pie,” Amanda teases as Marc hangs up the phone.
He opens his mouth to downplay his attachment to his boyfriend, but Wilhelmina shouts, “MARC!” from her office, so he’s saved from the conversation. “Gotta go,” he says, scooping up some files and heading for Willie’s office. He hears Amanda laughing behind him.
That night he tells Wilhelmina he thinks he might have the flu, and she sends him away before he can spread it around (she can’t afford to miss her meeting with the new advertisers tomorrow, after all). He goes straight home to Cliff.
The Monday after the holiday party, Betty stops by Marc’s desk to confirm some things with him regarding Daniel and Wilhelmina’s appointments. “Oh hey,” she says before leaving. “Did Cliff find you the other night? You disappeared in kind of a hurry.”
“Yeah. He found me.” She gives him that annoying look she has, like she cares so very much because she has a heart of gold, and she’s worried. “What?” he snaps.
She jumps. “Nothing! I just… was wondering… how long you guys have been… friends again.”
“Well, we were friends for all of five minutes before someone—” he looks at her pointedly—“scared him off again.” He clicks the top of his pen a few times in annoyance.
Betty looks down at her folder and shrugs. “Well, I’m sorry about that, Marc. I don’t think I really have that much of an influence on your relationship, though. Besides,” she says, cocking her head at him condescendingly, “you were the one who left the party early.”
Marc stands up and stacks his papers together. “Is there anything else you’d like to butt into today, Betty?” he asks. “I have things to attend to. That YETI paper, for one thing.”
“Yeah, that’s killing me too,” she says, trying to sound friendly. “But just… it kind of seemed like you were still into him.”
Marc scoffs and pushes his chair under his desk. “Yeah. Well. We all know how that story turns out.”
She raises her eyebrows.
“Disaster,” he clarifies.
Betty shrugs again. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. He seemed like he was pretty into you too.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what his assistant said, and she was clearly wrong. And now I’m going to this stupid YETI dinner alone. God, please tell me you don’t have a date either. I can’t show up without a date if you have one.”
Betty rolls her eyes. “I’m taking my dad.”
He sighs with relief. “Oh, good. At least I’ll be in pathetic company.”
Cliff doesn’t want to risk seeing Marc in the cafeteria, but by one o’clock he’s starving, and there’s no way he can get away from work long enough to leave the building. He and Judith find a table in the back corner of the cafeteria, and she keeps an eye out for him. “I don’t see him,” she says, craning her neck, “but here comes that chick—man, she looks so familiar. How do I know her?”
“Amanda!” Cliff jumps as Amanda claps him on the back and sits on top of their table.
“Hey Cliffie. Saw your Patrick Dempsey shots. Hot. He can wear a suit like nobody can,” Amanda says, reaching for Cliff’s grapes. “Anyway, Betty’s looking for you.”
“Cliff, here comes Daniel Meade’s assistant,” Judith says, tapping his arm. “Is she Betty?”
Cliff watches, bewildered, as Betty sits down beside him. “What’s going on—”
“Hi,” she says in a hurry. “Sorry to bother you, but—Cliff, why don’t you want to go to the YETI dinner tomorrow? I think it would mean a lot to Marc if you came.”
Cliff looks at Judith, who shrugs. “YETI dinner? Wait—that reception thing he asked me about?” Betty nods. “Marc got into YETI?”
“He didn’t tell you?” Betty says. She smiles shyly. “We both did. Anyway, the reception tomorrow’s to meet a lot of editors and higher-ups at various magazines in the city… we’re all pretty nervous. I’ve haven’t eaten a thing all week.” Amanda titters. “All right, hardly a thing all week,” Betty says impatiently.
“Marc’s trying to get some of Wilhelmina’s tranquilizers again,” Amanda says. “But don’t tell him I told you. He likes to pretend he can schmooze without a prescription. And without a date. Betty, have you found a date yet? You could always ask one of the janitors.”
“I’m sure Marc will be fine,” Cliff says, taking his sandwich out of Amanda’s hands. “Wow… he got in. That’s great. I know how hard he worked for that. You too, of course,” he says to Betty. “I mean, I assume.”
“Well, he owes a lot to you.”
“What? No, he doesn’t.”
“No, he told me about the sample photos you took for his magazine prototype. And how you’re the one who got him to finally get his application together this year.”
“That is true,” Amanda adds, reaching for Judith’s cupcake. Judith slaps her hand away.
“Yeah, well, that was a long time ago.”
“I guess,” Betty says, “But I mean… he just told me that stuff like a week ago. He gives you a lot of credit, Cliff.”
Cliff stares at her. Marc never gave credit to anyone when it came to work. He always said Wilhelmina had taught him to take credit for everything if he wanted to get ahead. Cliff remembers, because he had told Marc how stupid that was, how easy it would be for it to backfire. But Marc always insisted on doing whatever Wilhelmina told him to do.
“Anyway, I have to go,” Betty says. “Just think about it, okay? I know he’d appreciate it if you came.” She gives him a pointed look as she leaves.
Amanda slides off the table to follow her. “Listen, Cliffie,” she says. “If you’re not coming to the dinner, could you at least sleep with Marc one last time? He could really use it. He’s been so cranky lately. And I couldn’t even get him to go out with that new hottie in accounting. And have you seen that guy? That guy can wear a suit.”
“Um. Uh,” Cliff stammers.
“He’ll think about it,” Judith says sweetly.
“Ta,” Amanda sings, wiggling her fingers at him.
“What the hell?” Cliff says to Judith when Amanda’s gone. “I can’t just show up at Marc’s dinner.”
Judith takes a bite of her sandwich and chews thoughtfully. “They have a point, though, Cliff,” she says.
She sets down her sandwich and gives him an exasperated look. “All right, Cliff. We’ve known each other for awhile now, right? I think I know you pretty well by now. So tell me. Seriously. Has there ever been a point, even when you were dating Tom, or maybe especially when you were dating Tom, when you weren’t constantly wishing you were back with Marc?”
He sputters. “That’s not—I mean, it’s not that easy—”
“That’s what I thought. Look, I know some bad stuff went down between you two. And I’m not saying you should forgive him if you don’t really feel like you can. But the way I see it—” she reaches across the table and puts her hand over his— “you’re making yourself miserable for some principle that I don’t think you remember anymore. The only thing standing between being happy again and staying just as miserable as you are now is you.”
Cliff stares at her. He wants to protest, tell her how impossible he’s made things. “I feel like I’ve over-complicated everything,” he says.
Judith tosses her dark hair over her shoulder. She picks up her sandwich and grins. “So un-complicate it,” she says.
If Cliff thought he was more in love with Marc than Marc was with him, his trip to LA changes his mind. He’s never before gotten the feeling that someone misses him so much. On his first day at the Heidi Klum shoot, he gets six text messages from Marc. At first he thinks Marc’s just hoping Cliff can somehow persuade Seal to call him on his cell phone, but his messages are nothing to do with that. They say things like You realize you’ve left me without date to Mamma Mia opening weekend, and No flirting with the models, please, unless they’re women, and Swag day at Mode—getting you new shoes—no arguing.
Marc calls him at his hotel room every night Cliff’s away and they watch entertainment news together over the phone. “I’m not tired,” Marc protests when Cliff suggests he go to bed since it’s 2 A.M. in New York. “Talk to me about LA. What was Heidi wearing today?”
“Clothes,” Cliff says, lying back on his pillow. “A white… dress thing.”
“Has anyone ever told you you should write for Mode?” Marc says. He sighs.
“Are you all right?”
“This week has been a nightmare. When are you coming home?”
“Saturday. I can take a cab right over when I get in.”
“Okay. Or—” Marc clears his throat—“I could come pick you up. I mean. If you want.”
Cliff bites his lip and smiles. “You want to pick me up at the airport?”
“Uh, yeah. If you want. I don’t have to.”
“Okay. Come get me.”
“Can’t you come back earlier? I thought you were done shooting on Thursday.”
“Yeah, but I have to spend the rest of the time trying to get swag for you,” Cliff jokes. “Don’t worry, I’ll have someone tell me what’s hideous and what’s fashionable. I need to repay you for those shoes you’re getting me.”
“Oh, and they are beautiful, Cliff. I practically had to promise Christina my first-born child to get them. But they’ll be perfect on you. Trust me.”
“I trust you.”
Marc is working late, rummaging around in the Mode closet, when he hears Christina return. “I’m not stealing,” he shouts before she can accuse him, as she did last time. Granted, last time he actually had been attempting to steal, but this time he’s just trying to find the bag Wilhelmina wants. “I need the white Gucci handbag from our September issue.”
He untangles himself from the mess of accessories he’s been exploring, to find Cliff, not Christina, standing there.
“I don’t think that bag’s going to go with your shoes,” Cliff says with a half-smile.
“Cliff.” Marc straightens. “What… what are you doing here?”
“Looking for you. Betty said I could find you down here.” He taps his fist against his leg and looks around. “So this is the Closet. It’s… big? Yeah, I’ve got nothing.”
He’s nervous, Marc sees. He takes a step toward him, waiting for him to speak.
“Anyway,” Cliff sighs. “Betty told me about… how you got into YETI. You should have told me.”
“Oh,” Marc says. “Yeah. Thanks. Well, it was thanks to you.”
Cliff shakes his head. “No, you did it yourself. Anyway, I was wondering if your… invitation still stands.”
“For the reception. That is what you were inviting me to, wasn’t it? I mean, I just said no before because I thought you were asking me on a date… but now…”
Marc lets out a groan. He can’t take this anymore. “What are we doing here, Cliff? God, aren’t you tired of this back-and-forth stuff? Look.” He looks around, flails his arms a little bit. He’s just going to say it. “It’s ridiculous. I’m pathetic over you. I’ve accepted it. Why can’t you?” It’s not so bad, saying it out loud. In fact, it kind of feels freeing.
“I don’t know,” Cliff says.
“We’re supposed to be together. I may have messed up, doubted it a few times, but I know this, Cliff. We’re supposed to be together.”
“I know,” Cliff says, and he’s smiling now. “I thought I had a lot of reasons for thinking otherwise, but… I know.”
“Wait, you—you know?”
“I know.” Cliff’s laughing now, like some huge weight has been lifted off him. “I knew from our second date. With the button. Remember?”
Marc stares at him, unsure how to react now that suddenly, for the first time in he doesn’t even know how long, they’re on the same page. “I remember,” he says, feeling light-headed. His voice sounds foreign.
They’re still standing a few feet apart, and it’s as if they both realize it at the same time, because suddenly they’re both moving toward each other, and just like that, Cliff’s kissing him, and his stubble is scratching him and his hair is too long and he’s wearing some kind of fabric that the Mode closet has definitely never housed and things are finally right again. It takes a long minute for Marc to catch his breath.
“I guess you want that jacket back, huh.”
“You found it?”
“Judith told me you left it in my closet. She— she’s a talker when she’s drunk by the way. Get a few Long Island iced teas in her and she’ll tell you things you spend weeks trying to forget. And why didn’t I know about her, hmmm? I like to be aware when people are gossiping about me.” Marc’s sounding more like himself now.
“God, Marc,” Cliff laughs, tracing Marc’s ear with his fingers. “I had to fight to become a part of your life all through our relationship and now you’re mad because after we broke up I didn’t tell you I have a new assistant?”
“No, it’s just…” Marc takes a step back from him, his face serious now. “It’s just now I can see all the things I did wrong before. I don’t know why I had to fight everything so much… make everything so... complicated.”
“I told you. It’s because you’re a neurotic mess.”
Marc nods. “So,” he says, sounding official. “What now? We start over?”
Cliff shrugs. “I don’t want to start over. We were pretty good together, weren’t we? Mostly.” They both grin, a little shy. “Okay, so… let’s start halfway over. We’ll keep the good parts. That doesn’t include the old nicknames, by the way. ‘Big Tiny’ is a thing of the past.
“Oh, come on,” Marc protests. “That’s adorable.” Cliff shoots him a look. “Okay, fine. But no more brown jacket. I can’t believe that thing contaminated my wardrobe for this long.”
Cliff thinks for a moment. “No more making fun of Betty.”
Marc stops smiling. “Cliff, you know I can’t promise that.”
Cliff sighs. “Promise me you’ll try.”
“I’m telling you, she likes it. It’s our thing. But fine. And no more email forwards.”
“No more leftover Botox from Wilhelmina.”
“No more half-empty beer bottles all over my apartment.”
“Fine. Then no more Zac Efron pin-ups in the bathroom. I don’t care what you say, Marc, he’s too young for you.”
“Fair enough. No more bowling.”
“No more Atkins.”
“No more subtitled movies.”
“Should we be writing this down?” Cliff asks. “Hey, is that the bag you were looking for?” He points behind them at a bunch of bags lying on the floor, and Marc turns.
“Oh my god,” Marc says, pouncing on the bag. “Cliff, do you realize what just happened? You just recognized your first Gucci.” He brings the bag over and shows him. “Don’t you feel fabulous?”
“It’s my finest hour, no doubt,” Cliff says. “This means we can go home now, right?”
Marc takes his hand. “Finally.”
Author’s Note: Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll give me some feedback… :)