“Really, how long have you two been together? Has it been four years yet?”
“I don’t know… I can’t really remember. I wrote it down, somewhere…?”
“What do you mean you don’t know?! Oh, my lord… genius you may be—now, don’t get me wrong, your father and I are very proud of you and all your, er, certificates—”
“They’re not certificates, mom. I have a doctorate. Three of them! Two of them took me seven years to earn!” you interjected testily, through gritted teeth.
“Yes yes, those little pieces of paper, right. But honey… you know how long it took to write some thesis thingy, but you don’t even know how long you’ve been together with Mark? A failure! You’re a failure, then!”
“It doesn’t matter—”
“Of course it matters, of course it does!” You winced as she shrilled. “This is what I’m trying to say! It’s high time you two got married; otherwise, you’ll be in this deadlock for years! Has he proposed? Shown any sign that he’s going to propose? Asked you questions about your ring size? When I was younger, your father would constantly be pestering me about what jewelry I was wearing—”
“Mother!” you hissed into your phone, your hand clenching it so tightly that it might’ve shattered. “Just drop it! Whether or not I marry Watney is none of your business.”
“It is my business if he’s going to be my son-in-law. And “Watney”—my God! You don’t even call him by his first name—”
“It’s just how we do it, okay? It’s our thing. Besides, we’re both professionals at work, so we just got used to it being that way. It feels gross to call him ‘Mark’.”
“Ah yes, my two precious NASA doctors,” she said sarcastically. She sighed, sounding so tired that you felt a bit guilty for dragging her emotions around like this. “But you’re not at work right now, so can’t you call him Mark like a good wife?”
“I’m not his wife!”
“You’re not whose wife?”
You gasped as he barged into the bathroom without the peep of a knock, his rust-coloured hair haphazard because of how he’d slept. He squinted in the bright lighting, pointing at you.
“Who’re you talking to? It’s like, 3:30 in the fucking morning!”
“Nobody!” you whispered angrily, “shut up, Watney!”
“Who is that? Is that Mark? Let me talk to him, sweetheart—”
“You’ll do no such thing!” You hung up quickly before your mother could start screaming again and heaved a sigh. Mark stared down at you, rubbing his jaw, where stubble had already started to grow.
“Who was that?”
“Nobody,” you said again, preferring not to think about the topics your mother had brought up. Sure, you’d thought about it—why he hadn’t proposed, when your friends were getting married left and right—but you hadn’t cared enough to bring it up. You were both busy people and really; marriage was just a stunt to garner attention and envy. If he loved you, then that was good enough for you. Besides, what was the point of proposing now, when he’d just be lounging about on a different planet?
“You’re being suspicious,” he muttered in an accent from one of his shitty noir films, pointing with his finger. You swatted at it, and his voice returned to normal as he had a bright realization. “Oh, I know. Was it your mom?”
“I’m not suspicious!” you defended, getting up and off of the toilet seat while skirting the direct question. Then, “you should be asleep. Don’t you have debriefings for Ares III early in the morning?”
“I should be asleep,” he agreed with an air of sarcastic jovialness, “if it weren’t for my loud ass girlfriend.” He sighed and shook his head, turning around. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”
You stared at his broad, muscular shoulders and wondered. Your mother had probably called since he was going to be gone, soon. It was just settling in, how dangerous the Ares expedition was going to be. You were well versed in these dangers, having had to attend every single meeting NASA had decided to throw up about the ‘dangers of the Ares missions’. And there were a lot. You even wrote a PowerPoint for one of them. All of them had never ended on a good note. The next few days could very well be the last you saw of him. If the Hermes malfunctioned, he’d die. If the Hab blew up, he’d die. If his suit malfunctioned, he’d die. If the hostile Mars environment decided to just… well, just be Mars, he’d die. Nobody had died on Mars yet, but there was always a first for everything.
“Mark,” you blurted out, wincing at the sound of his first name in your mouth. He stopped in the hallway and turned around.
“What?” he asked, still sounded irritable. When you said nothing, he pressed, “what is it?”
“It’s… nothing.” You flicked off the washroom light and followed after. You tossed your phone onto the nightstand (after setting it to silent) and crawled into bed. He lifted the blanket for you and you clambered back in, before getting crushed by Mark’s strong arms. “Watney?!” you yelped, your faced pressed so close to his chest that it was nearly impossible to speak. The familiar scent of his cologne engulfed you and the tension in your shoulders relaxed slightly.
“Why’d you call me Mark?” he murmured, his voice still hoarse with grogginess.
“I just…” Embarrassed, you said it quickly to get it over with. “Wanted to try it. Lemme go, will you?”
“You’re acting really weird,” he muttered, but heeded your wishes. You rolled away from him so that you faced the wall opposite, because despite the dark, he would’ve easily seen the blush on your cheeks.
“No I’m not,” you countered weakly, “go to bed.”
He snorted lightly, and the laugh was soon replaced with a snore. You turned so that you could look at him, and touched his back gently. You prodded him to be sure. He didn’t stir, and you sighed with exhausted relief.
“Night,” you muttered. “Love you... Mark.” You turned back onto your side and concentrated on getting to sleep, unaware of the smile on his face.