A/N: Thanks to everyone who's been sticking with this story. Sorry this part took so long to get up. I'm guessing there will be around 2 or 3 more parts at most. Please comment on your thoughts! Also, I apologize for the wonky formatting in the last chapter. I'm not sure what happened.
Part III: Collins' Arrival, Bittersweet Moments, and When They Left the Loft
Mark realized very soon after finding himself surrounded by Collins, Joanne and Maureen that following Tuesday that he very much missed Grown Up Talk. Not Censored Grown Up Talk (because curious ears were just around the corner) but real Grown Up Talk where Collins can make a jokingly suggestive comment that will make Mark's cheeks flush with embarrassment.
"So what about this Abby chick?" Collins smirked, nudging Mark playfully in the side. Mark rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to retort when Maureen spoke up, a sarcastic grin on her face.
"Yeah, maybe if he had a vag," She quipped, ever the eloquent one. Joanne laughed at Mark's expression of not being surprised at Maureen's comment and nodded.
"Abby has a longtime partner- her name is Jess," Mark confirmed, smirking back at Collins' wide grin. The anarchist laughed and clapped him on the back, shaking his head.
"Ever the attractor of the lesbians, the infamous Mark Cohen."
Mark shrugged and laughed at his own expense, "Oh you know me."
Mark liked this light banter, this fun teasing. It kept him from the serious conversations that had been taking over his life in the recent days. It kept him from seeing Joanne's concerned gaze, from hearing her words from their conversation from the other day from echoing in his ears ("Mark, I will fight for you, for Marina. You have a lot of things on your side, but Marguerite has quite a few too, namely blood. Marina is blood to her, Mark - you're not. That's probably going to be the biggest vault for us to get over. You just need to stay level-headed and with me and Marina through this."). He'd spent the next couple of days queasy and sick to his stomach, even having to get up to throw up that evening's dinner into the "porcelain god" (as Roger used to snarkily call it).
He had never been good with high levels of stress. The first few weeks he spent in the loft, post-Brown and pre-parents-getting-over-dropping-out-of-Brown, he'd spent a lot of time head over toilet tossing up every article of food he'd put in his mouth (which, to his own dismay, caused him to lose five or so pounds). Most people didn't know that his first real bonding time with Roger had been in one of those less than elegant moments - they had chatted about movies in between Mark throwing up and Roger getting him glasses of metallic-tasting tap water.
The opening of the front door to the little townhouse is what snapped his attention away from his own thoughts and ceased the conversation he hadn't even noticed that had continued around him.
"Uncle Collins!" Came the shrill shriek and the whirl of curls and giggles. Collins found himself with an armful of Marina, who was already talking a mile a minute about something. Mark looked up at Abby who was in the doorway, Marina's backpack in hand and a small smile on her face.
"Hey Abby," Mark grinned standing to embrace his friend and to take the bag from her hand. Abby kissed his cheek.
"Everything okay?" She said softly as they hugged. Mark kissed her cheek in response and nodded, all words needed to be spoken conveyed through the simple actions.
"Abby, this is Tom Collins," Mark introduced as Collins stood, Marina still tossed over his shoulder, "And Collins, this is Abby Miller."
The two shook hands cordially and Joanne and Maureen (who, for some unexplained reason, never really warmed up to Abby- Mark thinks it's because she might be a bit jealous of his friendship with her) waved from their seats at the curly haired woman.
"Do you want to come in?" Mark asked, gesturing to the table where he and his friends sat. Abby shook her head, looking a bit disappointed.
"I can't. Josh and Jess are in the car - he has a checkup at the doctor now," Abby replied. Mark nodded.
"Alright. I'll talk to you soon, alright? Thanks for driving her home." He leaned in for another kiss to the cheek and led Abby out, waving to Jess when he saw her in the car at the curb and closed the door behind his retreating friend.
Turning back to his family, he couldn't help but smile at the sight of Collins, Maureen and Joanne pouring over a picture Marina had drawn in art class.
The voice startled Mark, and he shuddered lightly. Marina sighed against his chest and Mark turned his head to see Roger standing in his bedroom doorway, body illuminated by the moonlight streaming through the loft windows. Mark's eyes darted to the alarm clock they kept as a timekeeper on the counter. 3AM.
"No problem," Mark whispered, placing a protective hand over Marina's tiny head, "It was my turn to get up."
And it was, because Roger had gotten up two hours before when Marina had woken up crying. Mark prided himself in their organized little alternating late night comforting, despite the fact that he was terribly exhausted. He bounced a bit and swayed, continuing his little figure eight pattern he made around the couch and metal table whenever he did this. Looking back up, he was surprised to see Roger still in the doorway, expression unreadable.
"I couldn't sleep," Roger sighed, "I just needed to say thank you. I've been thinking about it."
Mark was slightly confused, but he let his patented lopsided smile cross his face anyway.
"You're wel-" He began, but Roger interrupted him.
"No, really, Mark. Thank you so much for this. You don't have to be up, you don't have to be changing diapers or helping me raise this baby. I've just been thinking about all the things I'd done over the years and all the things you've helped me with and I've just known that I wouldn't be alive right now without you, you know? And now you're helping me and giving me a chance to raise the baby that actually makes me feel like I wasn't a complete fuck-up, you know? So, thank you. You don't need to say anything. Really."
Mark was moved to tears by the look on Roger's face. Quickly turning his head to hide his dampened eyes, he kissed the top of Marina's head. The touch of Roger's hand on his arm made him turn.
"Let me have her, you should get some rest." Roger said, hands open for Mark to give him the baby. Mark almost hesitated, but Roger wasn't going to be reckoned with. Cringing at the loss of warmth as he passed her to Roger, Mark retreated back to his bedroom.
Despite the darkness and the comfort, Mark couldn't sleep. He was too busy listening to Roger sing to his daughter and trying not to cry.
After dinner, Maureen whisked Joanne ("But I have to help Mark clean up!" To which she received a sharp response of, "Collins is here, silly!") and Marina (who hadn't stopped giggling since she'd gotten home) to go build a fort. It was times like these that Mark appreciated Maureen - he knew she wasn't just being silly for the sake of it - she wanted him to have time alone with Collins, and for that, Mark was severely grateful.
"So, how are you holding up, Marky?" Collins asked after they had fallen into a brief, yet amicable silence. Mark tossed cutlery and plastic plates unceremoniously into the sink before grabbing a rag from the counter.
"Truthfully?" He wondered, leaning back on the formica and looking up at Collins, who was putting condiments and soda bottles back into the fridge. Collins didn't even need to answer, really. Just a patented 'are you shitting me?' look and Mark knew.
"I'm a wreck," Mark answered honestly, wringing the damp rag in his hands, "I can't concentrate at work, I totally destroyed a whole segment of film yesterday."
He laughed, remembering his embarrassment when he had to explain to his producer of a boss that he'd lost the entire segment on the low-funded public schools in the Bronx because he'd hit the wrong button on the camera. It wasn't a very good day for anyone, especially Mark, who had to go back in the field with a migraine-complaining anchor, who already sort of hated his guts.
"I've been snappy at Marina, which I hate, so so much," He nodded, and then, crossing his arms over his chest, "And I've been like barfing my sleep away."
Collins cringed at this, "Nah, that doesn't sound good at all."
Mark laughed slightly at this, feeling a bit more relieved than he has.
"You know," Collins said, a reminiscent tone fluttering into his voice. Mark followed Collins' gaze to the school photograph of Marina under a guitar shaped magnet (leftover from the loft days) that was on the refrigerator, "She's looking more and more like Roger every day."
Mark's eyes danced over the photo, smiling at the cheesy grin Marina had in the photo. Always the ham.
"Really? Not Mimi?" He asked, kind of happy for Collin's comment. He's seen so much of his two best friends in the little girl he had a hard time objectifying sometimes.
"She did. She always looked like Mimi. But now she's getting older, and I see more of Roger. Her hair is even turning out lighter than it was, don't you notice? She's got the green eyes and the nose. And the smile, definitely the smile."
They sat in silence for a moment. Then,
"Honestly, it scares me how much she reminds me of them. I'm not going to lie - I hate it sometimes." Mark finally spoke up, his chest tightening at his confession. He'd never spoken this aloud, never thought it would be right. Something about Collins, though, being there, gave Mark the courage.
He knew Collins wouldn't judge him, wouldn't think any less of him.
"Sometime I hate that when I look at her, it sends me into a flashback. Or that when she pouts, I think of Mimi pouting, or when she huffs and is all dramatic it reminds me of Roger," He smiled softly, shaking his head, "It makes it so hard sometimes. She's so beautiful, and I love her so much. I love that she's here, she's mine. But at the same time, I hate that I can't let go of them and move on because she's in my life. I have this perpetual feeling of loss somewhere deep in my chest, all the time, because she's a constant reminder of what I've lost. It sounds so selfish of me, so shitty."
He paused for a moment before looking up at Collins, who's eyes were glazed with unshed tears.
"At the same time though, now I'm faced with the very real possibility of losing her. Losing her, losing her little laugh, losing her personality - which, although sprinkled with bits of Roger and Mimi - are very much her own. I can't live without her. I've just realized that, not only would I lose her, I would lose my last connection, my last bond with the very real, alive piece of them, you know? Somehow I think the Fender I have stored away in the closet and the various articles of clothes I have in the crawlspace isn't going to be enough."
He sighed then, allowing his chin to fall to his neck and his hair (which, he noted somewhere in his brain, needed to be cut) to fall in his eyes. He heard the scrape of the metal chair on the linoleum, and felt Collins' arms around his body, coaxing him into a hug.
"I'm so selfish." Mark said softly, against the plaid of Collin's jacket. Collins laughed slightly, the hum of his chuckle reverberating through Mark's ribcage.
"No, you're not, Mark. Don't you ever say that."
Marina's first birthday party was a pretty crazy one, the pink and blue streamers donated by Maureen ("I didn't just want to use just pink, she should know that she can like blue too."), while the cake was baked by Mrs. Cohen, who was neverso happy to come into the loft until Marina came into their lives. The whole place was full of love, happiness and comfort, all dotted with cardboard boxes and empty space. The party, they all noted, wasn't just for the first year of Marina's life - it was also for Mark and Roger, who finally found a small townhouse in Brooklyn that had two bedrooms (one the boys would share- Mrs. Davis had actually bought them two twin beds with frames and headboards and everything!- and one for Marina) that was in a decent neighborhood and school district. This was a celebration for a little girl who smiled more than anyone they've ever known, and for her father, who's held himself together even after his fiancé died. It was for Mark and Roger, who were making changes in their lives, and were actually happy with the changes.
The night ended with Marina falling asleep very early ("As babies should," Mrs. Cohen insisted, as she whisked Marina into Roger's room where the crib was) and the adults sitting around the metal table (which would have to be left there because of the fact that it technically belonged to the building and was much too awkward to get down the stairs and onto the moving truck) and talking. It was the first night Mark noticed that there wasn't much reminiscing, just looking into the future.
And he wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing.
The next morning was a blur of running up and down the steps, passing Marina to and from various helpers (Collins, Maureen, Joanne, Cindy, Mrs. Davis and Mr. Cohen) as they went up and down the stairs to move the three lives into a tiny Uhaul.
It wasn't until they were over the bridge that Mark realized he never stopped to take a glance back at the loft as they left it, leaving their old lives behind. Leaving their past behind. Leaving the memories behind.
Mark looked at the date on the calendar with a disdainful expression. On the little square, in pencil (because he is always hopeful it may just never happen and he can erase it away), it said "Family Court, 3PM".
"So it's that date, but to make it easier on you and Marina, I will only meet with you to speak with you about the technical crap once. It's really a fast type of case, it's not like you see on tv or anything, so don't get too freaked," Joanne had said, even though Mark already felt nauseous.
He frowned deeper, shaking his head. He heard Collins' deep laugh resonating from the living room, followed by Marina's giggle ("She definitely got Mimi's laugh," Collins had said earlier that day, "But Roger's humor.") and sighed.
Five days until his life changes forever.