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Ch1: Rough Landing
December 1998, 3:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time
Forever, I am here to stay with you through all the years…
A voice, so soft, coursed through his brain like a warm slither of air. It was unwelcome, yet he would give all his heart to hear the voice again. In the still of the night, as his blond head arched back into the uncomfortable a white pillow, he jammed his eyes shut and struggled to keep the soft whisperings from his mind. It never worked. They always came back to haunt him eventually. Still, as half his mind fought off the still-growing voice, there was another half trying and failing to pay attention to what was calling out.
He could still remember the moment she had whispered those words in his ears. It was all still so clear in his mind, even after all these years. That night the stars had been out in the sky, millions of them. They sat on a log near a make-shift fire huddled together in a blanket, so close together that soon enough their hands were intertwined and their cheeks fell against each other lovingly. They talked about the future, the future they were going to have together.
The future they were supposed to have together.
Someone shook his arm. "Excuse me, sir?" Blue eyes blinked rapidly and suddenly focused on the blurry image of a young woman wearing a thin smile. "We'll be landing in New York in just a few minutes," she said, whispering. "Is there anything I can get you before we land?"
Mark Cohen sighed. Being caught in an old dream by a flight attendant did not thrill him. Carefully, he reached over to the tray in front of him and placed his glasses delicately onto his face before pushing it back into its place. He looked towards the woman, who was still smiling, and said, "Thank you for waking me up. I don't think there is anything…"
She nodded politely. "Your daughter is beautiful."
Smiling, Mark mumbled a small "thank you" to her back as she moved to wake up the next sleeping man in a seat two rows up. Mark looked to his side and his heart did a large flip at the sight in front of him.
His daughter. That would never get old.
Paige Audrey Cohen was her name. She was just shy of her fifth birthday, the day after Christmas. Hugging her worn-out penguin close to her skinny body, Paige's head lolled down against Mark's shoulder. She was the spitting image of her mother with long brown hair. Her eyes, though, were all Mark's.
As she shivered involuntarily, Mark bent down carefully and pulled the young girl's light black jacket, with white stripes down the arms, tighter around her body. Barely noticing the smile creep onto his face, Mark kissed his daughter's forehead and tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Paige mumbled a few incoherent words under her breath but did not wake up as she fidgeted slightly in her seat before settling down again.
The plane roared before jumping as the wheels hit solid ground and rolled into a smooth landing into New York City.
How could I be back here again, Mark thought, when, before, all I wanted to do was leave?
He adjusted his glasses on his face and barely paid attention to the raspy voice of the pilot telling them that he hoped everybody enjoyed their flight and would have a nice time in New York City. Mark watched the various people stumble out of their seats and down the long aisle towards the exit of the plane. Waiting until he and Paige were one of the only ones left, Mark very carefully hauled his camera bag onto his shoulder before scooping Paige into his arms and carrying her off the plane. She closed her arms around him, still holding onto her stuffed penguin, nuzzling her face into his neck contently. Mark smiled.
"December 24th, 3:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time," he whispered to himself, more for old time's sake than anything else. He slowly walked toward baggage claim and picked up a medium-sized duffle bag, staggering slightly as he straightened to balance himself out. He hadn't actually brought much to New York–just a few clothes for him and Paige, a few of Paige's amusements to keep her busy, and his camera. Their things would follow soon.
Walking out of the airport nearly thirty minutes after they got off the plane, Mark hailed a cab and muttered out the address to the elderly cabbie. He'd found a motel just outside the city, not too small but not too expensive either, keeping it as far away from the Life Café as possible. Mark just couldn't stand the idea of facing his old friends after all these years. At least, not until he figured out something to say to them…
New York certainly was beautiful, just as Mark had always remembered. He adjusted Paige in his arms before climbing out of the cab, tossing the old man a crumpled wad of dollar bills. Snow fell from the dark skies and Mark watched fondly as the white flakes fell gracefully into Paige's brown hair.
"Daddy…" Paige whimpered silently, burying her face deeper into Mark's neck. "I'm cold-"
Mark grinned down at the back of her head as she shivered against his body, warming him slightly with her body heat. He situated Paige in his arms slightly and slinked his jacket off before covering her up with it as if it were a big blanket. "Better?"
"Mmhmm," she mumbled, her shivers subsiding slowly. "Wha's it cold for?"
He patted her back slightly and chuckled. "It's always cold in New York. Now, come on out of there. Don't you want to see your very first snow?"
Paige bustled in Mark's arms before pushing her tiny arms out in front of herself and tilting her head up towards the sky. Mark knew that she had never seen snow and was already fascinated by it, watching in deep concentration as the white substance floated down from above and landed on the wet cement below, occasionally sticking to the ground. There was no snow in Los Angeles. The complete and utter fascination in her eyes melted Mark's heart to every length.
"Ish pretty," Paige marveled sleepily as she stuck her tongue out trying to catch a snowflake in her mouth, as all kids did at one time or another. "Can I play in it?"
"It's a bit late now." Mark smiled, tucking his coat tighter around Paige's body as he stepped into the motel and brushed the white dust off her clothes. He quickly gave the receptionist his papers and grabbed the offered key before heading off for the room. As Mark found the door to the rented room, he said, "How about I take you to the park tomorrow and you can play in it then."
"But," Paige puffed her lips out sadly, "won't it be gone? I don't wanna miss the snow!"
"It won't be gone." Mark chuckled, suddenly reminded of a similar conversation he'd held with his mother back when they visited his grandparents in Chicago and it had started snowing.
"Promise?" Blue eyes widened excitedly as Mark set her down in one of the two beds that lay in the room. Mark pulled off her boots before gently placing the covers over her small body and tucking them in close. "You gotta promise!" she pouted.
Mark nodded, nuzzling his nose with Paige's. "I promise, my sweet."
Giggling, Paige smiled. "You're silly, Daddy!"
He kissed her forehead. "Go to sleep, sweetie; we've got a long day tomorrow. I'm gonna show you New York City's finest attractions and than we're going to find somewhere permanent to live. Than you'll get your own room and later we'll be able to decorate it however you want it. Okay? Soon, you'll learn to love New York like I do."
Eyes closed, Paige smiled.
Mark spent a few minutes watching his daughter drift into a peaceful sleep before climbing off the bed, careful not to wake Paige in the process. He made his way towards the window and easily pushed the curtains aside to stare deeper into the December snow. It was funny, really, how almost everything happened in December. Funny how almost every memory loomed around the Christmas holiday when Mark wasn't even supposed to be celebrating it because of his religion. Even the snow had something to do with it.
It was snowing when I left, Mark thought to himself as he ran a hand through his blond hair.
"I really thought I could do it," Mark said as he tossed various articles of clothing into the almost-full duffle bag he had laid out on his bed. He tried to ignore the green eyes that seemed to follow his every movement and burn into his back. "It's almost funny how much I thought I could handle this. You know, the more I think of it I continue to ask myself why I didn't leave sooner. Over the years, I found reasons to stay, but not now…""
Mark ranted and raved to Roger. Roger had said nothing. He hadn't done or said anything to try to change Mark's mind, just stood and watched as the blond filmmaker ran out of his life for the next seven years. Honestly, Mark hadn't meant to be gone for that long. Originally, it was to be only a month, just to sort things out and make sense of things. Just to spend the time finding another reason to stay in New York.
Still, Mark looked towards Paige's sleeping form, I think some miracles came out of this.
January 1994, 3:32 AM, Pacific Standard Time
"Thank you so much."
The tired voice startled Mark out of his stupor as he shifted on his rocking chair and careened his neck behind him to find a very tired-looking brunette leaning on the doorway. Against his chest, little Paige sighed and sucked her thumb as her eyes closed against the darkness of the nursery. He looked over to the electric alarm clock blinking red numbers: 3:32 AM.
"It's not a problem," Mark whispered back as a smile flickered across his face and he bent his head down to kiss little Paige's forehead. "She's sleeping now, there's nothing else to do except wait a while. Just to make sure. You can go back to bed if you want to. You deserve it."
To tell the truth, Audrey Cohen did look tired. Bags were slowly growing under her eyes and beneath that small curve of a smile masking her face there lay a deeper frown. A tired frown.
"You look just as exhausted," Audrey whispered, closing the distance between them so that Mark wouldn't have to adjust in his seat and possibly wake Paige. "Are you all right? You've been doing a lot lately."
Mark shrugged, careful of the baby. "It's really no big deal Drey. I should be pulling my fair share of the weight too. Besides, she's half of me as well as half of you."
"You know that's not what I meant." Audrey grinned, kissing Mark on the forehead before settling herself down in the seat across from him.
"I know," Mark whispered back slyly. "I've just gotten so used to waking up at odd hours of the night and now I've finally found something to make up for that. Besides, doesn't it help our ears?" He smiled as her soft laughter floated through his ears. "See? I have it under control. Why don't you go back to bed…?"
Audrey sighed and confessed, "I can't sleep."
"Just thinking…" She trailed off as she reached over to brush the tiny brown hairs on Paige's head. "She'll be a beautiful young lady when she grows up. So much of her is going to be from you-"
"Nah." Mark smiled, talking so softly that Audrey had to lean in close to hear. "Paige is all you. Do you see her? Everything screams you, Drey."
"She may be me on the outside, but, inside, all I can see is you. She has your eyes." She looked to him with her own large brown eyes and donned a smile so radiant that it made Mark hang on her every word. "All that love you've got, little Paige has it too. I can tell."
Mark's smile grew. "Drey, I love you. And Paige. More than I'll ever be able to say."
"Me too." Audrey smiled softly down at their baby. "And we'll have to figure out how to raise her now, just like all the other good parents have raised their children. Teaching each other along the way, working to pick up the little things…"
Mark sighed. "And sometimes we'll yell, or we'll cry…"
"You know what's funny? Sometimes I think about our family in the middle of the night and I'm afraid. I'm afraid we're going to completely screw up Paige's future. I'm afraid we might mess up as parents." Audrey shook her head. "And you know what I'm mostly afraid of? I'm afraid that messing up will leave me to face the world alone…"
"Hey now." Mark shook his head. He carried Paige out of the rocking chair and gently laid her down into the crib, kissing her forehead before tucking the tiny blankets around her calm body. Mark looked back towards the wooden chair his wife sat in to see her crying, face in her hands, trying to stifle her sobs.
"I'm a mess-"
"No… no." Mark continued to shake his head. He knelt down and took both of her hands into his own, revealing puffy red eyes. "You'll never be alone again, not as long as I'm here. Remember? I am here to stay with you-"
"-through all the years…" Audrey finished, sobs subsiding slowly. "What would I do without you?"
"Be incredibly bored." Mark smiled as Audrey stifled a laugh. "Don't waste your time on useless questions like that. I'm here now, aren't I? Even if anything happens, I will always be with you."
"Promise me," She said. "Promise me that you'll be with me forever."
Touching his forehead to hers, Mark took their intertwined hands and placed them over her heart. The feel of it beating brought a smile to his face. "Always and forever."
"Good." She smiled, taking their hands and putting it over Mark's own heart. "I love you, Mark Cohen."
"I love you, my Audrey." Mark sighed with contentment and brushed her lips with his own.
December 1998, 11:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time
Little Paige Cohen moved her head back and forth, a large smile plastering her face as she opened her large blue eyes, wide with a deep curiosity. Her bright eyes seemed to grow larger as she took in the large motel room; her lips trembled slightly as she scanned the area for her stuffed penguin, Pistachio. She let out a tiny squeal as her tiny arms pumped out and threw the covers away from her to uncover the ratty penguin. Paige smiled brightly and hugged Pistachio to her chest.
Whispering for her daddy, little Paige found her lips still trembling and gulped down the air before coughing disgustedly. New York City was a very scary city. Still holding Pistachio close to her, Paige carefully climbed to her hands and knees before crawling to the side of the red comforter and peeking towards the bed next to her. She squint her eyes and let out an excited yelp as she found the large lump that had to be her father.
"Daddy's sleeping," she told Pistachio, taking her time to let one leg at a time off the bed and onto the carpeted floor. "We really shouldn't wake him up, should we? Later Daddy'll take us to the park and we can play in the snow! If Daddy's tired than he won't be able to take us…"
Pistachio stared, beady black eyes blank. Paige grinned.
She grabbed the blanket from her own bed before carefully slinking it across her daddy and herself, snuggling up close to his chest. Paige had always loved her daddy's smell of old spice just like Daddy had always said he liked her smell of vanilla. Her daddy said that Paige reminded him of Mommy.
As Paige snuggled deeper into Mark's chest she hardly noticed the smile plastering Mark's weary face as he placed his chin on her head and sighed deeply. He loved the feel of her heartbeat. He brought his arms around her petite body and widened his grin as Paige enveloped into a fit of giggles.
"Daddy!" Paige giggled, looking up into Mark's blue eyes. "You're supposed to be sleeping!"
"Well, I'm not sleepy anymore, sweetie," Mark said, smiling as he hauled himself up and leaned against the headboard of the bed. Paige's arms wrapped around his waist. "What are you doing up?"
11:00 AM. Not too late, but, after getting in at 3 AM, it was still only eight hours of sleep. Not much, for Paige.
"I can't sleep once I'm up." Paige smiled. "You're up now! Can I go play in the snow?"
No wonder you never give kids sugar, Mark thought with a laugh.
"Daddy! Come on, you promised me!"
"I did, but first you have to get dressed." Mark touched her nose. "Can you do that for me while I take a quick shower?" She nodded obediently, immediately hopping off the bed and searching through the large duffel bag. "Those dark blue jeans I bought you should be in there, and the white sweater."
"These?" Paige questioned innocently, holding the desired clothes in her fists.
"Yup. That's it." He climbed out of the covers and patted her head. "Just put your dirty clothes in this bag." he pulled out the garbage bag he had brought for the dirty laundry. "Okay?"
"Yes Daddy," she said with smile still there. "Can I watch the TV when I'm done?"
"Of course." Mark leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Don't turn the volume up too loud. People are still sleeping."
"Kay!" Paige smiled.
Soon Mark finished his shower and dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a black long-sleeved sweater with his navy blue and white scarf to match. He never could get rid of the thing; it just held too many memories. Mark tied Paige's shoes and made her put on her jacket before taking her hand and leading her outside.
It was still snowing that morning, just as Mark had promised, and the bright city was covered in a sheet of dazzling white as bundled-up people walked the streets. This one time of year made New York City feel so cheerful and carefree. The white snowflakes falling onto various cars, moving slowly because of the slick ice on the roads; the yellow cabs; the executives in long black coats; and the various children running around in their colorful puff jackets –they were all so familiar to him.
Mark nodded to the door attendant before walking down the steps of the hotel's entrance and moving to stand somewhere out of the way of the various people. "What do you think Paige?"
"It's pretty!" Paige grinned, clutching Mark's hand in her tiny fist. "We're gonna live here?"
Mark smiled, noticing her excitement. "Well… unless you don't want to-"
"I wanna!" Paige said excitedly, looking up to Mark with large eyes.
They ate lunch in a local café, where Paige had chicken tenders and Mark ordered a simple cup of tea. Then he showed Paige around the area, feeling as if he'd never left the city. Paige hung on his every word with wide eyes and let out fascinated gasps at the little tidbits of history Mark supplied.
Being back in New York City… Mark sighed at the thought. He watched from his seat in Tompkins Square Park, camera in front of his eyes, to where Paige lay on the ground making a snow angel. After being gone for so long, I can hardly believe that I'm here, especially now at Christmastime.
He had no real, concrete reason for returning to New York. At least, not really. After Audrey had died, he had no family left to turn to except for his little Paige.
It's too simple, Mark thought to himself, smiling as Paige squealed at the sight of her snow angel. After being alone, with just Paige, I just realized that I miss everybody too much.
There had been those times when Mark had thought about coming back to New York for a summer, but whenever the subject came up something happened. Getting married, Paige's birth, his mother dying, his wife getting killed…
Maybe, after all that pain, he should've come back sooner. There was no telling if he would even run into anybody he knew.
There was no telling who survived.
"Daddy!" Paige was tugging playfully at his arms. "Daddy! Play with me!"
He looked to his watch: 3 PM. Damn, time sure did fly.
"You've been playing for two hours." Mark smiled softly, easily noting the pout forming on her lips. "We'll come out tomorrow, but right now we need to be looking for some places to live."
She opened her mouth to protest but soon nodded sadly. "All right, Daddy."
"Thank you," he said, grabbing hold of his daughter carefully to put her under an attack of dreaded tickles. "I promise we'll come back the same time tomorrow!"
Paige let out a burst of laughter, soft and sweet liker her mother's had been. "Daddy! Daddy… stop! That tickles!"
"That's the point sweetie." Mark laughed, pushing himself off the bench and carefully setting Paige down onto the ground. They walked towards the exit of the park hand-in-hand. "You know what tomorrow is, right?" He held his camera out and pointed it towards her, smiling as she waved excitedly into the lens.
"Christmas!" Paige yelled happily, jumping up and down on the balls of her feet. " Then my birthday!"
"That's right," Mark said, ruffling her hair lovingly. "What do you think Santa will get you?"
"Santa will find me?" Paige questioned. "He won't go to our old house instead?"
"Of course not! Santa knows where you are when you move. No need to worry about that."
"I want…" Paige scratched her cheek thoughtfully before nodding happily and stating, "I want a gui… guitar! You said your friend played a guitar, Daddy, didn't you? Woger played one!"
"Roger," Mark corrected. "You know I said no lessons until you're at least eight years old." Paige pouted. "Don't give me that look, Paige; we'll see what happens tomorrow."
"Sorry." Paige frowned, kicking the sidewalk childishly.
Mark had been surprised the first time Paige asked for a guitar, but she'd wanted one for as long as he could remember. One Christmas he'd given her a baby guitar–one of the ones that lit up but didn't actually have strings–and proceeded to tell her about Roger Davis. Ever since then she had been set on learning to play the desired instrument.
Imagine that. The daughter of a photographer and a filmmaker ending up playing the guitar. Becoming a musician.
"Ahhhh!" A feminine screech hit their ears. "Oh, fuck!"
Paige furrowed her eyebrows. "Daddy? What's fu-?"
Mark jumped, nearly dropping his camera in the process, as he covered her mouth with his hand. "A very bad word Paige. Don't say it. Ever."
"All right Daddy." Paige shrugged.
Paige turned towards the odd noise and found a bundle of brown sprawled out on the snow a little ways away. The mysterious woman had apparently been shopping because the brown paper bag had flown out of her hands and had sprayed out various food products and orange pill bottles.
"Come on Daddy! We should help!" Before Mark could even warn Paige about the strangers in New York City, Paige had torn her hand from Mark's grip and was rushing towards the fallen stranger in the snow. She skidded to a stop in front of the women and fell to her knees happily. "Hi!"
"PAIGE!" Mark yelled, running towards his daughter. "Paige! Don't you ever-"
"Hello there." A suddenly familiar voice said softly. "Aren't you beautiful? Where are your parents, sweetie?"
"Right there!" Paige turned and pointed right at Mark. "Hi Daddy!"
"Well, hello there I'm Mi-Mark?" Brown eyes widened suddenly as the woman climbed to her feet, the groceries lying forgotten on the ground. "Mark Cohen? Is that you?"
Shit. Definitely not how this is supposed to happen, Mark thought, staring at the woman. He cleaned his glasses on his black coat to make sure it was actually who he thought it was. There was no denying it. Bouncy brown curls now down to her backside, wide chocolate brown eyes, and the carefree smile. She wore a pair of light blue jeans and a tight black top covered with a dark blue jean jacket.
Mark adjusted the camera in his hands and smiled politely. "Mimi… it's been a long time…"
He breathed a sigh of relief as Mimi smiled warmly and hugged him. "Too long."
"Daddy?" Paige was suddenly hiding behind Mark's legs, clinging to him as if suddenly frightened of this stranger. "Daddy? Who's she?"
Mimi blanched as the realization hit her. "Daddy?"
With strength, he didn't think he even possessed, Mark let out a deep sigh and patted Paige's brown hair protectively. "Come on out of there and say "hi"." He looked to Mimi, a warm smile plastering his face. "Mimi, this is my daughter."
"Daughter…?" Mimi questioned as her eyes widened.
Paige had very slowly come out from behind Mark's legs and was staring up at Mimi with large blue eyes. She wrung her hands behind her back and smiled shyly. "Hi, I'm Paige. What's your name?"
"What a pretty name." Mimi knelt down to face Paige eye-to-eye and smiled widely. "I'm Maria Marquez-Davis, but you can call me Mimi."
"You're Mimi!" Paige exclaimed excitedly. "My daddy told me about you! He said you're the prettiest dancer ever."
"Your daddy's too kind for his own good." Mimi smiled at Mark's blush.
"So…" Mark scratched the back of his head and adjusted the camera in his arms. "How have you been, Meems?" Mimi opened her mouth to answer-
"MIMI!" A snow-covered man with dirty brown hair skidded around the corner and ran towards the threesome in the street. His green eyes were wide as ever. "I heard you screaming. Are you okay…" he trailed off suddenly.
Shit. Not this. Not now.