Ch12: Forget Regret
January 6th, 6:20 AM, Eastern Standard Time
He shuffled on the spot as the large metal door slid open to reveal Roger, hair mused and dressed in a pair of plaid green pajama bottoms and a black shirt, obviously surprised to see him. "Sorry," Mark greeted, berating himself mentally for the tact. "I--uh…sorry. Is this a bad time?"
"Shit, man." Roger leaned tiredly against the doorframe and scratched the back of his head. "It's early."
As Mimi, yawning and rubbing at her eyes, appeared, Mark stuttered another apology. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "This is a bad time," he said, speaking more to himself than to the couple before him. "I should've realized you two would still be sleeping. I'll just--"
"Did something happen? Is it Paige?" " interrupted Mimi, more awake now. Even Roger seemed to jolt at that, straightening slightly. Mimi scanned him concernedly. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Paige is fine. She's with Benny and Terry." Mark raised his hands in front of him, a sign of surrender, but for what he didn't know. "I'm sorry," he couldn't help but say again. "I was just hoping to talk to Roger." He dropped his hands, suddenly feeling silly.
"Talk?" Roger cocked a brow. "Right now?"
"Maybe later. This afternoon? I can come back after lunch? Or before dinner--uh…if that's all right with you."
"No. Now is good. I'm up now anyway."
Mark looked up, surprised. He hadn't really thought Roger would willingly talk to him right now. Even though they'd had the conversation the day before, things were still pretty awkward between them. As Roger moved to open the door wider, allowing him entrance, Mark's cheeks flushed and he quickly shook his head. He shuffled on the spot again as the couple gave him an odd look.
"Maybe we could go for a walk? I was wanting to go visit….uh, Collins, you know, and I was wondering if you might…go…too because I really don't know where…" he gulped the words down and shrugged helplessly.
Roger blinked. "Same place as Angel. Right next to him."
Roger backed away from the doorway and turned on his heel to reenter the loft. "So, come in," he said, heading to the door that led to his and Mimi's bedroom. "Wait a sec and I'll toss something on and we can go." He shut his bedroom door behind him.
Mark remained, stunned, in the doorway, before Mimi tugged his wrist, kicking him back to life as she gently led him into the living room. "Come in." She gestured to the couch, "Do you want to sit?"
"No, thanks, I'm sure it'll only be a few seconds." He shifted from foot to foot awkwardly and frowned as he got a better look at her, dressed only in a pair of gray sweats and one of Roger's old band shirts. "I'm real sorry for waking you, Meems."
"No big deal," Mimi waved the apology away, "I have to get ready in a few minutes anyway. I'm on the early shift at the Life Café all week."
"I'll stop in tomorrow for coffee," he promised. "We can talk, just the two of us."
"Come by at around ten," she suggested. "I'll be able to take a break and we can sit down and talk properly."
It wasn't long before Roger emerged from the bedroom, shrugging on his trademark leather jacket and wrapping a green scarf around his neck. He gave Mimi a kiss on the cheek and reminded, "Pills for this afternoon are on the bathroom counter." When she asked him if he had his, he patted his breast pocket in response before he turned to Mark. "Ready?"
Mark nodded and led the way out the loft and down the stairs. It was snowing a little outside, not enough to deter, and Mark simply adjusted his messenger bag a bit and tugged his green corduroy jacket a bit tighter around him, blocking out the city's cold morning chill.
"We'll take the subway," said Roger, heading toward the nearest entrance. After a few steps, he stopped and turned to ask, "Do you have a MetroCard yet?"
Mark nodded and took it out. "Got it a few days ago when I took Paige sightseeing." He turned the little yellow card and inspected the blue letters and black strip. "A lot more handy, but I kind of miss using tokens."
Roger simply nodded, seemingly happy with the response.
They were lucky in that the morning rush hour hadn't officially started yet, so they shared a car with only two people, a man in a black suit reading a newspaper and a lady with a cane. They sat across from each other on the orange seats, Mark, ramrod straight with his hands in his lap, and Roger, fists rammed deep in his pockets and slouched low in his seat.
The man in the suit rushed out the doors at the first stop and the lady hobbled out two stops later, leaving them alone for the rest of their trip.
Roger straightened in his seat and sighed. "What made you want to go today?" he asked finally, breaking the silence and deciding to get straight to the point.
"Benny and I got to talking about change yesterday and that made me bring out my old film reel." Mark leaned forward to balance his elbows on his thighs so he could rest his chin on clasped hands. "I was watching some footage of Collins and it hit me that I never really got to…"
"Yeah…" he trailed off, wondering. He met Roger's eyes briefly before he had to look away. "Yeah, that's it."
It had been a sort of epiphany that had hit him earlier in the morning, had jolted him awake with a sudden start that had him hyperventilating for some unknown reason. When he saw, in his mind's eye, that carefree grin and that bottle of Stoli, he'd known where he needed to be. So, before he'd gone up to Roger's loft, he'd called Benny and got him and Terry to come over so they could look after Paige and take her to school.
"He's really helping you a lot."
Mark looked up, brow furrowed and eyes questioning. "Huh?" he asked, unsure he'd heard correctly. When Roger repeated himself, Mark asked, "Who?"
"Benny. He's really helping you a lot."
Mark smiled a little and nodded, suddenly reminded of the conversation he'd had with the man in question just yesterday morning. "He's been helping me understand some stuff, you know? We both kind of sold out in our own way."
"Look," Roger readjusted himself on his seat, shifting uncomfortably, "when I said you were a sellout… You have to understand I was angry and…" He looked up and gave a little laugh, easing the tension immediately.
Mark was confused though and asked him what was wrong.
"When you left I went on this rant for a few weeks about you being a sellout and….well, I guess Maureen got a little tired of it. One day, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of one of my rants, she slammed the dictionary on the table and told me what a sellout really was: a person who compromise's one's own integrity and morality for success. She said that wasn't you."
"She defended me?"
"Of course she did. Maureen loves you."
Mark blinked, unsure of what to say.
"What I'm trying to say is that," Roger leaned forward now, catching Mark's eyes, "I didn't mean even half of what I said then. I was just angry and…" Mark knew this was hard for Roger. "And I was hurt."
Mark was stunned. He didn't know what to think of Roger's confession and he didn't know what to think of Maureen defending him while he was gone. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Mark didn't get the chance to say anything in response; soon their train was rolling to a stop at their destination and Roger got up fast, leading the way out the door and back up to the street.
When they got to the cemetery it stopped snowing. The grass was kind of dull and the trees were disturbingly bare, but pure white was sprinkled everywhere making it look hauntingly beautiful. Mark's hand immediately went to his messenger bag, but he stopped just short of opening the flap and looked to Roger, feeling guilty when he caught the man eyeing him.
Roger looked away and shrugged. "Do what you gotta do."
Mark gave Roger one last long look before he grabbed his camera and recited the date, time, and location. He panned left and closed in on the steeple of the church for nostalgia's sake as he followed Roger down the line of headstones. After a moment, he focused on Roger, but he quickly whipped away. Roger didn't say anything though, so Mark took this as his permission to be included in the footage.
Roger slowed his pace suddenly so that he and Mark were walking side-by-side. "Collins didn't have a will or anything, just a note he apparently carried on him that had our names--me, Mimi, Maureen, Joanne, Benny and you--and said we were to decide how everything would be divided up and taken care of."
Mark swallowed an apology. He knew that wouldn't help.
"Joanne handled most of everything, but we all cleared out his apartment together. He didn't have much, but we all took whatever reminded us of him and gave everything else to charity." He looked to Mark. "Mimi and I have some stuff, you know, if you want anything."
"Yeah," Mark nodded. "Definitely. If you don't mind. I'd like to take a look."
Roger nodded as well.
They got to the headstone then and Mark took a moment to get a shot of it, beautifully reflected by the warm light and sitting peacefully next to Angel. When he was done, he turned his camera off and carefully put it back into his bag before he took his messenger bag off his shoulder and set it on the ground near Roger, who stood a bit off to the side. Mark then took a lighter out of his bag.
"What's that for?" asked Roger, stepping forward a bit to see, growing more confused as Mark showed him a small white candle.
"Something Audrey taught me," Mark told him. He straightened and went to the headstone, balancing the candle carefully on the apex and lighting it, inspecting it for a moment before backing up to stand next to Roger. "It's a sort of offering." He shrugged. "Warmth and light to give back to those who gave us the same."
Roger nodded a bit. "Yeah, I can understand that." He sat down in the grass, urging Mark to do the same. "So," he said. "I remember you said you wanted to talk, so I'm going to guess this wasn't the only reason you wanted to come down here."
Mark pulled his legs close to his chest and rested his forearms on his knees. "I feel like there's more that needs to be said. I talked a lot about what happened to me while I was in LA, but I didn't necessarily explain what made me leave."
"You did." Roger acknowledged, "You said there wasn't one specific reason."
"And there isn't," Mark agreed, "but that doesn't mean I shouldn't explain myself better; and I need you to realize that the only person that I need to understand any of this is you."
"Don't." Mark interrupted, running a hand through his hair, clearly frustrated. "Roger, look, you're my best friend--and you don't have to tell me I'm yours, okay?--but, come on, you have to know that you're still a big part of my life, seven years gone or not."
Roger moved to speak, but Mark shook his head, wordlessly asking to finish, moving on only when Roger nodded his head for him to continue.
"I need you to know I'm not asking for forgiveness, and even if you were offering I wouldn't be able accept it. I understand I was selfish, so I can understand if you hate me forever too. I've made peace with that. I've also made peace with knowing that nothing will be the same. That it can't be. I'm just trying to make sure there isn't any confusion between us. I don't want there to be something left unsaid."
"Jeezus Mark," Roger sighed, clearly uncomfortable. "You know I'm no good at a heart-to-heart. I don't do this crap."
"I think if we'd had this conversation before, I wouldn't've left…"
Roger blinked, stunned.
Mark confessed, "And I'm sorry that it took me seven years to get to this point. I really didn't want to leave that way."
"I didn't exactly make it easy," admitted Roger. "But what I said that day? I didn't mean any of that either. Not about you being a sellout and not about you not being welcomed back. I mean," he chuckled humorlessly as he scratched the back of his head, "I know I was a bastard those times we saw each other before, but I was--no, I mean, I am glad you're back." He stopped and cast Mark a glance. "I wanted you to know that."
"I do now. And I understood why you acted the way you did." Mark said, "But I don't ever want you to feel like I forgot about any of you--of you--because I didn't. I couldn't."
"I would never assume you could."
"Look," he furrowed his brow, swallowed the words, and looked away, "I just…"
Roger said nothing, simply allowed him his time to find the courage to speak.
"I was just scared, Roger," confessed Mark, biting his lip and shaking his head back and forth. "I was just so fucking scared of all of you dying that I just couldn't take it. Okay? I was just scared." His shoulders trembled as he heaved in a deep breath and exhaled. "Mimi almost died and you had gotten so pale and Collins was just so sick. Everybody was fading and it…I couldn't…" He scratched at his eyes beneath his glasses, gasping.
"And you just left?"
"I ran away." Mark looked up and swiped at his eyes hoping Roger wouldn't see the build up of moist that had glazed his vision. "And I should never have let it come to that. I should've said something and I shouldn't have run."
"I would've listened," said Roger. "I wouldn't've understood, but I would've listened."
"And I should've known that too, but even when I was in LA I was scared. I was scared you all had died and there wouldn't be anything or anybody to come back to. I couldn't lose any of you--I couldn't lose you Roger. I thought if I stayed away I could make believe that you were living, that you would live forever. I thought if I didn't witness your death then I could keep that notion up."
"So you stayed," Roger filled in. "You stayed in LA for seven years."
"I stayed in LA and I met Audrey and she helped me forget." Mark continued, "Then she realized why I'd run from New York and she made me remember. She made me realize that I could never forget--that I shouldn't--but it wasn't until her death that what she'd been trying to tell me finally made me realize that I couldn't keep running from what I was afraid of."
"Our deaths?" asked Roger, showing that he was following. "My death?"
Mark nodded. "I'll never understand why Audrey was taken from me. Never. It's not fair--just like it's not fair that you and Mimi may die before your time--but I made peace with it. Even in death, she taught me to make peace with it."
Roger let out a dry chuckle as he realized. "You came back to New York for her."
"For her, for me…" Mark shrugged. "For you." He gave Roger a somber look. "I didn't know what I would come back to find and I thank every little fiber of my being that you and Mimi are still alive and that I can tell you I'm sorry for what happened between us and that I can tell you I'm such a fucking moron for letting it happen."
"Then I can tell you I'm sorry for being such a fucking moron for letting it happen too," said Roger with a small smile. "I know you said you can't accept my forgiveness, but I'm still giving it to you, because I think we need to take Mimi's advice and just forget regret, because I'm so fucking tired of being angry with you." He swung an arm around Mark's shoulders and pulled him close. "Because I missed you so fucking much."
They hugged then. It wasn't awkward and it wasn't weird, but it meant so much more than it had ever meant before because, in that moment, they understood each other a little better.