Warnings: This chapter is pretty damn tame.
Disclaimer: I don't own RENT.
Notes: First chaptered story. Bonus points to anyone who can find the 'Empire Records' reference in this chapter. The title of the story comes from a Dream Academy song from the Ferris Bueller soundtrack. The chapter title comes from the Leonard Cohen song. This is dedicated to Jade and crazy amounts of love to Carrie for beta-ing for me.
Roger had always been a 'stop and smell the roses' kind of kid. In the summertime, no shell on the beach was left uninspected, no firefly escaped his Mason jar, and every neighbor's sprinkler had to be run through at least once. Growing up on Long Island, summer to Roger meant the smell of the ocean as it wafts through the air, the sound of baseball games floating over the trees from the nearby park, and the overabundance of stars that can only be truly admired while lying in a tent in your backyard with your best friend at your side.
April was what you might call an "indoor person". She buried her nose in books, watched 'The Price is Right' with her grandmother and snuck out of her room late at night to listen to her father's records through giant headphones in the den. She must have looked quite silly, a tiny child with teeth too big for her face sitting cross-legged in the corner, eyes closed and swaying with the music. To her, summer was a time when she could drift away and beckon forth a life in the distant future when things would be different for her and she wouldn't have to work so damn hard to feel okay.
Roger is used to getting what he wants. All it usually takes is his trademark grin, a quick touch to the arm combined with the lowering of his voice and most people fall in line...and in love. He doesn't even feel guilty about it anymore, you do what you have to do to survive and make it in New York. Four years in the city will make anyone jaded and able to manipulate others with ease. Well, almost anyone. It boggles Roger's mind that Mark has been here for almost as long as he has, and not only does he still see the good in the ugly but he sees charm and possibility in their decaying urban wasteland.
Both boys grew up in the shadow of the city all their lives, finding something here that captured them and refused to let go. Many who come to New York claim that this is the place for them. They think they'll hit it big because they have to. There is no other choice but this and they come with their nice luggage searching for their new direction. They repress the urge to toss their hat in the air, because damnit, they are going to make it after all!
Roger ran to the city as soon as he got the chance. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into. He had friends who attended school downtown and he slept on the floor of their cramped studio apartments. He drank with them in dingy piece of shit dive bars on the Bowery and if he didn't have work the next day, he would walk around the city until dawn. He knew that a throb in his back and a killer hangover came with the territory. He never felt as alive as he did after a show in one of those disgusting little clubs where the music was not as important as the energy. The cool air would hit him and he would walk till his body ached, finally falling onto his seat on the last late night train home. But as much as Roger pretended to be apathetic and aloof, he still hoped for a chance of feeling like a New York newcomer. He craved something that would break his hardened stare and cause his mouth to fall agape. He knew about the dirt...he was looking for the beauty.
Mark came to the city with big ideas and an even wider set of eyes. The New York he had seen in the past had been the idyllic movie location where Santas were jolly, store windows were decorated, and the air smelled of chestnuts. Mark was brought up Jewish, but his mother loved the city during Christmas time, and always bundled him up nice and tight in a new outfit, smoothed out his calicky hair, and pulled him by the arm to Rockefeller Center to go ice skating and to marvel at the tree. Being surrounded by the bustle of tourists who were so alive and excited to be there combined with the sheer grandeur of the tree made Mark's eyes practically bug out of his head and his heart race. But after dropping out of college with his sights set on the city, Mark aimed to discover truth and to see life how it was being lived in that moment. He knew about the grandeur...he wanted to find the grime.
Because of this, even after a day of being told that 'You can't film here without a permit!' and 'It's illegal to staple flyers to telephone poles!', Mark felt no less accomplished because he was seeing the city up close and Roger couldn't deny that a day walking around the city with his best friend wasn't exactly a waste of time.
After their long day of getting nowhere but still closer to something, the boys turn the corner onto Thompson St. and almost immediately Mark can practically feel Roger jumping up and down behind him. Shoving his hands in his pockets and turning around slowly, Mark looks up into his best friend's excited face before laughing under his breath and smiling right back.
"Now why would you want to go to the record store, Roger? Is it the great selection for low low prices...or the cashier with the quote-unquote 'killer legs'?" Mark drawls the last few words, recalling Roger's stoned admission of an entirely unhealthy obsession with wanting to nail the shop girl. He receives a shove to the shoulder as Roger brushes past him, throwing an obscene gesture over his shoulder before jogging down the street to the store.
When Mark finally catches up with him, he sees Roger flipping through racks of cds very intensely while trying to discreetly flick his gaze back to the girl at the counter. The girl seems to be completely uninterested in her job or Roger or both and has her nose pushed deep inside a music magazine. She glances up for a moment when she notices that the music blaring over the store's speakers is skipping before returning to her magazine.
Mark spends the better part of five minutes watching Roger trying to stare at the girl but avoiding eye contact and listening to the same incessant beat nailing into his head. Finally, abandoning all tact his mother has tried to instill in him, Mark walks to the counter, slams his hand over her magazine before turning on his best shit-eating grin. He addresses the girl who from this angle is nothing more than a freckled nose and a cheap dye job. He glances over to Roger who has a look of pure surprise and is frantically waving his arms trying to get Mark to back away. He plays off his flailing as stretching when the cashier girl finally looks up.
"Yeah? Do you need something?" The girl questions in a honey coated piece of sandpaper kind of way. Before Mark can answer, the phone rings and the girl holds up a finger before spinning around in her chair and reaching for the receiver.
"Generation Records open till one, this is April." At this Mark turns around and mouths her name back to Roger, who nods, fixes his hair and finally walks up next to him, putting on his hopefully most disarming grin.
"One!" April yells before slamming the receiver down and looking back up to the boys. She is caught in Roger's hold for a few moments and Mark is perpetually surprised at how quickly his best friend manages to move from a shy little boy to a confidently sexy musician. Being on the receiving end of that smoky but steady gaze is firmly etched to his memory and Mark is surprised that April is still standing. April stares right back, twisting her own lips up into a wicked grin before rolling her eyes and turning back to Mark. She gives him the same look but without the mocking eye roll and Mark hears a gasp behind him as Roger practically gets the wind knocked out of him.
"You okay, Roger? Air go down the wrong tube? That sucks when that happens, and you're like coughing like a freak and your science teacher is just staring at you and you can't stop hacking and---" April clears her throat, leaning over to tap Mark on the shoulder before repeating her earlier question.
"Do you need something? A glass of water, maybe?" Pouting her lips, she coos condescendingly at Roger, aiming to make him feel like a child. April lets her fingers linger on Mark's t shirt before finally moving to change the song over the speakers. She puts on some early Johnny Cash and Mark thinks he may just have to reevaluate his earlier assessment of this music dork in rock and roll clothing.
After regaining his bearings and returning the look of cocky charm to his face, Roger leans against the counter, grazing his arm against April's attempting to deepen his voice enough to make up for his earlier prepubescent girl moment.
"Hey, so I was wondering-----"
"But you don't even know what I'm going to ask."
"If I know how to solve nuclear fission? If I can calculate the square root of 560? Or quite possibly, you wanted to know how long it would take to get me back to your apartment or at the very least the bathroom of a club so you can enable your little rock star fantasy?"
Mark turns his head to stifle the laugh into his shoulder before looking up to see Roger glaring at him again, though a blush is covering his cheeks and making its way down his neck. Trying to not completely crush his best friends bravado (knowing full well he is going to have to deal with a pouty Roger for a week if this girl kept up) he quickly places a gentle hand over April's, filling her in on Roger's show that weekend and that they were just wondering if they could put some flyers up in the store.
Muttering a quick thanks and handing the flyers over to April, Mark pulls his best friend out the door like a child or a puppy and is surprised that Roger lets himself be led down the nearly abandoned street behind him.
Roger likes to give off the impression that he is able to breeze through crowds. Long, powerful limbs push him forward so quickly that even his natural swagger doesn't detract from his confident stride. That is the kind of walk most native New Yorkers have bred into them, and tourists are unable to keep up with. People don't stop to apologize in the city, they bump into you, they keep going. Hell, it's part of the charm.
Despite this, every morning for the next few days, Roger fails at his attempts at stealthiness as he shuffles across his and Mark's room trying to slip out undetected. Mark thinks it's cute and pretends to go right on sleeping, smiling to himself as he hears Roger inevitably stub his toe or fall down trying to pull his pants up, letting a curse escape his lips before he can stop it. He doesn't know where Roger goes, but he comes back within a couple hours with a big smile on his face and an expression that could only be described as dazed.
After a few days Mark feels his curiosity get the best of him and waits till Roger is halfway down the stairs before gingerly shuffling after him. It's easy to stay hidden in the mess of people filling the sidewalk and Mark has always been good at making himself disappear. He has a pretty good guess where his best friend is headed and when Roger looks over his shoulder for a moment Mark sees a look of shy apprehension crossing his features. Mark quickly looks down hoping that the game isn't over yet, but when he looks up again, he sees that Roger is turning onto Thompson and crossing the street slowly and carefully. He lands in front of the record store window peering in like a child in front of a pet store.
Roger stays in front of the window for a good fifteen minutes before turning around and retreating with that same look Mark has come to see over breakfast the last couple days. As Roger turns the corner and disappears from sight, Mark lets out a chuckle, shaking his head and crossing the street to enter the record store. Sure enough, April is at the counter bopping along to the music and polishing her nails. Without his best friend's nervous gaping behind him and with a nice beat flowing through the speakers, Mark is able to finally get a good look at the girl who is able to knock Roger off his pedestal and put that look in his eyes.
She seems familiar but not in the way that Mark wonders if he actually knows her from home, but in the way that she is able to capture THAT girl and embody it fully. Everyone knows a girl like that, the girl who spent her high school years smoking in the bathroom, making out with hairy guys on motorcycles and smearing so much gunky black shit on her eyes it made you wonder what she was trying to hide from.
This isn't exactly new to Mark, as the East Village is full of girls who want you to believe that they will be your own personal Joan Jett, ready to be the Nancy to your Sid and trying to be THAT girl. Their eyes silently plead with you to take them seriously, to buy into their act, to ignore the way their practiced lines and "sassy" comebacks sound like they are stolen from a punk rock song. These are the girls who pretend they aren't groupies and fancy themselves muses to the band. They want to have songs written about them, they want hardened rocker boys to fall at their feet and beg for more of them. They ache to be able to give the middle finger and a surly "back off he's mine" to other girls before turning back and kissing him hard, grabbing his crotch roughly and leading him back to his apartment with a wicked grin on her face. He bought it. They bought it. She's that girl.
Mark wanders downstairs to the used records, fingers tracing lightly over the scratched cases, picking a few out, and bounding up the stairwell covered in band stickers and flyers before smiling when he notices Roger's stuck on top. When he reaches the counter, April looks up and smiles at him before looking down at his selection and raising an eyebrow. Mark merely shrugs and leans his elbow on the counter, waiting for her to ring him up and giving her his best goofy but knowing grin. She spins around in her chair to turn the music down a bit, before focusing her somewhat scattered attention on Mark.
"Hey. April, right?" She nods before looking at him a little more carefully, letting a small smile escape from her usual cheeky grin. Mark takes this as a good sign, continuing forward, maintaining gentle eye contact.
"You doing anything special tonight? You should totally come to the show. It should be a lot of fun, my roommate...Roger... well his band is pretty damn good and if nothing else you have my permission to knock down his rock star ego a bit more." Mark grins a lazy smile when he hears April laugh quietly under her breath, before nodding softly.
"I'll think about it. Thanks." April hands him his bag with a wink, tapping twice on the counter before turning the music back up.
Mark buys it. Roger buys it. She's that girl.