The hospital room seemed like a graveyard as Collins slowly moved through it, trailing his hands over the neatly made bed and sheets, over the wilting flowers and coffee cups, over the bottle of blue nail polish and the short black wig. They were tombstones, vague allusions to what had once been.
She was gone. Gone forever, gone who the hell knows where, but gone. Never coming back, never coming back, never touching him or kissing him or laughing in his ear again. No Angel, no nothing, no life, nothing. She was gone.
Collins sat down in the chair he had sat in so often in the last few weeks, right beside her bed, where she could reach out and grab his hand anytime. The emptiness inside him as he stared at the flat, unmarked bed was raw and painful, scraping him hard again and again. Gone. He couldn't go out and find her, couldn't write her a letter, couldn't hear her voice one last time. It was over. Dead. Dead and gone.
Oh god. He felt like throwing up as he stared at the bottle of nail polish, sitting squat and blue on the bedside table. The same polish that Angel, and later Mimi, had spread lovingly and carefully onto her hands…
Her warm, smooth, gentle brown hands, so immeasurably wonderful as they clutched his own worn brown ones, so intoxicating as they slid gently up the muscles of his back, so comforting as they handed him something, anything, and he caught them and held them and never let go…
But he had let go. And she wasn't here anymore, she had slipped away from him, she was gone. Gone.
To keep back the wrenching sobs and pains that had already surfaced more than once since two nights ago, Collins looked around the room for something to focus on. His eyes landed on the green scrapbook, lying sadly on the counter near the window. Although he knew it would torture him, he got up and grabbed the book, opening it to the first page. There she was, his queen, his lover, shining happily out from the page. He gently touched her face, and for a moment the photo felt warm, like her skin…
Her soft, beautiful skin, so welcoming and inviting, feeling like silk as she pressed against him, her face and arms and chest all smooth and strong and loving as they kissed and laughed and loved…
And then the photo felt like it should: cold and unalive. He turned the pages, looking through the book, trying to glean some small comfort from her image. There she was smiling, there she was laughing, there she was dancing, there she was, there she was. It was all just so her, so Angel.
The last page was suddenly bare in front of him, its three pictures gleaming in the light from the ceiling. He gazed at the picture of him and his girl, lips gently pressing together…
Her lips, like small slices of fruit, gently touching his, and then other times, not so gently, fast and passionate and hungry for love, and then still other times, curving gracefully as she talked and smiled…
The last, biggest picture hurt the most. Their family was coming apart at the seams: Mimi using and being with Benny, Roger sinking into depression, Maureen and Joanne fighting all the time, Mark living behind his camera. But Collins was sure that, if Angel had lived, she could have kept them together. She could have gotten Mimi and Roger back together, could have helped Maureen and Joanne work out their problems, could have coaxed Mark from his hiding place. But she was gone, and the core of their group, the one who always had that special something, was gone, and they were spinning away now, lost and alone.
Collins rubbed the page between his thumb and forefinger, surprising to feel it shifting beneath his touch. The he remembered the pocket, and Angel's request. Suddenly full of something like hope, he reached into the pocket and felt around. Something brushed his fingers: an envelope and a folded piece of paper. Taking hold of them gently, he drew them out.
The envelope bore the logo of Joanne's law firm, so Angel must have gotten it from her. The paper was like notebook paper, lined with blue and crumpled at the edges. On the envelope was written Open Me First. Tentatively, he worked open the flap and drew out the creamy, thick piece of paper inside. It was folded three times. He unfolded it and started to read.
"I, Angel Dumott Schunard, being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath my property, real estate, and residence to one Thomas B. Collins…"
Collins skimmed the rest of the document. It was Angel's will. At the bottom were a shaky signature and a strong one. The second was Joanne's; the first was Angel's. Collins quickly reread the first sentence, then read it once more, not really believing what he was reading.
"…do hereby bequeath my property, real estate, and residence to Thomas B. Collins…"
She had left him her house. The house that somehow she owned was now his. He had a place to stay, a place to live. He wouldn't have to stay with Roger and Mark. She had given him the house.
Collins put down the will and put his head in his hands, visions of Angel floating teasingly behind his eyelids. She had done it again. Even in death, Angel showed more love and generosity than most people did in a lifetime. Tears blurred his vision as he straightened and reached for the folded piece of paper. It unfolded easily, the creases light. It was covered in shaky pen, but the words stood out clearly to him.
Well, baby, I guess if you're reading this now I'm gone. I'm sorry, honey, I didn't mean for it all to happen like this, but there's not a hell of a lot that I can do about it now, is there? Don't think I'm angry or anything, baby, cause I'm not. Well, maybe I am. I'm angry because the time that I wanted, the time that we needed and that we deserved, just got stolen. It's not fair that we had so little time, is it?
Baby, I want you to know what you mean to me. When I found out I was positive, some part of me shut down. I thought that nothing BIG, nothing life changing would happen to me, because I wouldn't live long enough for it to happen. And then you came along and changed my life on Christmas. A million thank yous for that, honey, and for everything else you've done for me, what you know about and what you don't. I love you so much, and I always will. Never forget that.
Mimi is going to have a hard time with me being gone. I know you are too, but if you too can help each other, it would be great. I don't want anyone, especially not you two, to let this bring you down. Be happy that I had what I had, and that I had you. No day but today, right honey? Oh, and the other thing, whatever it's called, in the envelope, you got that, right? I had Jo draw that up for me. It says who gets my stuff and all. I hope that it works for you and everyone. After all, I have great taste in stuff!
Again, I love you more than anything, Tom, and I'm gonna be waiting for you up there, baby! I love you and I'm waiting.
This day is 4 u, ok?
Love, your Angel."
Collins really did cry now, as he read the words that his lover had written for him. It was one last gift, one last refrain from his Angel. She did so much for them all. How fair was it that she was gone?
But as Collins looked around the room, he realized that she might be gone from NYC and the earth, but that didn't mean that she was gone from his heart and mind, from everybody's hearts and minds. She was there, nestled in a padding of memory, and until Collins was gone himself and he joined her up wherever she was, he could escape there, escape into his heart and find a tiny bit of solace. And in the face of Angel's death, any solace was what he needed.
Today 4 U.