Disclaimer: Guess what, RENT doesn't belong to me. However, if you've read and fiction on this site before I'm sure you already knew that. I do, however, have an amazing respect for Jonathan Larson's work, and as an aspiring writer, hope to accomplish something that he would approve of in this story.
First Impressions Aren't Everything
It didn't take long for Mark to realize that New York was nothing like Providence. While nights in his Providence were reasonably calm and peaceful, if not a little trouble-inspiring, New York's nights were the same as its days- miserable and bitter. Dark and cold due to pouring rain, tonight was by far the worse night Mark had experienced since escaping to New York around Thanksgiving.
He flipped up the collar of his jacket in an attempt to protect more of his neck from the rain, and struggled through the crowd that had maintained its size if not grown since he had gone out to film around noon. It seemed, as usual, that the entire flow of traffic was against him, leading him to mutter darkly about how the world was against him. The tides of people tapered out as Mark passed the club. There was a long line of waiting to get in, although the doors didn't open for another hour. CBGB's popularity did not surprise Mark in the least; the college kids waiting to get in simply reminded Mark of the students back at Brown. As he walked along the roped-off line, people paid him no mind. However, when the bouncer pulled aside the rope to let him in loud protests began. Mark shoved his hands into his pockets and ducked his head, letting their yelling echo with him into the building.
Unlike everyone waiting on the line outside, Mark didn't want to be at CBGB's. He'd only been to actual clubs a few times during his first two years at Brown and it didn't take long for him to figure out that it wasn't his scene. As if dropping out of Brown had not been enough for his parents to be disappointed in, he had yet to reveal where he was working to them. However, he was happy enough with it. He worked five nights a week and had the other two complete days to work on his documentary or two screenplays he had planned.
Mark passed quickly through the club, exchanging only brief nods of acknowledgement as he went, and soon found himself in the back room. He walked along the shelves picking out the necessary pieces of equipment before lugging the loaded camera out to his favorite vantage point. Mark's job was simple. He taped the bands that performed at CBGB's so that they had something to send out to record companies of other prospective employers. The club charged a decent fee for his work, and Mark received only a cut of said fee. The amount was barely enough to pay the quarter of the rent he owed each month, buy clothing suitable for the weather, keep his camera working and loaded with film, and, if he was lucky, buy some Ramen or chips. Even if the bands were mostly horrible wannabe rock stars, it put money on the table. As he set up the camera on the tripod one of the manager's assistants approached him.
"Mark," he greeted.
"Hey Joe." Mark swiveled the camera around to face the stage where two men were setting up a drum set while the others worked on the electrical wiring of the amps and microphones. "Who's up tonight?"
Joe handed over a set list and a poster which had advertised the band playing that night. "There's four guys: drummer, Steven Curtis; bassist, Hunter Anderson; guitarist, Michael Serani; and lead guitarist and singer, Roger Davis. They have a decent following around New York, played at the Pyramid Club last weekend."
"Got a name?" Mark asked. He certainly had never seen them before.
"The Well Hungarians." Mark couldn't prevent a loud laugh from escaping as he loaded up the film. He looked up when he realized Joe was not laughing with him. The man's face was graced with a frown. Obviously he hadn't understood the joke in the band's name. Mark quickly stifled his chuckles and coughed uncomfortably. At least this band had a sense of humor.
"Anything special?" he asked.
"Your filming is good, Mark," the older man allowed, "Michael wrote a few solos in on the set list that he thinks should make it to the tape. Other than that, just do what you've been doing." Mark just nodded as the older man turned and walked away. Mark had always been mature in the sense that he could talk to and understand those older then him, but with his boss missing such obvious and bad joke in the band's name, he was reminded just how much younger than these people he was.
In a few short minutes, the camera was prepped to begin filming and Mark peeled off his jacket, dropping it onto a chair, and abandoning his post as the doors opened. He reached the bar before the flood of people and grabbed a bottle of water. The place was full, and very loud, in no time, and a few minutes before the band was scheduled to go on Mark returned to his position behind the camera. He took a few sweeping shots of the enthusiastic crowd as he waited. Finally, Daniel, the current manager of CBGB's, took the stage. He began his usual spiel.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce…" before telling them a little bit about the band. As he spoke, the band members were trickling out onstage behind him; first the drummer, and then the bassist and first guitarist. Daniel ended his introduction with a sweeping arm gesture, as always, and made his way quickly offstage. The drummer immediately set a quick tempo for the opening song, letting loose on the drum set like a small child in a music shop. Mark could not help but wince; he was going to have a headache by the end of the night.
The bassist leaned forward and began to speak into the microphone in front of him. "Thank you for that wonderful introduction. How are you tonight CBGB's? You're kind of quiet. I don't know if y'all are ready to experience the Well Hungarians. Can I hear you scream?" An ear-splitting roar immediately filled the room. The bassist laughed, "Alright, that's what we like to hear. Get your ass onstage Roger, they're ready." He backed away from the mic and began strumming his instrument, his eyes shifting over to one of the wings.
As the roaring of he crowd swelled again this Roger character glided onstage, guitar in hand, and a broad smirk on his face.
"Fuck," Mark whispered, immediately zooming in on the figure. The boy was gorgeous. His hair was dark and short, though the tips were bleached a bright blonde that gleamed gold under the stage lights. His eyes shone, and a wide smile graced his rough face.
Mark soon learned that he had an amazing voice as well, raw and raspy. Mark quickly zoomed back out as The Well Hungarians launched into the chorus of their first song, capturing the entire band once again. He knew he couldn't let this affect his filming. It wasn't that he had never found one of the members of the numerous bands he'd filmed attractive before, but the attraction was never as intensely as this.
Mark didn't believe in love at first sight. He laughed off his friends' belief in it; that any attractive piece of ass that walked by was 'the one.' It was just a stupid cliché. However, as cliché as it was, Mark found himself completely taken with this singer. There was something about his looks, the certain, almost arrogant way he held himself onstage, and the raw emotion in that voice. Whatever it was, he couldn't shake off the feeling as he'd done with all the other good-looking band members he had filmed for.
As Roger's voice faded and the second guitarist sped up his playing Mark zoomed in; this was one of the solo's they'd requested be shot. He was distracted to be sure, but not enough that he could ignore his job. Mark relaxed behind the camera and listened as Roger sang. The band was serious, he could tell that much. They played better and had better lyrics than most of the other bands he'd taped recently. This added up to a much more enjoyable experience of filming-- all the better if Mark didn't have to sit through a badly-organized set with a bunch of kids that didn't know the meaning of a key. Maybe The Well Hungarians didn't quite fit the mold of the typical struggling New York City band, but Mark had been in New York long enough to know that this was a good thing.
Mark taped the entire set, his hands and the camera moving on something close to autopilot while he stared at the bright-eyed singer. Once their set had finished, they walked casually offstage amid roaring applause. Roger was the last to leave, soaking up every second of attention the audience granted him. Mark captured a few more shots of the pulsating audience before he grabbed his equipment and headed toward the back of the club. Joe let him in through the door that led to storage, offices, and the rooms where the bands relaxed after shows.
"They're performing again tomorrow and Saturday," he told Mark. "How much editing do you need to do on the tape? I know you're not technically working tomorrow or-"
Mark cut him off. "I'll come in. I'm out of film for the month, so it's not as if I have much else to do."
Joe clapped him on the shoulder, "That's a good man, Mark."
Mark faked a smile and made his way back to storage, carefully storing away the camera equipment and putting the film he'd just shot into a canister, marking it 'Well Hungarians at CBGB's'. It hadn't really been a lie. Mark had a little over an hour's worth of film left, which wouldn't last the rest of the month. Especially since he already had something in mind to use the remaining film on.
Early the next afternoon, Mark made his way through the traffic and ducked into the nearly empty club. He knew exactly what cuts needed to be made and what he wanted to edit into The Well Hungarians' show. The shots of the crowd needed to be duplicated and added in, but other than that there was not much editing to be done. He'd shot the entire concert, and it would be impractical to cut any of the songs without the band's input; he didn't know them and had no idea what kind of image they wanted to portray. Although, if the lead singer was any indication…
Mark berated himself for his thoughts about Roger. He'd tried to force his mind to turn away from the singer as he laid down to sleep the night before. Nothing had worked. And now, as he worked through the film from the previous night's concert, he shivered at hearing and seeing Roger again. Even on film, you could see how much of himself Roger put into his performance.
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear his mind, Mark locked the door to Joe's office and set to work cutting and reworking the film. When Joe actually showed up he usually spent most of his time doing day-work at the bar or making sure things were well set up onstage, leaving the small room free for Mark to edit his films in. He took his time, already knowing how he wanted the final version to look, and finished by early evening, still hours before the show. Leaving the tape on Joe's desk, he headed out of the club abd down the street to a small diner he frequented.
A cup of tea and three hours later found Mark walking back to the club. As usual, the bouncers let him in with no questions. Mark was able to walk right up to the place where he had taped the night before without as much as a suspicious look. No one would notice him, and those who did would only assume he was there for work.
"I can't believe this. I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered, setting up his own camera as Daniel again introduced the band. It was beyond stupid, to use the last of his film on a band he should by all rights be sick of, after filming and editing last night's set. And yet here he was, getting attached to a beautiful boy he had yet to actually meet.
"Didn't you film this band last night?" Mark looked up sharply to find one of the older bouncers staring curiously at him.
"Missed some important shots," he covered quickly. "Joe wants me to catch them and the band wants some alternating shots." It was complete bullshit, of course, but the guy bought it and walked on.
Mark turned back to the stage just as the bassist was finishing up the same banter with the crowd as the previous evening. When Roger came onstage, he couldn't help but zoom in to get a better look. And after that, zooming back out seemed out of the question. The musician looked even better tonight. Kohl lined his eyes, causing the blue-green to stand out, and his hair had been gelled and spiked to the best of Roger's ability, despite its shortness. Tonight, he was wearing a pair of obscenely tight plaid pants and a black shirt with the sleeves cut off, showing off his several tattoos and well-toned arms.
Roger's voice continued to give him chills, and the whole night, Mark found himself keeping his camera trained on The Well Hungarians' lead singer. The man truly had a presence that kept the fans pumped- jumping around the stage with more energy than Mark thought it possible to possess. At the end of the night, Mark was probably as sad as the fans, if not more so, to see the band leave the stage. As Roger turned to leave he gave the crowd a parting grin, his head turning in just the right direction for Mark's camera to catch it. The smile was genuine, wider and warmer than the fake stage smile he'd been giving the crowd all night. He was genuinely pleased with his performance. Mark laughed at himself as the film cut. How could he even guess what this wannabe rock star was thinking when he had never even met the guy?
He turned off his camera and stowed it in his bag before heading for the door, pushing through the stream of people heading in the same direction.
"Mark!" a voice called from behind him. "Mark! Hold on!" Mark spun on his heel, coming face to face with Joe. His thoughts immediately went to the rule that there was no filming allowed in CBGB's, except with the expressed permission of the club's owner.
"Hey, I got the Hungarians' footage. It was great man; what are you still doing here?"
"I liked the show. Thought I'd stay and watch it tonight."
Joe raised his eyebrows in surprise, but didn't comment other than a short, "Well, I hope you really like it, then. I know tomorrow's your day off, but I really need you to come in and film the opening act. They go on at eight-thirty." He walked away without giving Mark time to answer.
"Sure," Mark muttered, mostly to himself, turning, and making his was quickly out of the club. When he reached home he ignored his roommates, as usual, and put the reel in an empty container, labeling it 'Well Hungarians at CBGB's' before sticking it in his closet with a few others. Now that it was all done he couldn't help but wonder why he had wasted so much film on a guy he would probably never see again after tomorrow.
"Fuck," he muttered, throwing a pillow across the dilapidated mattress he had for a bed.
When Mark reached the club the next evening he was tired, and not really in the mood to shoot. But it was a paycheck, a paycheck that would pay the rent, as well as buy him more film. Speaking of film, the storage room put Mark in an even worse mood, as there didn't appear to be any film left. His day was certainly not improving.
He walked down the hall, camera in tow, and opened the door to Joe's office without knocking, stopping dead in his tracks once he saw the room's occupants. The four members of The Well Hungarians were squished on the small couch Joe had, while Joe sat at his desk. The five of them were watching the final song of the set from Mark's tape. Joe looked up and caught sight of Mark before he could back out of the room.
"Mark! Come in!" he waved at the young man.
Mark stepped into the room just as the film went black. It wasn't that he minded meeting the musicians; he just hated being around when people looked at, watched, or read his work. "Uhh… there's no film in the storage room. You have some extra in here, right?"
"Yeah, got a few reels in my desk. Come here for a minute, Mark. These guys were very impressed with your work. Gentlemen, this is Mark Cohen, our videographer. He shot and edited the film you just watched."
They were all staring at him, and Mark was certain his cheeks were tinted pink by now. Though it was good. The guitarist, bassist and drummer looked impressed, and they'd been smiling when the film ended. However, Roger was frowning. He was the first to speak.
"You hired a sixteen-year-old to shoot videos of bands in your club? No wonder this tape looks so cheap. A monkey could do the job he did."
If Mark hadn't been blushing before, he was certain that he was redder than a tomato now. He ducked his head a bit.
"Oh shut up, Davis," the bassist snapped. "You're just pissed because you're not the sole focus of the damn movie. Mark, good to meet you man. I'm Hunter. The film was great, just what we need."
The other two echoed Hunter's sentiments, but Mark couldn't help but feel a little let down. But then again, if Roger had seen the other tape Mark had made….. The very thought made Mark blush even more profusely. He muttered a quiet thanks, complimented the band on their stage presence, got his film reels from Joe and left the room as quickly as possible.
The opening act this night was absolutely horrible in comparison to The Well Hungarians, but Mark suffered through it. As soon as the band left the stage, he rushed to the storage room to look up his equipment, and then headed for the door.
"Mark!" For all that people were yelling his name this week, Mark was getting more than a little sick of hearing it. Reluctantly he turned around, only to be grabbed into a hug by a familiar dark figure. "Mark, how are you? What the hell are you doing here?" Standing in front of him was Benny Coffin, Mark's roommate his sophomore year of college, and two years his senior. Mark couldn't help but note wryly that his friend was dressed more like a normal person than he had throughout most of school.
"Benny, hey," Mark greeted, smiling despite the pounding headache the band had left. It was good to see a familiar face after the week he'd had.
"What are you doing in the city? Thanksgiving break?" Mark shook his head.
"I dropped out, moved to the city."
Benny looked mildly shocked. Mark had always been so bright, and so on track, but he couldn't say that he was completely surprised; Mark's first, and only, love had always been his movies.
"And decided to hit the clubs every night?" Benny cocked his head, smirking. He knew Mark hated this scene.
Mark laughed. "I work here. What about you? Why are you here?" Benny was even less of a clubgoer than Mark.
"One of my roommates is performing with his band." He nodded toward the stage where the opening act was attempting to sell CDs and t-shirts. "Come on," Benny poked Mark in the ribs, "Let's get out of here. I'll bet you've had nothing but a cup of tea today. Let me buy you dinner." Mark had never been one to ask for handouts, but he was not about to turn down a free meal when his finances were going to be pretty strapped for the month. So he let Benny drag him to a cheap burger joint down the street and obligingly ordered food and beer. Mark had barely taken two bites of his burger when Benny set his down on his plate and looked dead at Mark.
"So tell me everything." Mark bit his lip and told Benny everything. He told him of the unfulfilling semester at Brown and the realization that he couldn't live with forcing himself through it anymore. He told him about the move to New York and the shitty roommates he had. He told him about the job at CBGB's that didn't pay him nearly enough, but kept a roof over his head, clothes on his back, and, on occasion, food in his stomach. He left out the part about his crush on the Well Hungarians front man though, and instead focused on the fact that he and his father weren't exactly speaking at the moment.
Benny listened patiently. He ate his dinner without interrupting Mark, and allowed for the long silences while Mark inhaled his food. When they were both finished, he sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, we'd better go pack your stuff then." "
"What?" Mark suddenly felt very, very confused.
"I've met your mother. And if I was the one that had to tell her the conditions in which her son is living, I think she might find a way to murder me with her feather-duster. I don't want to be that person, Mark. Now, the conditions in my place aren't much better, and the neighborhood isn't the greatest, but it's a step up from where you are now. My roommates are pretty easy to get along with. Sure, it might get a bit cramped on occasion, but we always manage."
"I don't know about this, Benny-"
"Plus, you'll be staying with friends, and you'll get to know the other guys quick enough. They're cool. Have I ever steered you wrong before?"
"Don't make me call your mother, Mark." With most that was an idle threat, but everyone who had met Mrs. Cohen knew better.
Mark sighed, "All right." It wasn't that he minded the invitation, he just hated giving in so easily.
"Let's go get your stuff then." Benny threw a few bills down on the table and stood up, pulling on his coat. Mark followed, and once they were outside, took the lead, showing Benny the way to his now-former apartment.
The loft was everything Benny had promised. It was a mess, but what else could be expected when it was home to three men? It wasn't exactly in the greatest condition, but in Mark's mind this only added to the bohemian paradise Mark had grown to love since he left Brown. There were interesting people.
This fact was attested to by the only other inhabitant of the loft when they arrived. He was a black man, both older and taller than Benny, and was wearing a trench coat and a white skull cap. Despite the late hour, he was bent over a table cluttered by a stack of papers, red pen in hand. In his other hand he held a perfectly rolled joint, half smoked. He glanced up as they entered, pausing when he caught sight if Mark.
"Who's your friend?" he asked. Benny dropped into a nearby chair, motioning for Mark to do the same after depositing his bags on the floor. He motioned with his arms as he made the introductions.
"Mark Cohen, I would like you to meet Thomas Collins. Collins, this is Mark, the guy at CBGB's that I went off with."
"You know you're supposed to end up at their apartment, right?" Collins asked with a smirk, "Not bring them home."
"No, Collins, that's your job," Benny grinned at the look of shock on Mark's face.
"Mark was my roommate my last two years at Brown. He just dropped out and moved to the city, was living in a commune down on west."
Collins finally held out a hand in Mark's direction. "Good to meet you, man."
Mark shook Collins' hand without hesitation. "You always do your grading high?" Collins laughed again, his eyes sparkling.
"I teach philosophy. These essays are on right and wrong, and there are only so many papers telling me which students are Democrats and which are Republicans that I can take." He held the joint out to Mark, who took a long, slow drag before passing it back.
"I hope he can hold his liquor as well as he can smoke," Collins said to Benny. Mark grinned.
"How was the show?" Benny asked.
"How are all his shows?" Collins shot back. "They did well. He sounded a little pissed off." Mark bit back a laugh. His new roommates were definitely talking about the opening act. "Walked off with a leggy blonde after the show though, so I don't expect we'll see much of him before the wee hours of the morning."
"Guess not," Benny agreed, standing up. "C'mon Mark. There's an extra mattress in my room you can sleep on tonight. At least come drop your stuff in my room before I go to bed." Mark obediently followed Benny but returned to the main room of the loft after Benny got into bed. Collins passed a new joint without even looking at him.
Mark took a drag. "You're not mad that Benny just brought me home without saying anything to you first, are you?"
"Nah." Collins shook his head. "That's how we get all our roommates. That's how Benny got here, actually. They get dragged in, and leave when they find something better. It's a never ending cycle. No one really minds."
"Well, what about your other roommate. Will he-"
"He'll be cool with it. Don't worry."
"Are you sure?" Mark was beginning to realize that this new living situation was pure trial and error- it was going to be either an immeasurable improvement from his last or absolute hell.
"Mark." Collins chuckled and grinned lopsidedly at him, "I think I'm really going to like you once I get to know you, but please, learn to relax." He snatched the joint back. Mark nodded, standing up.
"Good night, Collins."
The mattress on Benny's floor was hard and lumpy, but the haze from the pot helped him drift off to sleep with more ease than he had in weeks.
When Mark woke the next morning the room was bright, suggesting it was probably close to midday. Mark sat up to find Benny still fast asleep in bed. Same old Benny, Mark chuckled to himself, reminded of their dorm room.He grinned to himself and stood, running a hand through his sleep-flattened hair before going to search for the bathroom. Mark could hear someone moving around out in the main room. He guessed it was Collins in the living room but a quick once-over quickly determined that it was the third roommate. The guy was white; shorter than Collins, and lacking the philosopher's imposing size.
Mark took in the man sitting on the dilapidated couch through an artist's perspective as he walked towards his new roommate. He had dark hair with the tips bleached, which was the look of every punk-rock king these days. There was a guitar across his lap cradled against his torso as he plucked at the strings.
Or- Mark corrected himself mentally, was plucking at the strings. As the man heard Mark approach, his fingers stilled and he looked up. Mark stopped dead in his tracks as green eyes met his. There was no way he could forget those eyes, the same one's which had glared so harshly at him the afternoon before.
One word was on the tip of his tongue. "Shit," he mumbled.
A very pissed-off Roger Davis shot to his feet roaring, "Benny!"
A/N: It's finally up! Thank goodness. The idea behind this story ended my five or six month spell of writer's block and I really don't think I have seen anything quite like it as of yet. I would love to thank human(underscore)toaster from lj for being an amazing beta. I'm already halfway through chapter two so it should be up soon, hopefully before I go back to school the weekend after this.
So, leave me some feedback. Good or bad, I don't care. Tell me what you think.