Disclaimer: The characters depicted in the following story do not belong to me. I am just putting my own spin on the situation for my own enjoyment. Thank You Jonathan Larson.

Warning: The following story makes mention of same-sex relationships. (Is it even possible to write a RENT story without them).

Author's Note: This is a response to Challenge Central 25. This version is unbetaed. Honestly, I have nothing against Mimi, however the beginning of this story is based on the comments on the movie commentary that Mimi probably had a week at most. Post RENT.

It was hard to lay Mimi to rest. We had thought that she had beaten the odds when she came back to us after hearing Roger's song. We were wrong. We brought her to the hospital to recover, but she never left its walls. She died a week later, on New Year's Eve. It was ironic that her life came to an end when so many people celebrated new beginnings. I stood next to the casket by the open grave and thanked God or whatever Higher Power was out there for that final week. At least we were able to say our goodbyes.

The funeral was simple, similar to Angel's, only three months previous. We remembered Mimi's wonder and her passion for life. Roger told us the story of the first time they met and the way that she inspired him to complete his song. Mimi was the one who taught him that there was no day but today. She had taught that to many people. Other people shared their memories or told stories about what Mimi meant to them. The church service concluded with Roger singing Your Eyes for her one last time.

Roger's tap on my shoulder startled me from my reverie. I turned towards him. "Mark, c'mon. We need to go meet the others at the Life. Our memorial isn't finished." I picked up my camera and followed him. We had agreed that Mimi would not want us to remain sad and sullen, so we would celebrate her life by having a party in her honor at the Life Café. Mimi would want us to live each moment as our last, the day of her funeral included. She would have wanted us to have a good time. This was going to be hard for me. I don't do well in large groups.

As soon as Roger and I took our seats, I got out my camera. Roger was immediately on my case. "Mark, come out from behind that thing. Mimi would've wanted you to be a part of the celebration, not hiding from it." I shook my head and mumbled something about needing to document all the parts of the memorial in order to complete my tribute to her. Roger rolled his eyes. "Whatever, man. Just remember to feel tonight. You're part of this celebration, not some objective stranger. Mimi wouldn't want you to isolate yourself."

Roger doesn't understand. I don't hide from life behind my camera; I experience life more richly through it. Take this party, for example. I have the film running because I can't follow most of the conversations and I still want to know what happened. The camera captures the memories for me and allows me to access them. It's also a good excuse to stay quiet when I'm not sure what to say. An objective filmmaker can't go interspersing his opinions all the time. The camera allows me to keep my secret.

It's not like I have some deep dark past that I'm hiding or anything. I'm not doing drugs, getting into male prostitution or living a double life as a semi-evil professor's assistant at an upstate college. I came out as bisexual a long time ago, so I'm not hiding my sexuality. I don't have a secret lover. Hell, I'm not even HIV positive, not that my group of friends would think anything about that. The secret is quite personal. None of my friends have guessed it, although I think Angel may have suspected, but he...she was always more perceptive than most people. She always turned towards me to talk to me and got my attention with a wave or a tap on the shoulder before she spoke. I think she knew I had to read her lips.

Yes, reading lips, or speechreading is something I've been doing for a while...ever since Roger got violent when he was going through withdrawal. Collins arrived just as his fists slammed into either side of my head. He locked Roger in his room and got Maureen to take me to the hospital. Maureen was only able to give them my name and address before she had to get back. She didn't want to leave anyone alone with Roger in case there was more trouble, so she didn't hear the diagnosis. The blows to my head had caused some sort of damage to something in my ears. From that day forward, I was completely deaf.

The head trauma earned me a stay in the the hospital (paid courtesy of Benny) and gave me time to learn to cope. The hospital sent speechreading teacher to me, and a nurse taught me some basic sign language so she could communicate with me. I learned about devices that could help me by flashing lights or putting words on the phone or TV, but I knew I could never afford them. Instead, I found my own solutions. My old-fashioned alarm clock was fine if I slept with it under my pillow. The bells shook me awake. Instead of a fancy phone for deaf people, I found a second-hand answering machine and started "screening" my calls. Basically, I let my roommates check the tape. I didn't own a TV, but insisted on only going to foreign films so I could read the subtitles. I found free sign language classes at the school for the deaf, which I supplemented with conversations with some of deaf homeless people around Alphabet City. Those conversations were more interesting and taught me more than the fabricated dialogues we went through in class. The vocabulary was certainly more useful.

This was the period of time when Maureen and I dated. If she wanted to go to a play, I would ask around at my sign language class and get tickets for the night when interpreters were provided. When we went out to eat , I'd let her order. She sat through a number of Kurosawa films that she hated, but had subtitles for me to read. We had a good time, but we were no longer soul mates. She's the type who likes to talk when we were "otherwise occupied", and I guess incoherent moans were not enough response for her. One day, she finally told me that she was seeing someone else and had decided to leave me for her. It hurt my feelings and my pride, but I understood. She was more at ease with a woman, just as I've been feeling more comfortable with men. There's no pretending with men. They tell it like it is and don't blow up at you for something you did months before.

I had let my mind wander too long at the party. Roger shook me again. "Mark, man, are you OK? That's like the fifth time I called you. You got to stop being so tense about everything. If you're going to zone out behind that thing, I'm going to make you put it down." Since I didn't want to anger Roger, I took the camera and sat it on the end of the table, still running, using my coat as a makeshift tripod. We drank, toasted Mimi, and, yes, danced on the table tops again. Unlike last year, Benny was a part of the celebration instead of the recipient of a musical lecture. I joined in the dancing with a heavy heart. I could also tell that Roger wasn't as enthusiastic as he pretended to be. We both missed Mimi too much.

Roger. He's been my best friend for a long time now. Even though he hit me, I don't blame him for my deafness. He was a different person while he was on drugs, a person who no longer exists. That person died with Roger's cravings. I admire his strength, his compassion and his ability to feel so deeply. He's a wonderful poet. I miss hearing his songs. I love watching him as he works. When he writes, It's like I can see past the surface into his very soul. Roger is more than a sexy body and a guitar. He has the soul of an artist. I've been finding that my feelings have deepened for him. I want to protect him from the guilt that I know he will feel when I tell him about being deaf. I'm also scared that when he finds out, he'll see me as damaged goods. I don't think I could handle Roger's pity.

I should tell him everything. I should tell him that I've been staring at him for the last three years. I know every detail of his face, from the rings of gold circling the pupils in his green eyes, to the fine lines and that faint scar he got when he broke the window shortly before he put me in the hospital. I know his habits, such as he always stirs his coffee three times and sips it before he sits down and always puts on his left shoe first. I should tell him that I've been wanting to talk to him about the way I feel since April died. I should tell him that when Maureen left me, I was scared because I didn't have her to hide behind, yet, at the same time, strangely relieved since I was free to date whomever I wanted. I should tell him that I don't blame him for this curtain of silence that surrounds me, but I long for the day when he reaches through it to me. I should tell him I love him.

The party was winding down. I already had a slight buzz from what I had drunk. Unlike those who call alcohol Liquid Courage, it had the opposite effect on me. I had thought about telling Roger my secrets, but I lost my nerve. We walked back to the loft without speaking. For once, the curtain surrounded Roger, too.

A/N 2 I shall endeavour to update at a fairly good rate but I'm not guaranteeing a steady pace. I'm in the process of moving, plus have started a new job. Rest assured, this story will be complete by December 25!