They should have seen this coming. Mark had always been sickly, always catching any passing cold or bug. It was just that none of them had ever really translated that into a weak immune system. But when he'd caught the HIV virus, the docters soon said that Mark had a snowflake's chance in hell of living another two years.
The docters had been wrong before, and they all prayed that that was the case now. They got their wish, but unfortunatly they hadn't been specific enough. Mark had only lasted a year and a half with the virus raging inside his bloodstream. He had spent his last few nights in this very loft, after he refused to return to the hospital where he had spent most of the past few months. They had all stood by with him, and he had gone suddenly and violently one evening.
They had cried themselves out, and now sat staring at eachother silently. Even Benny had joined them, as he had in Mark's final months, reminding them all that he and Mark had once been close friends. Roger held Mark's beloved scarf, running it through his hands. Unexpectedly, he looked up at them all with a small, crooked smile.
"Hey, do any of you know how Mark actually got this scarf?"
They all looked at one another before realizing, no, they didn't.
"I always thought he was just born with it on." Mimi said quietly, and everyone laughed sedatly.
"No, actually. He shoplifted it." Roger said, staring pensivly down at the striped scarf in his hands and smiling at the memories, and at his friends' surprise, "Yep, when we were eighteen. Well, I was eighteen. He was only sixteen, and it was the one and only time he shoplifted. He was scared shitless, but afterwards he was so proud. It didn't matter that I kept telling him this was the ugliest thing I had ever seen, and the lamest thing anyone could ever steal. He still loved this stupid thing."
Roger than seemed unable to go on. Mimi, sitting on one side of him, gently took the scarf from his lap and began stroking it herself, adopting the same pensive look Roger had worn, "I always used to tease him about his scarf."
"We all did." Collins reminded her from the couch.
"Yeah, I know, but I mean I really used to tease him," she smiled, "Used tell him I thought it was kinky, and I'd list all the dirty things you could do with it. Once I even asked if me and Rog could borrow it for a night. God, I used to make him blush so bad."
"Yeah, I know. He was so cute when he blushed. I used to love doing that to him." Maureen said, reaching over and slowly pulling the scarf onto her own lap, "Hey, do you guys know how I came to live with you"
"Ummm, sort of. Not really. I know one night he came home with you in tow, and said you had no place else to sleep. And pretty soon you made yourself comfy in his bed, and the rest is history," Collins said, laughing.
Maureen shot him a dirty look before continuing, "Yeah, well, it was much more romantic than that! See, my boyfriend had just kicked me out, and I really didn't have anywhere to go. I was just kinda wandering when these drunks started harrassing me, you know, trying to get some kicks. Well, it had just taken a turn for the worse, and I was really starting to get scared, when up strides Mark. Jeez, he was so handsome at that moment, blazing righteous anger like some vengeful God."
"How poetic." Roger mumbled, and Mimi elbowed him with a giggle. Maureen glared at him before continuing
"Anyway. So here comes Mark, running up to save me, and the guys back off. God, he was so lucky that they were just some drunks looking for a good time, and not too serious. They could have kicked his ass. But Lord, you should have seen him. Like, he would have gotten his ass kicked a hudred times over, just to protect me. I think that's what attracted me to him. The fact that he seemed so... good."
Maureen lowered her head, and silent tears began to fall from her eyes. Joanne placed an arm around Maureen's shoulders while Benny slowly rubbed the redheads knee. She looked up at him in surprise, and he smiled at her, reaching for the scarf. Maureen relinquished it willingly.
"Yeah, our Mark was one hell of a guy. Decent, you know." Benny absently wrapped the rough fabric around his wrist, "I mean, he was always willing to help someone out when they needed it most. Look at me! He and I were childhood friends, our parents knew eachother, so it just seemed, I don't know, convenient.
"Soon, though, we just drifted apart. When I moved to New York City, my luck had run out, and I didn't know what to do. I remembered hearing something about Mark moving here, so I looked him up. I just showed up on his doorstep and, no questions asked, he welcomes me in. But that was Mark for you." Benny was now crying as well, and it was Maureen's turn to put a comforting hand on his knee. Benny gave her a grateful look before covering her hand with his own.
"Mark was always bringing home strays." Roger smiled.
Collins reached over and extracted the scarf from Benny as he spoke to Roger, "Hey, man, you remember how you two met me?"
Roger was silent for a moment, than he doubled over, laughing insanely. Collins joined in, and the rest of the group looked at eachother.
"What?" Mimi asked, "What's so funny? How did you guys meet?"
"Oh God!" Roger managed to gasp, before succombing to more laughter. Collins was a bit more controled.
"Well, I... umm, well, I met them out at a club one night and... well, I..."
"What?" Joanne asked impatiently, eager to be let in on the joke.
"He tried to pick Mark up!" Roger choked out. There was a shocked silence.
"You didn't." Benny said, starting to grin.
Collins had begun laughing again, "Hey, he was cute! I have never seen that boy go as red as he did that night. I thought he was going to piss himself."
They had all begun laughing now, and it lasted almost a full minute before they had calmed themselves. Collins looked over at Joanne, the only member of the group who hadn't yet spoken, and offered her Mark's scarf. Silently, the lawyer took it.
She sat stroking it for a minute, tears welling up in her eyes. They wondered if she had anything to share, since she really hadn't known Mark like the rest of them had. But then she spoke in a quiet, trembling voice.
"Out of all of you, Mark was probably the one I felt most connected with. Besides Maureen, of course. He and I, well, we had a sort of... I don't know. Basicly, he knew what I was going through with Maureen at her most difficult," here, Joanne smiled ruefully at her lover, who squeezed her hand reassuringly.
"Strangly enough, even though I think he still had feelings for her, Mark seemed to genuinly want to help me with Maureen. Whenever I was having problems, I knew I could talk to him, and he'd be there to sympathize or commiserate, or just to listen." Joanne's eyes were running more freely now, and her voice was choked with tears. Maureen embraced her, and Joanne sobbed into her shoulder. Mimi reached out a hand and picked up one end of the scarf, leaving the other to dangle in Joanne's grasp.
"Yeah, Mark was always there when me and Roger faught. And when my withdrawal was too much, he'd always step in to help, even though I'd barely gotten a chance to ever really know him before. He once spent all night in my room, just talking, even though I refused to speak to him at all. He knew I needed it, and him annoying me so much really did help get my mind off the drugs."
Roger gave a small laugh, grabbing the end of the scarf that Joanne had just dropped, "Yeah, I remember that. He used to do that with me all the time. God, he drove me crazy. But it worked. Jeez, it's because of him that I'm really here today at all."
"Hell, he's the reason we're all here." said Benny.
Collins leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, "Now that I've heard all our stories, he's really the one who brought us all together, isn't he."
Joanne nodded her head in agreement, and Mimi gave a small, "yeah"
They sat in silence for a moment. They couldn't believe their happy, sarcastic friend, their Mark Cohen, was really and truly... dead.
The silence was surprisingly broken by Joanne, who suddenly looked up at them all with a smile growing on her tearstained face.
"Hey, guys. Did you know that Mark was one hell of a dancer?"