Okay, so I've had this on my computer forever, and I finally decided to just post it already!
Disclaimer: Please. If I really owned these guys, do you think I'd actually be sitting here just writing about them? Come on now.
Mark stared out the bus window, watching the landscape fly by. What was really scaring him was that he was actually starting to recognize the scenery. This meant that they were approaching their destination. He leaned his head on the cool glass, lost in thought.
Unbidden, memories of the last time he'd seen New York City rose within him. It had been almost ten years ago, a warm August evening. He had been planning his departure for months, and that night he had meant to put it into action.
He placed the last of his clothes into the small bag and hoisted it on his shoulder. A suitcase, also patheticly small, sat out in the living room. He had his bus ticket, that would take him all the way to Indiana. He would see what happened from there.
Everyone was out for the night. He had wiggled out of it, complaining of an upset stomach and a headache. They had sympathized, but were all eager to get out and have some fun. So they had left, and Mark found himself alone in the dimly lit apartement. This was exactly how he wanted it. He wanted to avoid unneeded drama at all costs, and was going to leave a note explaining his reasons for leaving. He didn't really want to admit to himself that he was just too much of a coward to face his friends when they found out he was leaving.
He was about to walk out the door when he realized that he'd forgotten to leave the note. He dropped his bags by the door and ran to get a pen and paper, but just as he returned the door to the loft slid open, and the entire group of bohemians stumbled in.
"Hey, Mark! Just came to see how you were doing!" Maureen cried, one arm draped around Joanne's shoulders as the other slung a bottle of wine wildly about.
Roger was the first to notice the bags by the door, and the guilty, caught-in-the-act look Mark was giving them all. Drunk as he was, Roger still recognized all the signs of someone skipping town. He should. He'd done it often enough.
Carefully, he spoke, "You look a lot better, Mark. Going somewhere?"
At this hidden accusation, Mark flushed and looked away, muttering something about "have to leave" and "Indiana."
"Wait, what about Indiana?" asked Mimi, clearly confused as she made her way into the apartment and leaned against the sofa in an attempt to keep herself upright.
"I think Mark has some explaining to do," said Collins, his serious tone only slightly colored by a slur.
Mark looked up at them all, his eyes pleading, "Guys, you don't understand! I have to go. I just... I need to leave. I'm sorry."
His worst fears confirmed, Roger kicked out at the bags that lay by the doorframe, scattering their contents across the floor. He stormed across the room to stand face to face with his room mate and friend, "What the fuck! So, what, you were just gonna go and not even tell us! Leave us here to worry and wonder!"
"I was gonna leave a note," Mark said, knowing how pathetic he must sound. But at Roger's sound of disgust, he felt anger rising in him, "Besides, who are you to judge! You're the one who left me here all alone while you skipped off to Santa Fe!"
"Don't even try to compare what I did to what you're doing! I didn't sneak around your backs, I came out and told you right along what I was planning to do! But you -" Roger was yelling now, but Mark matched him tone for tone and glare for glare.
"Yeah! Well at least I'm not leaving in a crisis! I'm not running away just when people need me the most!"
"Mark, we need you now," Maureen said gently, trying to place a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it angrily off and rounded on her.
"Yeah, sure! Look, Maureen, you've all got eachother. You'll be fine without me! I have to d0 this," here, his eyes turned soft, begging for understanding. No one seemed willing to give it, however. He looked imploringly around at the faces of his friends, his family, and found only hurt, betrayal, shock and anger. Defeated, he looked down at his shoes.
"Guys, I'm sorry, I really am. You have no idea. But I have to do this. I've got to. I'm really sorry."
There was silence, and Mark wanted to scream as the tension built to an unbearable cresendo. Then Collins spoke.
"Well, Mark, if you want to leave, then there's nothing we can do to stop you."
At this, Roger turned angrily to Collins, "Oh, so you're just gonna let him abandon us! What the fuck!"
"Roger, he's a grown man. If he's gonna leave, he's gonna leave, " here, the philosopher turned sad eyes upon Mark, who winced. That look was filled with such pain, such disappointment. But there was no way he was gonna duck out now. He needed to do this. He just had to! So Mark found himself murmering apologies even as he bent to gather up his fallen possesions. Roger gave an angry growl before turning once more to Mark, kneeling on the floor.
"Fine, but don't you ever come back! Don't even think of it! You're right, we don't need you! Just get the fuck out of our lives!"
Mark stared straight ahead, stony faced. To someone who didn't know him, it would have looked like Roger's words had had no effect whatsoever, but his friends knew better. That was the look Mark got when he was trying his hardest not to cry.
"Roger," Mimi said soothingly, trying to put her arms around her boyfriend. But he pulled away angrily and stormed over to his room. Before he slammed the door, though, he looked straight into Mark's eyes.
"We don't need you. Leave. Now," he said quietly before shutting himself in his bedroom.
The rest of the group stood around uncomfortably as Mark finished repacking. There were some mumbled goodbyes, and then Mark had walked out the door.
Mark stifled a small moan. That had been almost ten years ago, and it was arguebly one of the worst days of his life. The way his friends had looked at him... He couldn't believe that he had even thought about coming back, but here he was.
He looked down at the small girl sitting beside him. She was hunched over, staring straight in front of her as she rocked slightly in her seat. Headphones sat on her ears, and Mark could hear clearly the music blaring. With a sigh, he reached over and turned the volume down on the C.D. player. The little brunette looked up at him in mild surprise.
"Keep the music down, Samantha," he said. She stared at him with her wide, distant blue eyes for a moment before returning to her rocking. But not before turning the volume all the way back up. Mark sighed and stroked his daughter's hair before turning back to the window.
Samantha was autistic. The docter's had diagnosed her a couple years before, back when Mia had been around to help out. Before- NO! He had the future to worry about, he couldn't afford to dwell in the past right now.
Mark glanced around him, completly baffled. He was on his way back to the apartment that he, Samantha and Nicole now called home. Nicole was Samantha's... nanny, he guessed, although that wasn't really the right word for it. She had helped Mark with Samantha ever since Mia had died, watching her when he went to work and such. She was nearing fifty, a small fierce woman with a sharp wit. She had no real family back in California, and she'd willingly agreed to make the move with him to New York, to his huge relief. She loved both Samantha and Mark dearly, and enjoyed taking care of both of them.
At the moment, however, Mark's only thought was getting to Lincoln Ave. As it was, this was proving to be a more difficult feat then he'd anticipated, since he had no fucking clue where the hell he was. Great! Just fucking great. I've been here almost a month, and I'm still getting lost. He took another glance around at his unfamiliar surroundings.
He turned at the sound of someone calling his name. Behind him stood a tall brunette, staring at him in disbelief. After a moment, she threw herself at Mark, wrapping her arms around his neck for a long time before finally releasing him. Mark was dumbstruck.
"Maureen?" he choked out.
Suddenly, the performer's expression turned dark, and before he had time to react she had stepped forward and slapped Mark across the face with considerable force. Mark stumbled, catching himself on a park bench as passerbys gave them startled looks before continuing on.
"What the hell, Mark!" she demanded, hands on hips, "What are you doing here!"
But she didn't seem to be in the mood to listen to him right now, "No, don't even start with me! Ten years, Mark! Ten fucking years!"
"How the hell do you get off coming back here! After what you did to us! Did you really think we'd just forget all about that night and just roll out the fucking welcome mat!"
"MAUREEN, PLEASE!" Mark yelled, effectivly silencing the angry woman for a moment.
Mark continued speaking, "Look, I know I screwed up, but... fuck, I'm here now, aren't I? Won't you just give me a chance?"
The brunette (She's darkened her hair. Mark noticed) looked at him almost regretfully, "Fuck, Mark, it's been ten years. You can't just slide right back into our lives after we've worked so hard to fill up what you left behind. A lot of things have changed."
At her sad look, Mark felt his stomach go cold, "How... how do you mean, changed? Is everyone... I mean, how is everyone?"
"I... Mark, we tried to get a hold of you, we really did, but we had no fucking clue how. We... I don't know how to tell you this..." she was struggling. With a heavy heart, Mark steeled himself and asked the question that had plagued him all the way here.
"Who didn't make it?" He asked, his expression blank. I knew they wouldn't all make it. That new medicine is only a slight improvement. It's no surprise, don't be ridiculous. It's been ten years. He kept telling himself this, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable.
Tears had formed in Maureen's eyes, but she resolutly held them back as she whispered, "Joanne."
"What?" Mark was startled out of his cold silence.
"She... she died five years ago. Breast cancer."
"Fuck," he whispered, not knowing what else to say, "Maureen, I'm so sorry. I don't... fuck."
She waved his apology away, but her eyes were swimming and her voice was choked, "It's okay. I told you, it was years ago." Suddenly, she looked up at him, "Hey, I really don't want to do all this now. Let's say we get together soon, okay. I was going to go out to Joy Luck's for dinner tonight- you remember, that chinese place we liked- so why don't you meet me there? We can catch up. Tonight at eight?"
"Ummmmm... I guess. But-" he hesitated a moment, then figured that she should really know what he'd been up to since he'd been gone, "can I bring someone?"
Maureen gave him a sly smile, "Does Marky have a girlfriend?" she asked teasingly.
"Not exactly," he said, chickening out on giving all the details, "Just, can I bring her?"
"Yeah, sure, why not. Who is she?"
"You'll see," was all he'd say. Finally, they parted ways.
"Come on, guys! Hurry up!"
"Maureen, we're just going to dinner. What the hell's got you all excited?" Roger grumbled, trailing along behind the happy diva.
She just grinned at him and twirled away. Jonathon, her boyfriend of more than year, laughed at her antics and ran to catch up with her. When he did, they shared a long, passionate kiss, which quickly turned into a full-on make out session in the middle of 3rd street.
Roger made a face at them, "Maureen and Johnny, sittin' in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" he sang. Jonathon flipped him off goodnaturedly, still glued to his girlfriend.
"Okay, break it up, you two. You're turning us into a tourist attraction," Collins laughed, swatting at each of them. They broke apart, smiling and still keeping their hands on eachother.
"Hey, you guys, you'd better be nice, or else you don't get your surprise!" Maureen informed them.
"What! What surprise?" Mimi asked, looking suspiciously at the diva.
Maureen smirked, "Oops, did I say that? Well, hurry up! There, there's Joy Luck! Come on, guys, move your asses!" she began to tug on Jonathon's hand like an overgrown two year old. The others swapped wary looks before following her into the restaurant.
"Here, right over there, I see him!" Maureen cried, bypassing the surprised hostess and making her way to a large booth where two people currently sat. The man had his back to him, and a little girl was sitting opposite him.
As she caught sight of the child, however, Maureen stopped dead.
"Oh my God," she breathed. At the sound of her voice, the blonde man turned around...
...And his eyes went huge. As did everyone elses.
Mark looked at Samantha, sitting in the booth with her headphones turned up all the way as usual. She had been so excited to go out with him tonight, even though he'd warned her they would be meeting some other people there.
He was waiting for the performer to arrive. She was late, but that was really no surprise to Mark. He sat there, fiddling anxiously with the menu.
Suddenly, though, he heard Maureen's voice from behind him, "Oh my God."
He turned with a smile that fell immediatly from his face as he caught sight of not only Maureen, but the rest of his old friends as well.
He felt his eyes widen behind his glasses as four surprised faces (and one that he didn't know at all) stared down at him. There was complete silence for a moment, in which each party looked over the other in trepidition. Finally, it seemed Maureen could no longer take it, and she cried out, "Surprise!"
Mark found he could breath freely again as the tension was broken. Although everyone still stood in shock, staring at him.
"Ummm, hi guys," he said akwardly, sliding to his feet so he could be better postioned to see them all. In all the scenarios he had played in his head of how this moment would go, he had never thought it would be this uncomfortable. It was as though... they were strangers.
"Mark." Collins finally spoke. And with that, the large black man pulled Mark in for a rough embrace, "Hey man, it's been too long. It's good to see you." he murmered into Mark's hair. He held the blond man out at arm's length and looked him up and down, shaking his head, "Boy, you haven't changed a day! Still the same skinny ass white boy, huh? Glad to see you finally got some meat on your bones, though!" he laughed and poked Mark in the gut.
"Yep, three meals a day will do that to you!" he exclaimed happily.
"Three meals! God, you've really been spoiled out in Indiana, haven't you!" Collins joked.
Mark shook his head, "No, not Indiana. I only spent a couple months out there before moving on to California."
"California! I have family from out there!" exclaimed the one person within the group that Mark didn't know. He smiled politely at the man.
"Oh, really. Ummmm..."
"Jonathon," he supplied, shaking Mark's hand.
"We're going out," Maureen informed him happily.
"Ahhhhhhhh," Mark smiled, "Well, I'm very sorry."
Jonathon laughed, but Maureen looked less than amused, her happy spirit suddenly disappearing, "Actually, Mark, we've been together for thirteen months now. I'm not the same woman you knew ten fucking years ago. Things change. People change."
Mark looked down, charinged. He had known this would have to happen. It couldn't be remembrance and pleasentries forever, not after the way he'd left, "Listen, guys, I know I fucked up big time. I... I don't know what I can do to make it better-"
"You can't, Mark," said Mimi sadly, "Ten years is a long time. You can't just erase all that and go back to the way things used to be, no matter how much you want to. A lot's happened, our lives have changed. And you're not a part of that anymore."
"I know," Mark whispered, "Damnit, I know all that. Hell, my life's changed too. But I was hoping... we could at least try and... I missed...-" he stopped, not knowing what else he could say.
There was silence, each person contemplating the gulf of time that seperated them from their old friend. Then suddenly Maureen spoke up.
"Hey, who's this?" she asked, gesturing at Samantha. The girl still sat in the booth, watching the drama unfolding before her with a deceptivly passive expression. Someone who didn't know her might think she didn't even realize what was going on around her, but Mark knew differently. She was a silent observer.
He looked at each of them, feeling a blush spread across his face, "This... is my daughter. Samantha."
There was an immediate silence, and then Mimi whispered, "Holy shit, Mark. A daughter. So... you're married and everything?"
He had been afraid of this. He shook his head, and none of them failed to notice his expression hardening. It was the look he got when he didn't want to cry, "No. I mean, I was. But..."
"Divorce?" Jonathon asked.
Again, Mark shook his head, "No. She..." he looked at Samantha, who stared up at him with those wide blue eyes, "She died."
Mimi gasped, and Maureen placed a hand over her mouth as tears sprung up in her eyes, no doubt as she remembered her own loss in Joanne.
Mark continued, "Almost a year ago. On Halloween. She was a teacher, and there was a shooting at her school. She was one of the victims."
"What was her name?" Collins asked softly.
At this, Mark smiled slightly, "Mia."
They were quiet for a moment, all wrapped in their seperate thoughts. Then Maureen knelt down in front of Samantha. Mark cringed inwardly.
"Hi there, cutie. I'm Maureen. I used to know your daddy a long time ago. So how old are you?"
Samantha just looked at her for a moment, then her eyes began to wander around the restaurant. The drama queen's smile faltered slightly.
Mark snapped his fingers gently, "Samantha, look at Maureen, " the girl's gaze fell back to Maureen's face, "Now, how old are you?" he prompted, slowly and clearly.
Her blue eyes turned to him, "Five."
"Is someone a little shy?" Maureen smiled, reaching out a hand to stroke the child's auborn hair. But Samantha's eyes narrowed, and she pulled away, scowling at a very confused Maureen.
"Here, Samantha, put on your headphones," Mark instructed hastily. The girl willingly placed her music over her ears once again.
"Mark, why doesn't she like me? What's wrong with her?" Maureen asked, looking at him.
Mark felt his own eyes narrow in a very similar expression as his daughter, "There's nothing wrong with her!" he hissed angrily.
"Hey, chill man!" Jonathon said, placing a hand on his shoulder. Mark shook it off and glared at the dark-haired man. Jonathon glared right back, and Mark was the first to break eye contact.
"Sorry," he muttered, looking sheepishly at Maureen.
She shook her head, already over it, "But Mark, why doesn't she like me?"
He sighed. He hated explaining Samantha's condition. Not because he was embarrassed, but it just caused so much fuss.
"Don't take it personal, Mo. It's not that she doesn't like you. She just doesn't know you. See, she's..." he faltered, then decided there was really no way to sugarcoat it, "She's autistic. She doesn't warm up to people easily. It's nothing against you."
"She's autistic?" Roger spoke for the first time since they had met up with Mark.
The fair haired man looked at his once- best friend meaningfully. He knew why Roger was interested in Samantha's condition. The musician's younger brother Nathan had been severly autistic as well.
"Yeah," he said simply, "Actually, she inspired my latest film. About kids with autism, and their families."
"You're still filming?" Mimi asked with a smile.
"Of course!" he exclaimed in surprise, "Did you really think I'd ever stop?"
"No, not really," she laughed.
"Actually, that's why I moved back to New York," he informed them, "See, I work for a news show... don't worry, it's not half as bad as Buzzline. Anyway, they transferred me here, and I- "
"So you came back because you got transferred?" Roger said harshly. Mimi put a hand on his arm.
"Listen, Rog, I-" Mark used the old nickname without even realizing it. But Roger did.
"Don't you 'Rog' me!" he yelled, coming swiftly to stand in front of Mark, "You come back, after ten fucking years, and it's for buisness! What the hell!" Suddenly, his eyes narrowed as a thought struck him, "How long have you been in New York?"
Mark shifted uncomfortably, "It doesn't matter-"
"A month," he replied miserably.
"A month," Roger repeated in disgust, "A month, and you never bothered to find us, to even call us, let us at least know you were here!"
"SHUT UP, ROGER! You have no idea what it was like for me-"
"For YOU! Look, Mark, whatever happened to poor little old you, you brought it upon yourself!"
"You heard me! The moment you walked out that door, you were on your own! You didn't even try and call, to let us know you were alive! So don't start with all that 'my life's sad' bullshit! Whatever happened to you, it's not our problem!" Roger's hand's came up, and he shoved Mark hard. The smaller man stumbled backwards, but recovered quickly and once again came to face the furious rocker.
"That's not what I meant!" he said angrily
"Oh, then what DID you mean?" Roger spat.
Mark took a step forward, forcing Roger back, "The whole fucking way here, I couldn't stop thinking about YOU! Not my fucking company, YOU GUYS! That's why I didn't try and get a hold of you! I was scared, godamnit!"
"Of WHAT! Having to face all the crap you left behind, actually having to own up to all the shit you did!"
"NO!" This time, it was Mark who shoved his hands into the other's chest, although it didn't have as much effect, "OF FINDING OUT YOU WEREN'T THERE! You're talking about knowing if I was dead or alive! You have no clue what it was like, not knowing if it would be a stranger picking up that phone! You have no FUCKING clue, how I would have felt coming back and only finding your GRAVESTONES!"
Roger was silent for a moment, then he whispered, "You still should have come back. Maybe you shouldn't have waited ten goddamned years. Then you wouldn't have had to worry about-"
Mark brought his fist down hard on the table, making everyone jump, "DAMNIT, Roger, what the HELL could I have expected? Weren't YOU one who said to never come back?"
Roger looked at him in with a defiant expression, "And you believed me?" he said quietly.
"Of COURSE I believed you!"
"Then you've obviously forgotten a lot!" Roger growled, "I say shit when I'm angry, you know that!"
"Right, because I'm just supposed to know whenever you don't mean something! You sure as hell sounded serious! What kind of welcome could I have expected?" he inquired, looking around at each of the others.
"Mark, of course you could have come back," Mimi said.
"We're your friends! We would have forgiven you no matter what," said Maureen.
At this, Mark's eyes flashed behind his glasses, "Who says there was anything to forgive? I had to leave! This life was killing me!"
Just then, a waitress came over, most likely to find out what the problem was. But Jonathon quickly intercepted, pulling her away as he spoke quietly.
Meanwhile, Roger gave a humorless chuckle, "Oh really? What do you think it was doing to the rest of us?"
"Not like that!" Mark snapped, turning back to Roger, "I was-" suddenly, his eyes widened, then he turned away, "Fuck, I don't want to talk about this anymore."
But Collins grabbed his shoulder and spun him back around. He wasn't going to let Mark pull away now, just when they'd begun to get something out of him, "You were what?" he demanded gruffly.
"JUST FORGET IT!" Mark scowled, but the professor simply shook him slightly.
"Oh no, you don't. You're not getting away that easy! We want some answers! I think we deserve at least that much."
Mark glared at him, but Collins was not intimidated. Finally, though, his face softened and his eyes became distant, "Look, guys, I was... I was killing myself. Really. I couldn't take it anymore. I gave everything to you guys, and it just got to be too much. Every day I just... God, I just wanted it all to end. Like, every morning I wished that I hadn't even woken up," here, he looked up at them all, "Did you guys know that almost every night, I'd go up on the roof and sit on the ledge, wondering what it would be like to just jump?"
His friends all seemed to pull away, looking at him with shock.
"Mark-" Collins began.
"No, Thomas, I don't want to hear it, okay! I just... fuck." Mark suddenly found that he had no more to say, and he hung his head, "Look, guys, I have to go."
"What! No, stay!" Maureen protested.
"Why?" Mark asked, looking at her straight on. Whatever she was about to say seemed to die in her throat at his cold gaze. When did his eyes go so hard? she wondered.
"It will never be the same, Maureen, no matter how much we all want it. You said it yourself, too much happened to us all. We've gone too far to go back to how things used to be," Mark said softly, looking over each of his old friends.
No one knew what to say, but Mark interpreted their silence in his own way. He nodded sadly, then made his way over to Samantha. Through this whole thing she had sat, watching them yell. Now she stared up at her father as he gathered up their coats.
"Come on, Samantha, let's go."
Mark was just helping her with her jacket when he felt a touch on his shoulder. He turned to find himself looking into the big brown eyes of Mimi Marquez. Those eyes, the ones that had always acted as an open book, broadcasting her feelings to the world, were now looking at him with a depth of emotion he couldn't begin to vocalize.
"Mark, I don't want us to leave like this again," she said quietly. He doubted the others could hear her. Mark just shrugged, trying not to get snared in her gaze. She placed a hand on his arm, and he looked at her face again. Damnit He was caught, her expression pleading. Slowly, he straightened and, responding to the need in those eyes, pulled her into a warm embrace. He hugged her fiercly, burying his head in her long, dark hair as she squeezed him back. She smells like baby powder he noted irrelevently.
"I'm sorry," he murmered into the top of her head, "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, Mimi," the young dancer had become like a little sister to him in the months before he'd left, and he held her now as she started to cry silently into his chest. The hurt that she'd kept all this time left her now, flowing down her face to be soaked up by Mark's shirt.
The others just stood around them, not knowing what to do. Jonathon had rejoined them, and he wrapped an arm around Maureen's shoulders. Finally, Roger took a step forward and placed a hand on Mark's shoulder. The filmaker looked up at him in surprise, then allowed a small smile to form on his face as an identical one slowly appeared on Roger's own. Then the songwriter began comforting his girlfriend as well, rubbing her back and speaking soothingly. Mimi's tears ended quickly, and she disentangled herself from Mark with a slight blush.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, looking at the wet spot that had appeared on the front of Mark's shirt.
The blond just smiled, "It's okay Mimi. We really do have to go, though. Maybe I'll see you around."
He looked at Roger as he said this, almost seeming to be asking for something. Everyone felt the unspoken conversation that passed between them before Roger grinned, "Yeah. Maybe you will."
He then surprised everyone by kneeling down in front of Samantha. The small girl looked at him curiously.
"Hello there, Samantha. I'm Roger," he said, his tone one none of them had ever heard before. Soft and gentle, he spoke to her slowly, making sure to pronunciate each word carefully. He then put his hands out flat, palms up, in front of his chest.
His friends were baffled by this odd behavior. Everyone, that is, except Mark. He knew that Roger could handle himself when it came to people like Samantha, a talent none of the others had ever been made aware of.
His daughter just stared at the musician for a second, not seeming to understand. Roger waited patiently, not making any other move towards her. Finally, she placed her hands on top of his own. He smiled at her, keeping his hands flat as she curled her fingers into his palm. She then looked up at him again, "Hello."
"Hello," he answered her. She smiled and removed her hands, and Roger rose to his feet. He briefly met Mark's smiling face with his own, and then Mark and his daughter made their way out the door.