With Both Your Hands
The door was open.
Roger found that strange because he was certain he'd closed it before going out. He slid in, certain that he would find the loft in disarray, the couch overturned or the contents of drawers spilled across the floor. Some sign of a robbery.
But everything seemed to be as he had left it.
What did they have worth stealing anyway?
"Mark?" Roger called as he stripped off his jacket and tossed it onto the back of the couch. "Mark?"
It wasn't possible that his roommate had gone out; Mark had said that he didn't have any plans today. "Mark?"
Mark's bedroom was empty, as was the bathroom.
Perhaps he had gone out to get food, but Mark would never have left the door open. He was too cautious.
Roger felt an inexplicable panic rising inside of him as moved down the hall toward his own room.
He pushed open the door.
Mark's body lay crumpled on the floor. His hair was matted with blood and his eyes stared at the ceiling, but saw nothing. Roger could see where the bullet had entered Mark's forehead and gone out the other side.
The bullet itself rolled across the floor toward him; it seemed to be encased in ruby glass. Roger was surprised to find that the red coating rubbed off on his fingers when he lifted the bullet up.
Shock gave way to realization, and Roger fell to his knees and screamed, because it was the only thing he could do.
Mark was jolted awake by the sound of Roger screaming. It had happened before; by now it was a reflex to jump out of bed, throw the door open, and run to his best friend's bedside.
Roger had stopped screaming by the time Mark arrived. Mark found him sweat-soaked and crumbled on the ground amidst the tangle of bed sheets.
"Rog?" coaxed Mark, standing in the doorway.
Roger raised haunted eyes. For awhile, he didn't say anything; he didn't seem to register Mark's presence. A few more moments of staring, however, finally led to recognition and relief washing over Roger's face.
"Mark…" Roger whispered. "Nothing… just a bad dream."
Mark nodded and offered him a consoling smile. "Breakfast?"
"We have breakfast?"
Mark laughed as he extended a hand, helping Roger to his feet. "Nah."
Mark was beginning to feel uneasy. Roger was watching him out of the corner of his eye, as if Mark was a ghost he was certain would disappear. All day, his best friend had seemed skittish and clingy. He'd followed Mark from room to room, appearing all together like a lost puppy.
"Roger?" Mark finally asked when he had finally become fed up with the stalking. "You okay?"
Roger seemed startled by the question, or by the sound of Mark's voice; he wasn't quite certain which. "Fine." Roger said. "Why?"
Mark shrugged as is he had no real motivation for asking the question. "Just remembered that I never asked you what your dream was about."
Roger turned his head away from Mark for the first time all day.
Mark sighed. It had been awhile since Roger had had one of his dark Roger moments; maybe one was overdue. The filmmaker dropped onto the couch. It was around midday; the light spilling into the loft brightened the mood and made both friends more comfortable as Roger sank down beside Mark.
"Mark," said Roger, avoiding eye contact. "Have you ever had a nightmare so real that you wake up and are afraid that you're still in hell?"
Elusive, thought Mark. "Yeah." He replied softly.
Roger bit his lip. Words were slick in his throat, but his mouth was so dry that it made it hard for him to speak. "It's not supposed to end like that." He managed.
"What?" Mark wasn't sure if he'd heard correctly.
"I dreamed… I dreamed you were dead. There was nothing I could do. Your eyes were so hollow and there was blood in your hair. Mark… I… I couldn't live without you." Roger was trying so hard to hold back tears that he was shaking.
Mark reached out his hand and hesitantly draped it around the other man's shoulders, like a coat that didn't quite fit.
He wasn't quite sure what to say. "Um… well… you know… it's just a dream, Roger. I'm not really going anywhere."
You might not have a choice in the matter, Roger thought, but he nodded as the two disengaged. "Yeah. I know. It just scared the hell out of me."
Mark thought Roger would stop there. He prayed Roger would stop there. But, as usual, the world was oblivious to what Mark Cohen wanted.
"I mean, I never think about the possibility of you not being here. Everything would seem so out of place. Losing your best friend…wow… I just never thought about it."
Every word was hurting Mark more and more, pushing him like tears were pushing against his eyes now.
He stood hurriedly, keeping his eyes turned away from Roger. "So about that breakfast…"
"It's noon, Mark."
"No food, Mark."
"Oh…um… life café, then?"
"No money, Mark."
"Fuck." Mark grumbled and sank back down on the couch, out of excuses. His stomach was so empty it was twisted in a knot, but it was nothing compared to the tangle of his mind.
Roger had no desire for the conversation to be over, Mark could tell by the way he pressed a finger to his lips, to keep the words in.
Mark hoped he wouldn't say anything else. He sat on the edge of the couch, trying to be put physical and emotional distance between himself and Roger.
But, no such distance was to be had.
"I know that it's unreasonable, but I've never considered what I would do without you." Roger whispered.
Mark felt something snap inside of him. "Stop it! Just stop it, Roger! Maybe it's unreasonable for you, but I face the reality of living without you every damn day! Don't you get it?! I'm living your fucking nightmare!"
He strode away from a numb, expressionless Roger. He went to the door, leaving even his camera behind.
"Where're you going?" Roger asked hesitantly.
"To see if I can get any cheap food to fill this hellhole. You know, to keep us alive. Even though there's no point anymore."
He slammed the door behind him. He had no intention of going for food. He only hoped to lose himself in the glaring summer sunlight, to melt onto the sidewalk and let his living nightmare fall through the cracks.
Mark didn't come back until long after dark.
He wandered the streets, seemingly becoming the ghost Roger had thought him to be.
All around him, the city swam with visions. He seemed to see Roger's face reflected in every opaque store window. He believed he heard the man's voice over the New York roar. He felt Roger's hand on his shoulder, and turned only to find it was a stranger on the subway who had stepped too close.
The heat was fading fast, slipping out of the pavement and drifting off into the night. The street lights came on, and it was only then that Mark realized how late it was. He was beginning to wonder if maybe he had wandered too far and he would never be able to find his way back to the comfort of the loft.
But, as always, he somehow found his way through the jumble of New York streets and back into the loft just as the city cleared of business men heading home and was reclaimed by a different breed of person.
Each night, New York was reclaimed by the young, looking for excitement, and the hopeless, looking for an escape.
Mark needed an escape, but he wasn't about to find it in an empty syringe or at the bottom of a bottle.
Aimless, he returned. His wanderings led him back to the loft as always. He couldn't get away—he would never be able to.
Roger was sitting in the darkness when Mark came home. He wondered if the other man had even moved since he'd gone out.
Mark bit his lip. What he should say? Should he say anything at all?
Their friendship was a silent one. It had come about without words; mutely it had become an integral part of each of them. Mark thought it was best that they kept silent, hoping that if they never spoke words of love, then perhaps when the blow of parting came, it might be easier to bear.
"You're still there," said Mark. He reached to switch on a light, but held back. The darkness felt right.
He noticed that Roger's hands were full. The shapeless shadow the songwriter held emitted a few resonant chords that served as Roger's reply.
Mark, unsure of what to say, began to make his way to his bedroom. He had almost left the main room of the loft when Roger's voice reached out to him.
"You were gone for a few hours," said Roger, following up with words with some more gentle guitar notes. "Gives a guy a lot of time to think."
Mark sighed and leaned against a wall. "And what did you think about, Roger?"
The first few notes of Musetta's Waltz drifted up between them. Roger seemed oddly at peace; in the dim light, Mark though he even saw a small smile on the songwriter's face.
Finally, the guitar fell silent, and Roger spoke.
"I thought about the dream again, and how when I woke up, you were there. I was reminded that it was a bad nightmare and that you would always be there."
Mark didn't say anything. He felt hollow inside and watched the floor, letting his eyes burn holes in it.
He only lifted his eyes when he heard Roger laid the guitar onto the couch. He looked up and two gazes met. Mark was surprised at the compassion he saw in Roger; rarely had his best friend exhibited such an expression of understanding and calm.
"So when I'm gone," continued Roger, trapping Mark with his stare. "It's just gonna be the other way around, isn't it?
"Close your eyes and I'll be there. It'll just be a bad nightmare, and I'll always be there."
Mark looked away, frozen. It was true. It was so true that he couldn't take it. He felt tears building up, sobs trying to pressure their way through his throat. His emotions were strong and confused enough to keep him rooted to the spot.
Distantly, he heard the creak of the couch as Roger stood up. Footsteps followed. Mark was aware of Roger a few feet away from him; a few inches away from him. When Roger embraced him, Mark limply raised his arms to return the gesture. The contact was brief, but enough the pull a few of the silent tears out of Mark's eyes.
"Fuck," said Mark as they drifted apart, his voice broken even as he tried to smile. He wiped away some of the moisture with the back of his hand. "I need time to sort this out."
"Fuck sorting things out," retorted Roger. "By the time you sort out that twisted Mark brain of yours, the sun will have exploded and everyone will be dead except for the cockroaches."
"You know…what they say…about the sun and the cockroaches…"
Mark didn't let Roger finish the thought. He put his arms around his best friend fiercely this time.
"You're right," Mark breathed into Roger's ear. "Thank you…I love you."
"I love you too, man. Thanks for being there when I woke up."
Two pairs of hands pressed hard in that embrace. Both men held on because they knew now that the other could be gone any moment. Either could break; both were fragile and precious, as was their friendship.
It wasn't over yet. Maybe it never had to be.
Hold a true friend with both your hands.