Author's Note: About four years ago, two authors - Fae and PinkElphaba - united in order to write their first Rent fic, I Should Tell You. Now, after a long break, and with slightly different pennames, we're presenting its sequel. Since it's been years since our first collaboration, we constructed this story so that it stands on its own. You don't have to be familiar with I Should Tell You in order to understand this story, but you will definitely enjoy it more if you do. You can find the link in my profile page. As before, the chapters alternate between Mark's point of view (written by me, Madame Hatter) and Maureen's (written by my partner in crime, ThexInvisiblexGirl). The story is rated T for language and adult situations and a few chapters may go higher. Please review! It's been a while since we have done any Rent fics, so we'd love to know what you think, whether you're new to this fic or whether you've read I Should Tell You before. We always encourage constructive criticism.
"Mimi, please open the door," Maureen pleaded again, for what felt like the sixteenth time. This time she tried jiggling the doorknob a bit too, but it was useless. The door was still locked. Of course it was. She had been standing in front of it for the past 15 minutes or so; she would have noticed any change.
She stared at the closed door and sighed wistfully. Somehow this day, a day that had started so perfectly in every way, had ended up terribly wrong. She should have seen this coming; she should have known it wouldn't last. Today had been too perfect. None of her previous birthdays had even come close, and it was all thanks to Mark. It was more than forgiving her and taking her back. He had definitely gone beyond himself, cooking her dinner, writing a song for her, asking her to move back in with him; at some point she began to wonder if it was actually happening. She didn't deserve to be so lucky. As screwed up as things were at the moment, she didn't mind the turn of events – this was life; these things happened. She just wished someone had given her a fair warning in advance.
The noise from the living room was hardly audible. The silence from her bedroom was piercing, nearly hurting her ears. She raised her hand, ready to knock on the door again, but changed her mind halfway. Her arm dropped to the side of her body in certain defeat.
She knew exactly when it had all gone wrong. What she didn't know yet, what she was trying – so far, unsuccessfully – to find out was the why. She honestly couldn't understand Mimi's motives to refuse Roger's marriage proposal. But it wasn't the rejection that bothered Maureen. She could identify with that bit. She shuddered inwardly as she thought back of what had happened earlier, when she thought Mark was going to propose to her in this very hallway. She remembered being terrified of his reaction, because she knew what her answer was going to be.
No; it was that look in Mimi's eyes that bothered her. She had caught it for a glimpse of a second, right before Mimi ran off and locked herself in Maureen's bedroom. She couldn't decipher her expression – heartbrokenness? Pain? Revulsion? None of them made sense on their own. Maybe it was a combination of all three, and more. But why would it upset her, why –
Two arms wrapped around her waist then, and she gasped. Thinking it would be Mark, she leaned back and closed her eyes, breathing him in, only to jump back with a start when she realized three seconds later that there was something off about his scent. She pulled away all the way now to meet Collins' amused gaze. His eyes glinted in silent apology as if he realized she had mistaken him for Mark.
"She's still in there?" he asked, nodding towards the door.
"I can't get her to open the door." She expected him to try it himself; for a second she feared he would want to kick the door down. But to her surprise, he just shook his head sorrowfully. She cocked an eyebrow. "You're not going to give it a shot?" If anyone could get Mimi out of that room, Collins was the one.
"I think it's best if we just let her be," he replied, and there was resolve in his voice. "Let's just go back to the party, Reeney," he said, wrapping an arm around her, before he steered her in the opposite direction. Oh right; the party that had gone wrong. Collins was going to Jersey the following day. The party they were throwing wasn't just for her birthday; it was a goodbye party for him as well. She tried not to linger too much on that thought though. She leaned into his embrace and glanced at the door once more before she let him pull her in the living room. She could only hope he was right.
Things seemed to have toned down since Roger stormed out. Someone had put some music on; she recognized it as one of Collins' Leonard Cohen albums. The volume wasn't high, just blending into the background noise of chatter and random clanging of glasses. There were fewer people around now, she noticed. Those who stuck around were huddled together in small groups, speaking in hissed voices in various corners of the room. Cindy was tending her kids by the window. Across the room, Mark was deep in conversation with Alex, who was standing with his back to her. Her forehead cringed in irritation, an instinctive reaction when Alex was concerned.
She still couldn't believe how easily Alex had slipped back into their lives, after running off so abruptly a few years back. And now that he was back – with his very own four-year-old son, no less – it was as if he had never left. She had never imagined Alex Meyers as a daddy before. He just wasn't the type. With his brown hair and blue eyes, and that irresistible dimple on his chin, he was every sane girl's fantasy. Fortunately for her, she saw beyond his good looks. A daddy or not, he was still a jerk. And she still despised him. She couldn't care less if he had changed.
As if sensing her eyes on them, Mark looked up just then. He flashed a smile at her – strained and tense, but a smile nonetheless. She felt her frown melt into a softer expression as she returned it. For a moment, it was as if there was no distance between them. It felt as if no one else existed. But reality was harsh, its memory taking over that brief, blissful moment. She felt sorry for him, almost. He seemed so confident about Roger's success, so much so, that she began to wonder if he had part in Roger's decision to propose. Would Roger resent him now, or blame him at his failure? Would he let it ruin their friendship?
Collins whispered an apology in her ear and joined his friends. She went into the kitchen and poured herself some milk – she couldn't have anything stronger than that just now – in a wine glass, because she'd run out of glasses. She cradled it in her hand as she leaned against the counter. She stared contemplatively at the opposite wall as she sipped her milk slowly, thoughtfully, as if it were an expensive Chardonnay.
Now that the earlier memory entered her mind, she couldn't help putting herself in Mimi's place. What if Mark did propose to her? How would she have reacted, if she were in Mimi's place? She did sort of reject Mark, when the idea of marriage did come up, but she could tell from his relieved expression that he wasn't too thrilled about the idea so she couldn't really consider it a rejection. But what if things weren't as simple? What if he shared Roger's feeling about marriage? Those were positive for sure, or he wouldn't have proposed. How would Mark accept her rejection under such circumstances?
The truth was that she was worried about them. She worried about Mimi, who was closed in that room for over an hour now, which – despite Collins' confidence – didn't seem like the most brilliant thing to do. And she worried of what Roger might do to himself because let's face it, the guy didn't respond well to not getting his way. He was sort of like her in that. She worried about Mark because whenever Roger was going through emotional shit of any kind, Mark was taking it personally. She was worried about herself because God knew she couldn't handle another desertion if Mark chose babying Roger over her again. Collins' serenity surprised her, actually. She could hear him now, roaring with laughter over something someone had said, his voice louder than anyone else's.
There was a rustling sound, like running footsteps. She opened her eyes, not even realizing she had closed them, just as Jacob, Alex's son, came to a halt in front of her. He did an involuntary step back, as if he wasn't expecting to find her standing there. He had this wide-eyed expression, as if he was scared of something.
"What's the matter, Jacob?" she asked, kneeling in front of him. "Did you lose your daddy?" God knew where Alex was; probably flirting with one of Collins' female classmates.
Jacob nodded, his bottom lip trembling. His eyes, nothing like his father's, looked huge, chocolate brown, and glistening with the beginning of tears. She felt her heart twitch. She really didn't get along with kids all that well (Mark's niece Rebecca didn't count; she was just a baby, technically not a kid yet), but his expression was heart-wrenching.
"Come on. I'll help you find him," she said, scooping him in her arms. She swayed a little as she stood up; he was heavier than she expected. He clung to her, and she found herself smiling in spite of herself. He didn't seem to like her very much before. She was sort of relieved when he didn't recoil from her now.
As she carried him out of the kitchen, new optimism washed over her. Everything would be okay. It had to be.
Maureen made the journey across the room and Mark turned his head and exhaled. It was some sight to see her carrying Jacob that way and he couldn't help but imagine maybe one day she would be making her way across their very own living room with their very own brown-eyed son. Mark knew that vision was far, far away, however, and he was perfectly content with that. He smiled and Alex caught that his friend's attention had been deferred so he looked over his shoulder just as Jacob climbed onto his back.
"Hey buddy, what's up?" Alex asked as he turned around and wrapped Jacob in his arms. Mark smiled. Alex was the only guy he knew who would call his own son "buddy" and would ask him what was up. He admired how Alex didn't have to put up a front for anyone and that he was completely comfortable with being himself. He was a good guy. Before he vanished that day of April's suicide, Mark could always count on Alex to back him up when Roger was down. All he had to do was call.
Jacob was climbing all over his dad's shoulders and Alex was struggling to keep him from falling. Maureen, of course, laughed at his expense. Just before she walked back, Mark slipped his hand in hers. She looked up and her lips curled to a smile. She squeezed, nodded as if she knew exactly what he was thinking, and left them alone.
"Stop being so fussy," said Alex, still wrestling with Jacob's resistance. He looked up at Mark and smirked. "I think he's tired."
"Nooooo tired," griped Jacob as he squirmed around. He was now hanging upside down, his legs over his father's shoulders.
"Yesssss tired. I'd put him to bed, but…" Alex looked over his shoulder to where the hallway was. "…bedroom's still occupied, huh?"
Mark's eyes followed his gaze. Even from where he was standing, he could see the bedroom door that Mimi had barricaded herself in. He could see the light peeking from beneath the door and he hoped he would be able to see a shadow pacing or anything to assure him there was still life in that room. But, it was so still it seemed like Mimi wasn't in there at all.
"The kid's a fighter," said Alex, setting his son down. He was pulling his daddy every which way. "Give me a minute?"
"Take your time," said Mark vacantly. He could have suggested for Alex to use Collins' bedroom, but his mind was still focused on Mimi. He just couldn't understand it. What was she thinking? He wouldn't have encouraged Roger at all to propose if he had even the slightest doubt she would say no. What else was going on with her? He wasn't the type to get it right every time, if ever at all, but this didn't make sense at all. He didn't think he would ever understand… Indeed, he had never been that close to death before, never experienced that moment of slipping away. It would be ridiculous to even think he could try.
What was he supposed to say to Roger? This was all too familiar. He remembered the last time Roger fell into depression. He remembered the lifelessness in his eyes, the staying in bed all day, the moodiness. He remembered the fevers and the vomiting, refilling the icepack every couple of hours and washing the sheets every night so he would be able to sleep well. And even though they starved for their art, it was when Roger refused to eat that worried him the most. It took months to convince him to see a doctor. He wouldn't have done so if Collins hadn't have come back from an out-of-state stint and kicked some sense into him. Did he really want to go through that again?
Roger was his best friend. He needed him. He couldn't just leave him alone and he knew he wasn't going to. Mark had promised Maureen earlier that he would stay the night, but after the proposal incident from hell, he just couldn't. He needs me, Mark had told Maureen, and she just nodded and walked away to mingle with the other party guests. He hoped she wasn't going to be like last time, the time when taking care of Roger meant sacrificing their relationship. Lessons were learned, their relationship was stronger now, he knew what to expect and… and Alex was back. He was just as good as Collins, always able to knock sense into hard-headed people.
He watched as Alex restrained his son from getting into people's purses and various bags set in the corner. Jacob was the spitting image of his dad. It was sort of strange seeing the former Well Hungarians' drummer as a father, but he was a good one.
"Go to Auntie Cindy, go, go," said Alex. Mark watched him make his way back to him with a book in his hand. He reached out an arm. "I was going to give this to Collins because it had his name on it, but it was in the bag Roger came in with. I should have brought more toys, Jacob's going to tear this place apart."
Shit. Roger wasn't supposed to bring the photo album. He had picked it up from the shop before heading back to his apartment to change for the party. There were supposed to be two photo albums, gifts, but the other one was still getting personalized so he needed to get that one before Collins' departure tomorrow. He had left this one on the coffee table back at the loftand didn't expect anyone to think otherwise of it.
"We're supposed to give this to him tomorrow," said Mark. "See? The art on the cover is custom-made. There are two; I'm getting the other one in the morning." He ran his fingers over the red cover. Tom Collins was big and curvy, filling the upper half. There were different collages of peace symbols, ying yangs and pieces of New York City like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
"This looks…" Alex leaned over and studied it carefully. He scratched his head, faux hawk still in tact. Mark could never get his hair as natural-looking and as shiny the way Alex did. He must have stolen products from former girlfriends or something.
"Hey, how do you…?" but he was cut off.
"Snaps! This is Snaps' work." He was grinning, almost laughing. "Snaps. Come on, Snaps, Mark, you remember her?"
She was sort of hard to forget. Snaps was also one of Roger's ex-band mates, the Well Hungarians' bassist. He didn't know her too well although she was notorious for refereeing fights between the band members. He could definitely relate. The one thing that he remembered the most was that she was kind of strange, and that was probably the understatement of the year. She had unusual habits such as yelling Vincent van Gogh in lieu of son of bitch, and chanting anti-war slogans at guys that tried to hit on her. It made him laugh. She showcased her art by painting something different on her body each day. On four different occasions, she was asked why she body-painted. Every answer was different:
"Freedom of expressing my love for art."
"The body makes for an extraordinary platform and a cheap canvas."
"My ancestors believed this would summon the Sun God."
Oh and she was notorious for one other thing: publicly turning down Alex Meyers and kneeing him in the family jewels in front of everyone at Life Café then yelling, "Meatless balls!" on the top of her lungs. Alex could never show his face in that café after that episode, but even the humiliation didn't stop him from trying to get into her pants.
"I had no idea she was still in town," said Mark, shaking his head. He looked up at Alex whose eyes were wandering around. "You knew?"
Alex smiled. "Of course I knew." Mark raised a brow and cleared his throat. It was hard to believe that Snaps actually fell for him. "No, Marky, don't your dirty little mind think that."
"You know, I'd appreciate it if you don't talk to me like I was five."
"Sorry, used to it. In fact, I keep in touch with all our band mates. I just had to, you know."
Mark nodded but looked at his feet. He didn't know much about the story of Alex running away because Roger was so secretive about it, but he had only reentered their lives a little less than a year ago. Actually, he only ever hung out with Roger and he figured that was because he was his band mate and probably his best friend as well. Mark never tried to beat himself up about it (because he had to admit, there was a faint hint of jealousy)—Alex knew he owed Roger more than an explanation, especially after leaving when he did and the way he did. And there was no doubt that that guy was going to do everything he could to earn his friend's trust back. Mark couldn't compete with that.
"Do you think Roger is going to be okay?" Alex asked quietly. Mark knew that tone in his voice; he had heard it many times before, that subtle hum of worry, whenever they were concerned about their friend.
"I hope so," said Mark, and this time, possibly the first time, with a little more confidence.