A/N: After a case of writer's block I first thought incurable, I'm back with my latest RENT fic. Hip-hip-hooray!!! Read and review, if ya'd like.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of it. But I'd like to take a moment--since I don't own any of it--to thank not only Jonathan Larson ('cause he does own all of it) but also to all of the various casts who have given us RENT, whose likenesses we writers employ. As much credit goes to them.
Okay, enough rambling. Here we go...
Mark learns to appreciate the springtime. Post-RENT. Mark/Maureen. MoJo.
Every day was a struggle to even get out of bed. Mark Cohen no longer saw the reason. Not since they'd left. Roger had been the last to go, the worst by far. Mark clearly remembered watching his best friend die--watching all of them die. And watching a part of himself die with them. More than a month ago. Now, he hung around the empty loft, realizing that he probably should leave, but never would. There were too many memories, both good and bad. It was spring, now. The snow had almost completely melted away, making the world outside his window brighter and more cheerful. But his world was marred with the sting of losing four people he'd loved so much. Roger's guitar stood in the corner, untouched, as if waiting for its owner to come and pick it up. The very sight drove him to the verge of tears. Because he wasn't coming back. None of them were. Not Roger, not Mimi, not Collins, not Angel. And that very thought became more than he could stand. Above the sound of his own sobs, Mark heard the answering machine.
SPEAK! it intoned. Another reminder of his roommate. Mark vowed to one day change the message.
"Pookie, are you there? It's Maureen," the voice on the other end said. "Listen…I was wondering if maybe you'd like to meet me for lunch? Mark, you can't stay inside forever. So what do you say? If you don't answer, I'll just have to come over there and get you myself." Click. She hung up, and Mark began thinking again. He didn't want to see her. He didn't want to see anyone. What he wanted more than anything, he realized, was to hear Roger pluck out Musetta's Waltz, or to hear Collins lecture about his latest ridiculous theory, or to see Mimi dance, or to hear Angel laugh. Just one more time. But deep inside, he knew it would never happen…
"Damn it!" Maureen growled, slamming the telephone receiver down.
"What's the matter, Honeybear?" Joanne questioned, concerned by the look of frustration on the diva's face.
"Nothing, Pookie. I'm just--I'm really worried about Mark. He hasn't left the loft since…" She could hardly bring herself to say it. "Since Roger died. And I wish there was some way I could help him." The lawyer put her arm around her lover's shoulders.
"I know you do, sugar. But there's really nothing you can do for him. He just needs to grieve in his own way, in his own time."
"But he shouldn't be alone," Maureen protested. "It's a nice day--maybe I can get him to go out with me." Joanne raised an eyebrow. The other quickly realized the error in the statement. "No, silly. Get Mark to go to the park or something. Hey--Mark, park--that rhymes." Both laughed at the randomness of it all. "You come, too."
"Can't--I've gotta work. But tell him hi for me."
"I will." Kissing her girlfriend goodbye, Maureen went to find her ex.
And she found him--sprawled out on the tattered sofa, staring intently up at the ceiling.
"Uh…what're you doing?" she questioned.
"Nothing," the filmmaker replied flatly. "Why're you here?"
"To see if you wanted to grab some lunch, maybe go the Life."
"Come on, Marky…"
"No, Maureen. And don't call me that." She sighed, exasperated. This wasn't going to be easy.
"Please? For me?" Maureen questioned, making the puppy-dog eyes she used on him all the time when they were dating. Mark could never resist them, and neither could Joanne.
"No!" Finally, she'd had enough. This wasn't the Mark Cohen she knew, this was someone totally different. And he needed to go away. As fast, and as far, as humanly possible.
"Mark!" she snapped, pulling him to his feet, "this shit's gotta stop! You're not the only one who lost your friends! I did! Joanne did! Hell, Mark, even Benny did! You can't just give up, Pookie. You can't. I won't let you."
"You don't get it, Maureen," he shot back. "You don't know what it's like…you never sat there and held your best friend as he went through heroin withdrawal, and then five years later held his hand as he took his last breaths--you just don't know…" Mark's voice trailed off, knowing that if he said another word, he'd begin to cry again. It was quiet for a moment.
"And what'd you tell him?" Maureen finally asked. "What did you tell Roger those nights he was going through withdrawal? When he was shivering in your arms, what did you say to him?" She knew, having bore witness to several of Roger's "bad days."
"I--I told him that I wasn't gonna leave him, and that--everything was going to be okay," he managed. She nodded.
"Well, I'm not gonna leave you, Marky. Not until you're you again. And things will be okay, I promise you they will be. We've just gotta take it one day at a time."
"No day but today," he whispered, repeating the Life Support mantra.
"Right--and today is a perfect day for getting out of this God-forsaken apartment. So come on." He gave her a small smile.
"If I go, will you stop bugging the hell out of me?" She grinned seductively.
"Maybe--that's for you to find out." And reluctantly, the pair left the loft together.
The bright sunlight hurt Mark's eyes as he and his ex-girlfriend left the darkness of the building and started down the street.
"Happy now?" he snarled.
"Yup," came the happy answer. They walked on. Up ahead was the Life Café, a favorite hangout of the local bohemians. Mark noticed his hands begin to shake as he got closer. This place, too, was filled with memories. Ones he wasn't ready to face--not without his friends.
"I'm sorry, Mo," he said, turning away, "I can't go in there. Not yet." Maureen shrugged her shoulders.
"That's okay, Marky." He was too tired to protest the nickname.
"It's like--I'd almost be expecting to see them, you know?" She nodded.
"I know. But we don't have to go if you don't wanna. We'll try again another day. But for now, why don't we…"
"Go home?" Mark's voice was hopeful.
"No! Go to the park!" The man rolled his eyes as she dragged him into Tompkins Park. It was full of people. Children were playing, people were having picnics, and several more were planting trees.
"What's with the trees?" he asked himself. The question was answered by a young man that was handing out flyers.
"Today's Arbor Day, friends. We're looking for volunteers to help replant some trees. It's really easy, and fun, too! Just dig a hole, and stick the sapling in. Plant as many as you'd like." Mark shook his head and began to walk away.
"No thanks." Maureen yanked his arm and brought him back.
"What do you mean, no thanks?! This sounds like a blast! Come on!"
"I'm not much for digging holes."
"Mark, you know the little boy in you is totally turned on by the idea of playing in the dirt. Now let's go." As hard as it was to admit, the whole idea did sound kind of fun.
"Fine." Each grabbed a sapling and a shovel. As Mark jammed the shovel blade into the soft earth, he smiled. Maybe this wasn't so bad. In no time, both trees were planted, not too far away from each other.
"There," Maureen declared, "that's your tree, and that's my tree." At length, she went to grab another one.
"What're you doing?"
"Planting another one--for Joanne." The statement struck Mark, and he thought. Soon, eight little trees stood together.
"One for each of us," he explained. "You, me, Joanne, Mimi, Roger, Collins, Angel…and Benny."
"And Benny," she repeated, smiling. "That's great, Marky." He sighed heavily.
"I don't know…" he started, "how I'm gonna get through this. It's like--four little pieces of my heart are just gone, now. They were more than just my best friends, Maureen--they were my family. Roger and I were brothers." His voice was becoming lower and more desperate with every word.
"I know, Mark. And I feel the same way. I mean, we all lived in the same house, for God's sake. But you know what, we've got each other. And I can't do this without you."
"Me neither." As they embraced, both promised to be as strong as they could--not for themselves, but for the other. And for Benny and Joanne, too. "Know what the cool thing is," Mark mused as they made their way back to the loft, "those trees back there--they'll stand forever, if you let 'em. So that's kind of how it should have been, I guess. Together forever, you know?"
"Absolutely." He smiled.
"Thanks, Maureen. I actually had a pretty good time."
"I told you so." Before they parted ways, he gave her a soft kiss on the cheek--more of a reward than any of it.
"So how'd it go with Mark today?" Joanne asked her partner as they lay in bed that night.
"Good. He wasn't too thrilled at first, but then we went to the park and planted trees for Arbor Day. I think it really benefited him to get out. But he's still really upset."
"As he should be."
"He really misses them--especially Roger."
"I believe it." For a minute, Maureen allowed herself to remember. The night of her protest, everyone dancing on tables, and making fools of themselves in the café. The following Christmas, watching Mark's movie. Both times together, both times happy.
"It's not fair, Pookie," she finally spat, feeling the tears sting her eyes.
"I know it's not, Honeybear," Joanne said softly as the other woman snuggled closer, seeking the comfort she so readily gave their friend.
The next few days were rainy. Mark was threatened to be driven mad by the silence that echoed through the loft. It was this boredom that drove him to pull out the projector and some of his old films. First came the Old Days. Mark, Roger, April, Benny, Collins, and Maureen. All of them looked young and healthy. They talked and laughed in inaudible words. Reel by reel passed, and eventually the Old Days reached their end.
The next set of footage was Benny's wedding to Alison Grey of the Westport Grey's. From the front pew, the camera caught the whole thing. Groomsmen Collins and Roger looked unusually somber. They strongly disliked Alison, convinced that she would morph their pal Benny into yuppie scum. And soon enough, there it was--their first kiss as a married couple--the kiss of death, as Collins would come to call it. And that was the beginning of the end.
Not much could be found from 1989. That was largely the bad year. April's death and Roger's diagnosis and heroin withdrawal had kept Mark busy, far too preoccupied to film much. But 1990 was where the Glory Days began.
Angel and Mimi had become two welcome additions to the circle, adding a ridiculous amount of estrogen to every shot they were in. All of them, together for one night. At the Life after Maureen's show, paying their last respects to bohemianism. Watching, Mark felt like crying, but couldn't--there were no more tears left. So instead, he laughed. Alone, he laughed like a maniac. He laughed for all the absurd, obscene conversations, for all the arguments, the break-ups, the make-ups, he laughed until breathing became difficult. He laughed because it was the only thing he could do.
Each passing day saw things go smoother, if only a little more so. He'd become accustomed to his roommates not being there whenever he walked through the door. Mark had even made a habit of going to lunch with Maureen at the Life Cafe--even to the point where Joanne became suspicious. So they invited her along, sometimes. One summer afternoon, though, he back-peddled a bit.
"What's going on, Mark?" Joanne questioned when he seemed despondent.
"Rough night," was the only answer he gave. "This is gonna sound crazy, but I kept hearing Musetta's Waltz. And I was sure--I was so damn sure--that Roger was sitting out in the living room, playing his guitar. So I got up, and he wasn't there. No one was." The two women exchanged a glance.
"I've got something to show you," Maureen said, taking his hand, "come on." Not in the mood to argue, he followed along as she led him to the park.
"What is it?" he asked.
"You'll see." The three of them finally came to a stop in front of a cluster of trees.
"So what?" Mark scoffed, "trees…"
"These are the trees we planted, remember? Now take a closer look." He looked closer. On one of them, there was a set of initials: MC.
"Maureen, why did you carve my initials on this tree?" She grinned.
"One for each of us." It finally sank in, and Mark examined each of the plants. Sure enough, seven other initials were there. "So what do you think?" Mark took another look. There were little hearts around the ones reading RD, MM, TC, and AS. That struck him as slightly odd.
"What's with the hearts around Roger, Mimi, Angel, and Collins?"
"You once told me that losing them made you feel like four pieces of your heart were gone--so there they are." Now Mark was truly speechless.
"I--" he started, unsure how to finish. Even Joanne had nothing to say; she hadn't known about Maureen's little scheme, but she could clearly see the effect of it. It was all in the smile that broke over Mark's face. "Thank you," he finally managed.
"Together forever," came the reply. "That's kind of how it should have been."
"And that's how it's going to be," she affirmed. It was quiet for a minute. "Kinda makes you have a new outlook, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." From then on, Mark resolved to have a new attitude, or at least try. So maybe he didn't have all of his friends, but he did have memories and such. And that would last so much longer than any person could. Memories--much like trees--would stand forever, if he'd let them.