A/N: People are so ignorant, you guys…it's starting to get on my nerves. You know what I'm talking about. Anyway, this is going to end up being sort of drabble-ish…but I like it.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own RENT…*Tear*

The Photograph

Isobel Lopez entered a coffee shop near the campus of NYU. It was February and snowing very badly, so she was glad to retreat into the sanctuary that was Starbucks. As she reached the door, someone on the inside opened it for her and she smiled at him. He was older than her by probably six years, her being nineteen, but he was nice-looking. Tall, African-American, with a face that was more than easy on the eyes. She said, "Thanks so much."

"No problem," he replied. "It's freezing out there."

"Tell me about it," she giggled, glancing around the coffee shop. It was positively packed from wall-to-wall and there was a line of about fifteen people at the counter. She removed her yellow scarf and sighed, "Busy."

"Looks like," he agreed.

She stared at him for a moment before laughing and saying, "Where are my manners? I'm Isobel Lopez. Nice to meet you."

"Tom Collins," he replied.

"Wow," she snorted. "My mom likes those."

"Oh?" he laughed. "Yeah, well, mine did too. That's how I ended up with it as a name."

She giggled.

"So, what brings you to NYU, Isobel?" Tom asked friendlily.

Figuring this was his way of asking what her major was, she said, "I'm studying for a veterinary degree. I'm in my second year." She blinked back at him. By the looks of him—bohemian clothing, a mischievous smirk to his face, and an abstract glint to his eyes, she had to figure he did something along the lines of creative arts. He just had the look of an artistic person. "What about you? I'm guess acting or something else artsy-fartsy?" She'd never really had much respect for people who tried to make their livings with the arts. It just didn't seem practical to her.

"Do you consider philosophy artsy-fartsy?" Tom responded.

Isobel shrugged. "It's one of the more abstract, pointless curriculums, isn't it?"

"Touche, my friend, but it's quite…useless," laughed Tom. "I mean, you can't really go out and do anything with it. But you can teach, and I like doing that."

"Oh, you're not a student?" asked Isobel.

"No," said Tom. "I'm a professor. And before you asked, I skipped a few grades and graduated early. I am as young as I look, but I'm a very smart twenty-five."

"Hmm," Isobel hummed. "That's cool." As they talked, the line had slowly progressed and it was now his turn at the counter. "Uhm, it's your turn."

"Oh," he said, stepping up to the counter and telling the barista on the other side that he wanted a mocha with whipped cream. When he paid, something fell out of his wallet. When she realize he hadn't seen it fall, Isobel picked it up for him. As she had never been known for her respecting of people's privacy, she looked at the picture. Her eyes widened.

That was her brother in that picture. Her brother, cuddling on a sofa with the man, Tom, who'd she'd been talking to. Though it had been more than five years since she'd laid eyes on him – since she was fourteen and he was sixteen – she knew it could be no one but him. He hadn't changed much, and she recognized the features immediately. The big, soft brown eyes, short hair, skin color the exact same shade at hers. Yes; it couldn't be anyone but her older brother Angelo.

Shakily, she forgot ordering and followed Tom to where he went to the other side of the counter to wait. She handed him the photo and demanded, "Who are you?"

"What do you mean?" he asked, looking at the picture. Oh. Him and Angel. He sighed; this girl was probably a homophobe. "Tom Collins, Philosophy professor, gay, in a committed relationship, yes this is my partner and I. What part of this disgusts you? Can I take a guess and win a prize?"

Isobel let out a breath and pointed at Angelo. "This—the guy in the picture with you. He's my older brother."

Tom's head shot up and stared at her in astonishment. "Angel's your brother?"

"Angel?" she asked. "What the fuck are you talking about? His name is Angelo." She didn't know why she was so offended by this man whom apparently loved her brother. She had a suspicion it was unconscious jealousy that he'd been spending more time with her brother than she had. But none of that mattered. All that mattered was how she'd ended up in the same coffee shop as her excommunicated brother's apparent lover.

"Well, he goes by Angel," he said.

"Uhm…no," said Isobel, getting angry now. Why would Angelo change his name to something so strange? "His name is Angelo. Angelo Jorge Lopez."

"He goes by Angel Dumott Schunard now," he said softly. "She does, actually. You haven't talked to him in years, have you?"

"No," she said. "But…but he's the one that left me!" she was getting pissed and hysterical now. For some reason, everything this guy said was sounding like a threat to her. "Not the other way around! I trusted him, and he just…he just left." Why was she telling him this? Then Isobel demanded, "She? What the fuck?"

"She's a cross-dresser, Isobel," he said. "Your brother is a cross-dresser."

"No!" she said. "No, he's not!" Every presumption she'd ever had about what had become of her brother came crashing down around her. That he was somewhere where he could be happy, with a girlfriend or wife, and maybe even a baby. And that someday she'd find him and she could become Aunt Isobel to his children and be best girlfriends with his wife…no, none of that was happening. And the realization that her fantasies were just that was almost too much for her to handle.

"Yes, Isobel, she is," said Tom, taking her shoulders. "It's okay, I know it's a shock, and…"

"Don't touch me you faggot!" Isobel hissed. His hands flung back away from her as if her skin had scolded him, and he glared at her. She immediately felt remorse. She turned her head down, ashamed, and whispered, "I'm sorry. I just…I just can't handle this. We're Catholic, this is…this just isn't right! He's not supposed to do this! He's supposed to follow The Lord's ex—"

"Please don't finish that sentence," begged Tom. "Please? I've heard enough of it, and trust me, so has Angel."

"Angelo," she muttered under her breath.

"Angel," Tom insisted. "It's who she is, Isobel."

Isobel looked up and stared at Tom. She asked, "Why are you talking to me like that? Like you're trying to reassure me."

"Because you're obviously in distress and your brother is my lover," he said. She flinched at the word 'lover', but didn't make it obvious. "I feel like I have obligation to make sure you're alright."

"Well I'm fine," Isobel sighed. "I just…I never wanted to find him this way. I'm not really sure if finding out this is what he is…it better than never seeing him again, at all."

"It's gotta be," said Tom. "At least you know she's alive…and marginally healthy."


"AIDS, Isobel," he said.

She gasped and her head sprang up, tears in her eyes. She moaned, "NO!" and wailed in the back of her throat, sinking to the ground. Several people stared and one especially kind older woman asked Tom, "Is she alright?"

"She's just gotten a shock," Tom replied. He took Isobel by the arm gently and said, "Come on, Isobel. Come outside if you don't want to make a scene." His coffee had completely escaped his mind.

A sobbing Isobel followed Tom out of the shop and to one of the chairs outside for people to drink their coffee in warm weather on. He awkwardly patted her back and said, "It'll be okay."

"No it wooon't!" she wailed, her face in her hands. "A-Angelo…AIDS?!" Angelo was her favorite brother. She had two others, but no one had ever entered her heart as fully as he.

"Isobel, listen," Tom said. "You've gotta listen to me. Yes, Angel has AIDS, and yes, unfortunately, she's probably going to die sometime in the next ten years. But she's not dead right now, and probably won't be tomorrow. Take comfort in that because it could be so much worse."

She sighed and wiped her eyes.

"And I have AIDS too," said Tom. "We try to help each other."

Isobel stared at him and said, "Did you give it to him?"

"Huh?" asked Tom. "Did I give him what?"

"Did you give my brother AIDS you asshole?" she ground out in a dangerous voice. She knew she was grinding out at the only person who was trying to comfort her. But her mind was in overdrive and her mouth was on autopilot. And when Isobel Lopez got angry, she swore and swore like a sailor.

"No," he said. "No, no, no. Angel had AIDS before I met him."

She sighed shakily. "Does he know how long he's had it?"

"Since she was seventeen."

Isobel sobbed. "He left home at sixteen."

"I'm sorry," whispered Tom.

They sat in silence for several minutes and Isobel began to calm down and see things in a proper light. Angelo was in New York, alive, and as Tom had said, marginally healthy. He was apparently in a good relationship, though one she couldn't really approve of as a devote Catholic. But this man Angelo was in love with was very nice, so she couldn't help but feel glad.

"Isobel," said Tom. "I really love your brother. And I plan to love her for a really, really long time. I promise I'll take care of her."

Isobel stared at him for a moment and when she didn't respond for several moments, Tom prompted, "Okay?"

"Okay," Isobel agreed.

"Do you want to talk to her, or anything?" asked Tom. "Come back to our apartment? I'm sure she'd be ecstatic to see you. I think she's actually mentioned you a few times."

"No," said Isobel. "Not now. I couldn't handle it."

"Well, do you want our number?" asked Tom.

"No, because I wouldn't trust myself not to give it to our parents and he…she wouldn't want that." She use of the pronoun "she" accompanied a facial flinch, but once again Tom either didn't notice or chose not to care.

"Well…are you planning on having any communication at all?" asked Tom. There was no reason to just throw away an opportunity to reconnect like that.

"I know where the philosophy department is," said Isobel. "I'll find you when and if I get enough courage up."

"Well…can I at least tell her I ran into you?" asked Tom.

"You can," said Isobel. "If you think you can explain to him why you didn't bring me back to the apartment."

"I think I can figure out a way," Tom said, standing up. "I hope you work up that courage, Isobel. And that you feel better." He then started to walk back into the coffee shop to get his coffee.

"Uhm, Tom?" said Isobel.

Tom looked back and raised an eyebrow in question.

"Tell Angelo…Tell Angel…that Issy loves him," Isobel whispered. "So, so much."

End Story

A/N: I hope you guys found this original. I wanted to make Isobel's character…someone who you weren't sure if you liked a lot or not, but ended up liking in a way in the end. I hope I accomplished that and I didn't just make a blubbering, ignorant idiot.