I'm not sure what came over me here. I never planned on writing a RENT story, and I never do sad stuff, but this idea hit me out of nowhere and I had to write it. And now I know why I don't write stuff like this. It depresses me. But I think this turned out pretty well, so I hope you like it.
"This isn't something you get better from, Mark."
March 7, 1998
Mark Cohen stepped out of the cold New York air and into the lobby of Agnes St. Cross Hospital.
He walked hesitantly through the lobby, unsure of where to go, and eventually made his way to the elevators. He took them up to the fifth floor, found room 515, and entered the room.
Roger Davis smiled in greeting as Mark made his way over to the bed.
"Hey. Weren't you just in here?"
Mark smiled. "I don't have much better to do."
He looked so weak lying there. A lot worse than when they'd first brought him here.
"How're you holding up?" Mark asked.
"I've been better."
He tried to sit up, but only managed to prop himself up slightly.
"Listen," he said. "We need to talk."
"About what's going to happen when I die."
Mark felt his heart sink. "You mean if."
"No. I don't."
"Come on, Roger. Don't talk like that. You can get better. You-"
"This isn't something you get better from, Mark," Roger cut in, then broke into a fit of coughs. When they subsided, he paused, then went on weakly, "I've accepted death, Mark. The only thing I'm worried about is-"
Roger's six-year-old, a curly-haired angel whom Mark adored. Her birthday was two weeks away.
"With Mimi gone," Roger went on, "When I die, she'll be alone." He looked over at Mark and grinned weakly. "I was hoping your current babysitting job could become permanent."
Mark blinked. "You really want me to-"
"Please, Mark. She loves you. She'll need you."
Mark's mind had been made up from the start. "Of course I will."
Roger smiled again, closing his eyes and relaxing back onto the bed. "…Thank you."
They talked a little longer about anything they could think of. Then, as it got late, Mark promised to return again and left.
And while Mark did visit again, it seemed as though Roger carried out his final duty that day.
He died two weeks later on March 23, 1998.
It was Angela's birthday.
"Can I go to Heaven too?"
April 5, 1998
"Uncle Mark?" Angela said as she played with her doll, "When is Daddy coming home?"
It was the question Mark had been expecting, and the question he did not want to answer.
"Uh," he said, searching for an explanation, "He, uh…" He sighed, giving up. "Listen…we better have a talk."
He walked over and sat down on the couch, motioning for Angela to do the same. She crawled up onto his lap. As she looked up at him with earnest eyes, he tried to find a place to start.
"Ang…Your dad…he's not…he's not coming home."
If the news was shocking, she didn't show it.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because he…well, he's not here with us anymore, Ang. He's in heaven."
The remark, so simply stated, caught Mark off-guard. He looked down at the little girl. She looked back at him.
"Yeah," he said, "With Mommy."
"Can I go to heaven too?"
Again, Mark was caught off-guard. "I think you've got a while to go before you have to go there, honey."
"But Mommy and Daddy are there. Why can't I go too?"
She was too young to understand. She didn't know what she was saying. Mark told himself this, but her words still broke his heart. And he didn't know how to explain this.
He hugged her, pulling her close.
"Not yet," he said, "But someday."
"I miss them," she said quietly, snuggling into his chest.
"You won't go to heaven too, will you, Uncle Mark?"
He looked down at her, surprised.
"Promise," she said. "Promise you won't ever go to heaven without me."
There was no way he could make a promise like that. He couldn't be sure to keep it. He didn't want to keep it.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I promise."
"At least now you know."
September 19, 2000
Mark had been closer to Joanne than ever in the past couple years. It was hard to believe they had once been hostile towards each other. Collins was rarely around anymore, and with Roger gone, Mark didn't have many people to talk to. And while he loved Maureen, he had long ago learned that if he needed someone to confide in, Joanne was the better choice. And lately, he'd needed to confide a lot.
Angela was doing fine, all things considered. But there was one thing that worried him. He finally voiced his concerns to Joanne one day.
"I've heard people say the virus can pass from parents to children."
"And you think she might have it."
"I'm not sure."
"Well, the possibility's there, Mark," she said. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. They do testings for free-"
"No. I mean, if you find out she has it."
He paused. "I…haven't thought about it."
"You might want to."
"I know. I just wanted to wait until we know something for sure."
A few days later, Mark took Angela to the doctor. Out of earshot, he explained the situation, and they ran the test without telling Angela what it was for.
A few weeks later, Mark got the results.
"Well," Joanne said as she read over the results, "At least now you know." She handed the paper back to him. "I'm sorry, Mark. That girl's been through more than enough already."
Mark was out of it for the next few days. He felt horrible for Angela. But at the same time, he thought about himself, too. He had lost Mimi the same way she had. And then Roger. And if Angela died, he would be all alone. He didn't know whether he could handle losing her.
It was a selfish way of looking at it, and he felt even worse for it, but he couldn't help it.
"Look on the bright side," Joanne said one day, "She hasn't had any problems with it yet. She's still healthy…considering."
It was meant to be comforting, but it didn't help much.
Mark didn't want to have to keep his promise.
"I like movies to be realistic."
June 17, 2003
Angela was out of school for the summer, and Mark had decided they would spend the day in Central Park.
She was twelve now, and growing up fast. Her health was still holding out for the most part, and yet, Mark was beginning to notice a decline. It was nothing obvious, but the signs were there. Each cold took longer to fight off, trips to the doctor became more frequent.
But Mark tried not to think of these things. He focused on the positives, as Joanne had advised him to do. Angela was a pleasure to be around, and she was a good student in school. She had inherited her father's golden hair and sense of humor and her mother's frail beauty and brown eyes. In her, Mark saw them both, and that made him happier than he had been in a long time. A few weeks ago she had seen her father's old guitar sitting unused in a corner or their apartment. She was planning on using the summer to teach herself to play.
Today, however, there was a picnic to be had.
They packed sandwiches and coca-colas to take with them. And long after the food was gone, they found themselves lying in the cool grass in the shade of a large tree. Mark heard Angela shift beside him.
"You know what I want to be when I grow up?"
"A rock star?" he joked. "You have to learn to play first."
She laughed. "That's not what I was thinking. What I really want to be is an actress."
"Film, huh?" Mark said, grinning. "Can't say I disapprove of that."
She giggled. "Not just because of you, Uncle Mark. You gave me the idea, but there's more to it."
Her tone grew more serious then. "I want people to see me…to watch me in a movie and want to know everything about me. To care about me."
She sighed then. "I know it's pretty much impossible, though."
"It is a hard business to get into," Mark agreed.
"Not just that," she said quietly.
Mark looked over at her. "What do you mean?"
She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. "I know about the AIDS, Uncle Mark."
Before he could answer, she went on, "But don't be mad at Aunt Joanne, I had pretty much figured it out and she just confirmed it, and I was old enough to know anyway-"
"Whoa, whoa," he said, stopping her. "I'm not mad. You're right." He looked over at her. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
"I know why you didn't." She looked down into the grass. "But I'm glad I know."
They were quiet for a minute before she spoke.
"I'm a little scared. But at the same time, I'm not. Is that strange?"
"I don't think so."
She laid back down and closed her eyes. "I do. I know I might die, but it doesn't really bother me. Maybe it just hasn't sunken in."
"Maybe." In her own way, Mark realized, Angela was echoing the words her father had spoken to him so many years ago. She had accepted her own death. The only thing left to do now was to live while she could.
"I would like to be in a movie, though," she said.
An idea struck Mark.
"Tell you what," he said, sitting up, "I'll make you a movie."
She looked over at him. "Really? You'd do that?"
Looking back up at the sky, she asked, "Will it have music in it?"
"If you want."
"And dancing? And cute boys?"
There was a pause. Then-
"Will it have a happy ending?"
Mark, taken aback, paused too. Finally, he answered quietly, "Of course it will."
Angela laughed slightly and closed her eyes.
"Thanks, Uncle Mark. But it's ok. I like movies to be realistic."
"Well, I'll just have to remember."
October 17, 2005
The last time Mark had been a regular visitor to the Agnes St. Cross Hospital, he had lost his best friend.
He had a similar sense of foreboding this time, and in his heart he knew what was going to happen. But he didn't dare think about it.
He followed a route that seemed familiar and completely foreign at the same time. He found himself on the fifth floor and headed for room 521, just three rooms down from where Roger had spent his final days. As he entered the room, the girl in the hospital bed smiled. He wished he didn't recognize that smile, that it was a stranger looking back at him. But he did recognize it. It was, in many ways, the same smile Roger had always given him.
"Hey Uncle Mark," Angela said as he walked up.
"Hey," he said, pulling a chair up next to her bed. "How're you feeling?"
"Not terrible," Angela said. "I'm doing fine. What about you? Are you okay at home without me?"
Just like Angela to worry about him when she was dying. "You don't need to worry about me, Ang. Worry about getting better."
"And if I don't?" Her voice was quiet. "If I can't get better, what will you do?"
Not very long ago, he remembered, he had thought the same thing. But he didn't care much about how he would make it through this now.
"Well," he said, "I'll just have to remember. I'll remember all the time I did get to spend with you. And I'll remember that you're with your mom and dad again."
"I don't want to leave you, though."
He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "I know. Hey. The movie's almost done."
A small smile returned to her face. "Really? About time. I knew you were a slacker, but…"
He looked at his feet, smiling to himself. "…Right."
She laughed weakly. "I'm kidding, Uncle Mark. Don't worry, it's fine."
It wasn't, but Mark let the subject go.
"Promise me one thing?"
"Promise you won't worry about me. For my sake."
He smiled and ruffled her hair. "I don't know if I can keep that one. But I'll do my best, if you can return the favor."
She laughed. "Tall order. Okay, deal."
They both looked up to see a nurse standing in the doorway. "If you could excuse us for a second."
"Oh, sorry." Mark stood up. "I'll come back tomorrow, okay, Ang?"
"Sounds good. Can you bring the guitar? I get bored here."
"Can do." He headed for the door.
"Oh! Uncle Mark?"
He turned back around. "Yeah?"
She smiled. "I love you."
He didn't know whether the emotion he felt was pain or happiness. Probably a little bit of both.
"…I love you too."
"Now she's yours again."
March 23, 2006
It was Angela's birthday, and Mark had plans.
Before heading out, he packed up some supplies. Chief among them was Angela's birthday present.
It was a long bike ride to his destination, but he barely noticed the distance.
When he got there, he parked himself outside the gate and let himself in.
There weren't many people at the cemetery on this cold, blustery New York day, but he didn't mind. In fact, he preferred it.
He stopped in front of a simple but pristine headstone, and took a deep breath.
"Happy 15th, Ang," he said out loud. "I, uh, figured this was as good a time as any to give you this." He reached into his bag and pulled out a VCR tape. Placing it in front of the grave, he said, "It's…your movie. Sorry I didn't finish it in time."
He paused, then continued. "It's been about three months now. And I won't lie, it's been hard. You were like a daughter. But…you know…it's not impossible, and it gets easier. I know you're up there with your Mom and Dad. I'll get there too someday, hopefully. And it may sound stupid, but I did get to keep my promise. I never left you behind. So…just in case you are, don't worry about me down here. Just…enjoy yourself, okay?" He smiled. "And…thanks. For everything."
He kneeled next to the grave for a second. Then he kissed his fingertips and touched the grave gently. Standing up, he took the few steps to the two graves nest to Angela's.
"Don't think I forgot about you two," he said, pulling flowers from his bag and setting them down. He looked back over at Angela's grave. "I did my best, Roger. Now she's yours again."
He patted the grave, then began to make his way back to his bike.
It would be a long ride home.