Hello, all! Sorry for the late update. I was out of town this weekend and away from my computer, but here it is!
Also, I just want to warn you that there is a small conversation about religious beliefs. Please realize that I'm just writing what I think these particular versions of the characters would believe, so please don't be offended if they don't match up with your own. I know religion can be a sensitive subject, and I don't think there will be any problems, but I figured it was only fair to warn you.
Anyway, enjoy! :)
April 5, 1992
"Maureen, don't look at our letters!"
"Yes, you are!"
"God, Mark , why don't you cry about it a little more?"
Mark sneered at her, carefully picking up the wooden block holding the Scrabble tiles and shielding them with his body. They were well into the game, having started about an hour ago after Collins had barged his way in with the dusty board, grinning widely. Mark didn't know exactly when or how the man had acquired it, but he was grateful. It provided a form of entertainment in which Roger could participate while he was still restricted by his injury, and that was all that mattered. He could tell that the musician was already getting fed-up with being confined to the couch, and he was determined to make his friend's recovery as painless as possible. If that meant playing stupid games all day, then that was fine. He was happy to do it, and he knew the others were as well, which led to them gathering in the loft on Sunday afternoon. Mark's camera was perched carefully on a chair next to them, filming the scene.
He and Roger formed a team for this particular game. Roger was stretched out on the couch, his restrained arm in the sling and resting across his ribs. Mark sat on the floor in front of him, leaning backwards against the couch and attempting to keep the letters and the board in Roger's sight. Maureen and Joanne had formed another team on his left, and Collins and Mimi were each on their own.
"Alright, what do you think?" Mark asked, realizing it was their turn. He raised the letters up so that Roger could look at them over his shoulder.
"Uh, how about this?" Mark held the block in place as Roger reached out a still unsteady left hand, clumsily shifting the tiles around and doing his best not to bump them onto the floor. When he was done, he pulled his hand back and said, "Then you can play it on the 'N' in the bottom left, and get the double letter and the two triple word scores."
Mark looked at the tiles and then the board, his eyebrows rising and a smirk forming on his lips as he pictured the word. The rest of the competitors groaned in annoyance, shaking their heads as they realized the upcoming play would be a high-scoring one. Mark laughed, but he honestly didn't blame them for their reactions. He would be frustrated, too, because Roger was the most deceptive Scrabble player to grace the Earth. He wasn't necessarily good, by any means. For most of the game, he'd come up with words like 'ant', 'sit', or 'tent', which added up to a whopping four or five points each, but every once in a while he would design some obscure word that could be placed in the most beneficial position on the board, scoring upwards of 100 points and boosting them into 1st place.
"Good call," Mark praised, pulling all seven letters off of the block and carefully positioning them around the already played 'N' on the bottom edge of the board, spelling out the word 'GLAZINGS'. He triumphantly placed the 'Z', worth 10, on the double letter score, and the first and last letters of the word on triple word scores. He smiled and looked to Collins. "How much is that worth?"
"I don't want to know," Mimi grumbled, staring at the board dejectedly.
Collins picked up the score pad and pencil. "Come on, it's not going too bad," he responded encouragingly, trying to remain optimistic. "The 'Z' is the only letter worth anything." He studied the board, speaking aloud as he calculated the score. "Okay, so that's 2, 3, 4, plus 20, so 24, then 25, 26, 28, 29 for the word. And then the first triple word score makes that 87, and the second…" His mouth formed a frown as he scribbled out the math on the side of the paper. "Ummm, 261," he finished, his lips pursing. "And technically, they get 50 extra points for using all seven of their letters."
"What?!" Maureen said loudly as Joanne rolled her eyes and Mimi groaned again in defeat. Mark laughed once more, reaching a hand over his shoulder to give his friend a high five. "That is so not fair!" Maureen protested, glaring at them. It was funny, how competitive the simple game had become.
"Why not?" Mark asked. "It's a legitimate word, it was played legally, and the rules specifically state that using all the letters in one turn gives you 50 extra points."
A pout crossed her face. "Yeah, but…" She trailed off, apparently not quite sure how to make her argument. Finally, she turned to Roger. "You're totally hustling us," she said, and he chuckled, shaking his head.
"Just getting lucky, I guess."
"Alright, well I quit," Mimi said, leaning backwards. "There's no point."
Mark smirked again in satisfaction just as a knock sounded at the door. He hopped to his feet and turned off his camera, then jogged over to slide the door open, grinning at his parents around the grocery bags they were holding.
"Hey, Sweetie," his mom greeted cheerfully. She stepped into the loft and smiling at the group as she made her way to the kitchen. "Good afternoon, everybody," she added, depositing the bags on the counter. His dad followed her, his own arms also weighed down with various food items, and he nodded in greeting as well.
The group gathered on the floor began to stand up and disperse, stretching their legs after sitting for so long and welcoming the Cohens with kind words of their own. Mark was incredibly glad that nobody seemed opposed to having his parents hang around to help out. Mimi had even offered her little place downstairs for them to stay, in order to cut out the cost of the hotel, and they'd eventually agreed. They'd been staying there since Friday night.
"We bought some food that you can use for dinners for the next couple weeks," his mom said, rifling through the bags as if double-checking her selections. She glanced over at Roger, who had managed to swing his legs over the side of the couch and push himself into a sitting position.
It had only been about two days since he'd been home from the hospital, and the weakness and exhaustion were still severe effects of his injury. He could make it short distances on his own, but any attempt to go too far resulted in him losing his energy and his balance and practically falling into the nearest chair, or into the ready arms of the nearest person. He generally needed someone standing beside him when he stood up because the change in position caused his lightheadedness to return almost instantly. Mark kept a careful eye on him whenever he began moving around, just in case his help was needed.
Mark's mom spoke again, pulling his attention back to her. "I'll make up some casseroles and things like that. You don't need to worry about cooking right now. You have other things on your mind."
Mark raised an eyebrow. They never worried about cooking—cereal and milk went a long ways in the loft. But if his mom was willing to prepare meals for them, he wasn't going to complain. He knew she actually enjoyed it, anyway. The thought of him depending on her made her feel useful, and it was something that she cherished. "Thanks, Mom," he said. "That would be great."
She nodded, giving him a warm smile. "Of course, Dear." Finishing with the bags, she made her way over to Roger. "How are you feeling?" she asked with concern, reaching out a small hand and placing it on his forehead. "You don't have a fever, that's good."
Mark chuckled. Each one of them had already checked Roger for a fever that morning. Multiple times. They were so paranoid about infection that they were determined to catch it early if it was going to happen. Roger's HIV-handicapped immune system wasn't well enough equipped to fight off bacteria, and if it spread, things could get dangerous. Of course, Mark's mom didn't know that.
Roger nodded slowly. "I'm fine," he assured, patiently allowing her to play the motherly role.
She brushed his hair back gently, a smile on her face. "Do you need anything?"
"Probably a shower," Collins joked loudly, listening in from his seat at the table. He was sipping a beer that he must have scrounged out of the fridge.
"That's true," Roger consented with a small raise of his eyebrow. "I feel gross," he added, a disgusted look on his face as he ran his hand through his unkempt hair. He'd mentioned more than once since he'd gotten home that he'd like to clean up, but it would be almost impossible to keep the wound dry in the shower.
"Why don't you fill the bathtub, then?" Mary suggested. "You can lean over the side and one of us will help you wash your hair, at least." Mark froze. He quickly looked at Roger, gauging his reaction.
Roger's jaw had clenched just a bit, his eyes drifting towards the bathroom door. Mark knew what he was remembering…
"Hey, Mark, head's up!"
Mark whipped around as he approached the door to the loft, just barely catching the basketball that Roger chucked at him from the bottom of the stairs. He looked at the ball in confusion. "Where'd you get this?" he called down to his friend. He could swear that the man had been right behind him.
Roger came up to the landing, pointing in the direction that they'd just entered, and shrugged. "It was down there. Let's keep it. Maybe we can play later," he said enthusiastically, and Mark smiled a bit. He knew that Roger would beat him at basketball. That had been the one sport that the guy was decent at growing up, but he didn't care. He was happy that Roger wanted to do something that didn't involve getting high. That seemed to be at the top of his priority list these days, and Mark desperately wanted him to give it up.
He tossed the ball back to his friend before turning around and digging the keys out of his pocket.
"Might be unlocked already," Roger reminded, reaching past him and pulling at the handle. The door slid open, revealing the large, quiet loft. He chuckled. "She never locks it," he laughed, shaking his head with a fond smile.
They stepped inside, Roger dribbling the ball off the hardwood obnoxiously. Mark followed him, slipping his camera bag off of his shoulder and setting it on the couch. He took off his coat and threw it over a chair, watching Roger shoot the ball into an imaginary hoop and then watch it bounce away. Roger began to walk after it when his attention was drawn by something else, and Mark followed his friend's gaze to the closed bathroom door. Roger's brow furrowed.
"What time is it?" he questioned.
Mark glanced at his watch. "2:30."
"She should be at work," Roger said with a frown. He approached the door, knocking loudly. "April? You in there?"
There was no response, and he knocked again, grinning. "Come on, Girl, I won't judge you for playing hooky for a day." Again, nothing. He tried the door handle slowly, eyebrows rising as it turned and the door clicked open. He peeked in carefully.
Mark would never forget what happened next.
"NO!" came the desperate voice of his best friend as he rammed the door open the rest of the way and charged in. "NO, NO, NO! April!"
Mark sprang into motion, not giving privacy a second thought, and skidded into the bathroom behind Roger.
The sight that met his eyes almost made him sick. There was his roommate's obviously dead girlfriend, her red hair fanning out against the edge of the bathtub and her eyes staring blankly up at the ceiling. The water around her body was dyed a deep crimson, and the sides of the tub were streaked red in a macabre pattern. There was a long, deep slash in each of her wrists.
Mark just stared, his mind reeling as he tried to process the reality of what he was seeing. He heard Roger give a small moan and he saw him step forward unsteadily, then fall to his knees on the floor. He reached out a hand, running it through the thick red locks. "April," he whispered in a broken tone, and Mark's heart shattered. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening.
Roger dropped his forehead down to rest against the woman's, his eyes closing in distress. "No, no, no. April." He repeated this mantra over and over, tears slipping down his cheeks to land in the bloody water.
Mark spun around, not able to handle the sight, and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. A quarter of his face was blocked by a small sticky-note plastered against the glass. As he read it, he felt the world crashing down around him.
WE HAVE AIDS.
He reached out a shaking hand, slowly pulling the note off the mirror, and read it again. And again. And again. Each time, he desperately hoped that the message would change.
Swallowing hard, Mark turned around, gazing down at his roommate who was pulling April's body close and causing the tainted water to slosh against the sides of the tub. He bit his lip, taking a few shaky steps and kneeling next to Roger. He blinked rapidly in hope of halting his own tears and put a gentle hand on Roger's back.
Roger's head turned to look at him, salty tracks streaking his face. His eyes were filled with confusion. "Why'd she do this?" he questioned desperately, his voice husky. He shook his head as more tears fell from his eyes. "I don't get it. Why'd she do this?"
Mark raised his arm and apologetically held the yellow note out for his friend. Roger sniffled, staring at it cautiously, and slowly reached out to take it.
He watched as Roger's green eyes passed over the words. The man stared at the message before shifting his gaze to the blood staining the sides of the tub- and his girlfriend's body. He blinked in disbelief and glanced back at the note, reading it once more as if not quite understanding. Suddenly, his breath began coming faster. He crumpled the news in his hand and dropped it, letting the small paper fall into the red waves and sink as it became saturated with water. He bowed his head and shut his eyes tightly, and Mark could only watch as the tears came again.
Roger shook his head rapidly, apparently trying to deny the whole situation. "Holy shit," he whispered. "No, no, no, no, no."
Mark moved his hand to Roger's shoulder, squeezing gently. He wished he knew what to say, but there was nothing. No words could make this better. He wanted to cry, to mourn the fact that one of his friends was dead and the other was just as good as, but he couldn't. Not right now. Right now, he needed to be the calm one.
Opening his eyes, Roger stared at his dead girlfriend. He sniffled again, taking a moment to compose himself. Finally, he spoke softly. "It was the fucking drugs. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for the drugs."
Mark resisted the urge to agree. Roger was right. April had been the one who'd introduced him to heroin. She'd been using for years, and Mark had no doubt that she'd contracted the virus through a dirty needle. And then passed it to Roger.
"I'm, uh, I'm going to go call the police." Mark stood up slowly, tearing his eyes away from the scene and heading towards the door. He was stopped by Roger's quiet voice.
He turned around. "What is it?" he asked gently, looking directly into Roger's eyes.
"I gotta get clean, Mark," Roger breathed. "I can't…" His voice broke, and he ran his hand through April's thick hair once more, a look of utter devastation on his face. "I can't use it, knowing what it's done to her. To us. I have to quit."
Mark felt pride wash through him, as well as sadness. He knew that the task would be much harder than Roger thought, but he nodded, returning to kneel at his friend's side once more. His, heart broke a bit at how lost the man looked. "I think that's a good idea," he spoke quietly, squeezing Roger's shoulder. "It's going to be tough, though. You're not going to like it, and you're going to want to use."
Roger ripped his eyes away from April's body, turning his head to look at Mark. "Then help me," he pleaded. "Please."
Mark nodded, keeping eye contact. "I'll help you, Roger. I promise."
Mark closed his eyes briefly at the memory. Though neither of them had ever really used the bathtub before the incident—they'd used the small shower on the far side, instead- after April's gruesome death, it was out of the question. It had been days before Roger was able to even walk into the bathroom to use the toilet, and they'd both begun completely ignoring the tub. In fact, Mark realized that he still rarely gave it a glance. He couldn't even remember what it looked like anymore. He much preferred to walk straight past it and spare himself the reminder. And he knew that Roger did the same.
He was about to open his mouth to save his friend an answer, but something in Roger's face stopped him.
The musician looked thoughtful, his forehead creased in the center. His eyes softened from their blank stare, and he actually smiled a bit. Looking up, he nodded. "That sounds good," he said, and Mark's mom grinned back.
Mark couldn't believe it, and he could tell by the look on his friends' faces that they couldn't either.
"I'll, uh, get it started for you," Maureen offered, standing up and walking toward the bathroom. Within seconds, he heard the water turn on and splash into the tub, and Maureen reappeared a moment later.
"Mark, why don't you help him with his hair?" his mom said, turning to him.
He nodded, walking over and reaching out a hand to pull Roger into a standing position. He knew that Roger wasn't thrilled with needing help, but there just wasn't much he could do on his own yet. Mark steadied the man as he swayed on his feet and slowly walked with him towards the bathroom. Mimi quickly snatched a cup out of the kitchen cupboard and followed, her face drawn in curiosity.
As they went inside, Mark noticed that Roger stared directly at the tub, not even flinching. His jaw was set and his eyes betrayed no hint of what he was feeling. It made Mark wonder.
"You okay?" he asked, beginning to gently remove Roger's sling.
Roger simply nodded. "Yeah." He winced a bit as Mark slipped his arm out of the fabric and lowered it to hang limply at his side, which pulled at the shoulder uncomfortably.
Mimi began to unbutton the front of Roger's shirt. She had been standing quietly, but Mark knew that she wanted to make sure that everything was alright. "I'm surprised," she said honestly, undoing the last button. They helped Roger shrug off the shirt, revealing the bandage covering the wound on his chest. "April's death was always so painful for you to talk about." She said this without jealousy or bitterness—it was merely a statement.
"I know," Roger answered quietly, allowing his friends to help him kneel at the edge of the tub, just as he had when he'd found April's body. He leaned against it with his good arm and Mark knelt next to him, providing a solid form for both physical and emotional support. "But it's time."
"Time for what?" Mimi asked, reaching in to feel the temperature of the liquid. Satisfied, she rolled up her sleeves and grabbed the cup she'd brought, filling it with bath water.
Roger let out a sigh. "Time to let it go." His eyes stared into the water and raked the sides of the tub, and Mark imagined that, like himself, Roger was picturing the grisly scene. "I don't want this to haunt me anymore. It's been too long." He looked at Mimi, his love for her showing on his face, and then he turned his head away.
Mark caught his friend's gaze and smiled. He understood the meaning behind the words. Things had been so different back in those days. Roger had been an addict, April had been alive, there'd been no HIV- and there'd been no Mimi. For Roger, this wasn't just conquering the memory of April's suicide. This was leaving that stage of his life behind him. This was accepting that he'd made mistakes, and realizing that he'd learned from them. This was making the decision to let go of the past, and to focus on the present with the people that he cared about now.
Mimi grinned. She gently bowed Roger's head over the tub as best she could without hurting him, and slowly poured the warm water over his hair. His partly upright position caused some of the liquid to run down his neck and onto his back, as well as down his face. He closed his eyes to avoid the stream.
"I'm glad," she said, running a hand through his hair as she poured more water, soaking it completely.
Mark grabbed a towel, wiping at the water that was threatening to slither its way down Roger's neck towards the white bandage, and then nodded. "Me too," he said, and he unconsciously ran a hand along the edge of the tub. So much had happened since that day, about three years ago.
He smiled as the clean, clear, blood-less water cascaded over Roger's head and splashed into the tub. His friend was right. It was time to let it go.
That night, after their friends had left the loft and Mark's parents had returned to Mimi's, he sat down at the table with a book. Mimi was in the shower and Roger was quietly sitting by himself at the window. The man had been staring out into the dark city for the past half an hour, and Mark had been wondering what he was thinking about. Finally, he heard him shift around and stand up, reaching for the door handle. He pushed it open and took a small step outside, and Mark stood up as well.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
Roger looked at him innocently. "Just want some fresh air."
Mark put down his book and grabbed a blanket off the couch, following his friend onto the small fire escape. He knew that Roger wouldn't appreciate it, but though the snow had melted and signs of Spring were in the air, it was still cold at night, and the man needed to stay warm.
The chilly air bit his skin as he stepped outside, and he closed the door behind him quietly. Roger was standing at the railing, one hand wrapped around the cool metal, and his eyes were closed in satisfaction, relishing the chill. It was almost funny to see him so refreshed by the outside air. There'd been a time when they couldn't pay him to leave the building, but now he felt trapped after just a couple of days.
Mark gently draped the blanket over Roger's shoulders and joined him at the railing, staring up into the clear night sky. Roger's eyes opened and he gave Mark a smile.
"It feels good out here," he said, taking a deep breath.
Mark nodded in agreement, standing quietly at Roger's side. It was strange. Besides their conversation the day Roger had woken up at the hospital, this was really the first time they'd been alone since the incident. They'd been surrounded by people almost all day, every day. He turned to look at his friend.
"So are you going to be okay with just my parents tomorrow?" The rest of them had agreed to go to work that week, but it was still much too early in his recovery to leave Roger by himself.
Roger smiled. "Yeah, I'll be fine."
He gave the musician a calculating glance. "Don't be afraid to ask them to help you with whatever," he reminded. "They'll be more than willing."
"I know, Mark. I'll be fine."
He nodded and stared down into the street, watching the people walk by. "Can I ask you something?" he questioned suddenly. "If you don't want to answer, that's okay."
Roger raised an eyebrow. "Go for it."
"How are you really doing?" Roger's brow furrowed, and Mark clarified quickly. "I mean, you got stabbed. You almost died. That would, you know, bother most people," he explained awkwardly, "and you haven't really talked about it that much. I just… you're okay, right? Like, mentally?" He felt a little bit uncomfortable bringing it up, but he figured that it must have been a traumatic experience for Roger as well as those who'd been watching. The day before, the cops had stopped by with a picture of the suspect they'd caught, whom Roger and Erin had positively identified as the man who assaulted him, and Mark had been worried then that the photo would spark unhappy memories.
Roger glanced at him and then shifted to lean against the rail for more support. He sighed, looking up at the clear sky once more. "I'm going to tell you something, and you can't laugh, okay?" He spoke with embarrassment, and Mark's interest grew.
"Okay," he agreed.
Roger nodded. "I saw Angel," he revealed reluctantly, and Mark's eyes widened in surprise.
"You saw Angel?"
Another nod. "In the alley." He swallowed, nervously continuing. "You guys were all there and I could see you, and then suddenly, Angel was there, too."
Mark felt a chill run through him. He flashed back to that night, and the minutes passing by as they waited eagerly for the medics. Mark had been worried at the way that Roger's eyes would shift to stare at blank spots past their heads. Had he really been staring at Angel?
Clearing his throat, he asked, "Did she say anything?"
Roger was silent for a moment, and he shook his head in dismissal. "Yeah, but it didn't really make sense. I don't know."
"You know you can tell me," Mark encouraged gently, more than a little curious. "What did she say?"
Roger sighed softly. "She just said, 'Not yet. The song's not over yet.' I don't know what that even means," he added, huffing out a laugh. "She stood there for a little while and she smiled, and then she waved at me and disappeared." He shook his head and gave a small shrug with his left arm. "But, I guess I somehow knew that she was still there. It was weird, but you know how, when she was alive, she had this presence that you could just feel?" He looked into Mark's eyes, trying to explain. "It was like that. Almost like she was standing right next to me the whole time, even though I couldn't see her anymore." His questioning eyes burned into Mark's. "You didn't feel it?"
Mark didn't answer for a minute. It was upsetting to think that his best friend had been close enough to death that he'd actually experienced something like that. Finally, he shook his head. "No, I didn't," he admitted, and Roger looked away. Mark reached out to touch his friend's arm, drawing his attention again. "But that doesn't mean she wasn't there," he said. "You were…" he trailed off, trying to find the right words. Eventually, he decided to just spit it out. "You were dying, and you were closer to her in that moment than any of us. Besides, I was too scared to feel anything except fear," he admitted. "Maybe Collins will have felt her, though."
Roger nodded. "Maybe," he said with a hint of disappointment. Mark felt bad. He hadn't meant to shoot Roger down.
"I do believe you," he said honestly. "Just like I believed Mimi when she saw her. I think Angel was looking out for you. I think she looks out for all of us."
Roger's smile returned. "I think so, too," he agreed. He took a deep breath of the chilly air and turned his gaze towards the sky. "And maybe she's not the only one. It makes me think that maybe there really is someone up there who gives a shit about us." He swallowed, his eyebrows furrowing. "I know I should have died, Mark." He turned his green eyes to meet Mark's blue. "I remember realizing that I was going to die. But I didn't. And I want to believe there's a reason for that."
Mark stared at Roger, surprise on his features. He knew that Roger had actually been semi-religious growing up. Not overly so, but he'd gone to church when his mother dragged him along, just as Mark had succumbed to his mother and father's Jewish faith. And though Roger had never been the most devout Christian, he'd adopted some of those beliefs as his own. At least, he had until he was let down one too many times.
"I thought you said you'd given up on God," Mark said quietly, not trying to offend his friend, but just trying to understand why he'd changed his mind.
"I had, but that was because I thought he'd given up on me. Now, I'm not so sure." He shook his head. "All I know is that I probably shouldn't be here, but I am, and I'm glad of that. For whatever reason, I've been given more time."
Mark nodded, a grin forming on his face. "I'm glad, too." He glanced at Roger, who seemed to be losing the energy he'd had and struggling to stand up straight. He turned back towards the loft. "Come on, it's time to go in. Mimi's going to have my ass if she sees that I let you out."
Roger rolled his eyes. "I'm not a dog," he defended, pushing himself away from the railing carefully. "I don't need to be 'let out'."
With a smirk, Mark opened the door. Unable to resist the childish urge, he raised his voice and patted his thighs in encouragement. "Come, Roger," he joked. "Come here." Roger glared at him as he shuffled his way in, but Mark wasn't done yet. "Good boy," he praised, ruffling Roger's now-clean hair in a teasing manner. "Sit," he commanded, pointing to the couch.
Roger flipped him off. "Keep it up and you're gonna get bitten," he warned, brushing his messy hair down stubbornly and planting himself firmly on the cushions.
Mark snickered, fully aware that the threat was empty. He wasn't particularly scared of Roger at this point in time. However, he also wasn't going to make fun of his friend too much. There was real frustration behind his inability for independence, and Mark knew where to draw the line.
He returned to the kitchen table and picked up his book, his mind replaying the conversation that they'd just had. He peeked over at Roger, who was reaching for his notepad and a pencil. "Hey, Roger?"
"I don't know what exactly it was that saved you that night," he revealed honestly. "Whether it was Angel, or God, or your own willpower, or some combination of the three, but whatever it was, I'll never be able to thank it enough." He smiled at his friend, who was staring at him with a kind understanding in his eyes. "I'm glad you were given more time."
"Me too, Mark. Me too."