Benny woke up that morning feeling more refreshed than he had in years. Ever since he saw the alternate reality where he was always with Alison, and also cheating on his beloved wife with Mimi, he had realized how much more rewarding it had been for him to be a landlord rather than a dilettante. Within the few days he had been spending with the love of his life, he'd been able to buy her a new, more expensive wedding ring. On Saturday, they flew out to Vegas and got remarried. They went to a hotel in Atlantic City on a whim as their unofficial honeymoon until they could get Benny his own passport so they could travel to Europe. They were currently debating between Paris and Venice.
He carefully unwrapped his arms from around Alison's slim waist and sat up. The sun peeked through the blinds and shone on his bare torso. He swung his legs off of the side of the bed and rest his head in his hands. Soon, he felt two arms snake around his waist and shoulders to join together at his chest.
"Mm, good morning, Benny," Alison greeted him. "Sleep well?"
Benny let out a laugh. "Better than I have in the longest time."
"But you're not smiling." Alison pulled away from her husband and frowned. "Why don't you seem happy?"
Benny didn't want to say it out loud. Alison could sense it; she had always been good at reading Benny's expressions, especially when she started suspecting that he had been cheating on her.
"Benjamin Coffin the Third, tell me what it is," she warned. "Now," she added when he didn't say anything after a few moments of silence.
"What if they... still hate me?" Benny asked timidly.
"Who?" Alison replied.
"Mark and Collins. Mimi and Roger. Maureen and Joanne. Hell, I think even Angel hates us."
"Sweetie, Angel killed our Akita. Remember seeing Evita splattered all over the sidewalk?"
"Yeah, but Angel grew to hate us after we padlocked the apartment building. And now, he wants to beat my ass into the pavement until I'm beyond dead."
"Benny, so you made a few mistakes in the past," Alison said. She slid off of the bed and kneeled down in front of Benny. She took his hands in hers, rubbing the pads of her thumbs on his warm skin.
"More than a few, baby," Benny reminded her.
"But you have changed. You cheated on me with Mimi and look at us now!"
"I left Mimi again and her best friend tried to kill me. No offense, but that doesn't really scream 'forgiven' to me."
Alison groaned; Benny was always difficult to deal with.
"However," Benny added, "I will try my hardest to get them to accept me for who I really am. And they will see that I'm not the same heartless Benny they used to know."
Alison smiled and hugged her husband.
"But it's going to take a while..."
She groaned and whacked the side of his head with a nearby throwpillow.
"... I feel like we've grown so much closer ever since we've been married! I mean, we haven't had sex because we ran out of condoms and, you know, Marky has AIDS, so just doing it for the sake of doing it might make me contract AIDS as well, and that would just kill Marky, and..."
As much as Angelo loved Maureen, sometimes, he wanted to pull out a roll of duct tape and cover her mouth with it until he couldn't hear a peep out of her. He regretted that he was stuck next to her in the one class where the teacher actually liked her. Mark had to sit in the front of the room and take a test from last week that he missed because of a doctor's appointment, meaning that he was the one who had no choice but to listen to her blabber nonstop.
"... I think that our kids would be adorable! I already know that we're going to have a daughter! She'll have my curly hair, but it's gonna be the same color as Marky's. And she should have his eyes and my skin tone, because he's really pale. He looks like a sickly pale now, but he was born that white. And if she has my personality with his smarts, she'd be the most popular girl in school without a doubt. I mean, I was, and I made Marky popular because we've been besties for, like, ever! Oh, would she be a performer like me, or a camera person like Marky? I wonder..."
Thankfully for Angelo (and everyone else within a ten-foot radius of them) the bell rang to signal the end of Philosophy. Maureen gathered her things and waited for Angelo to get his while she continued talking about the baby girl she and Mark were destined to have. The conversation was ended when Mark kissed her lips and held them there until Maureen's tongue invaded his mouth. Angelo made a face at that.
"Angelo, I need to speak to you," Collins called out to his student. "Please come to my office immediately." The teacher went into the small conjoining room. Others around them looked at the Latino and wondered what could happen; being called into a professor's office surely meant that you were flunking.
"Ooo, Angelo, you're in trouble!" Maureen taunted as if she were five years old. "I wonder what you did wrong!"
"Me too," Angelo wondered himself. He said goodbye to Mark and Maureen and went into Collins' office. The teacher signalled for him to shut the door and take a seat, which Angelo did.
"Do you know why I called you in here?" Collins asked.
"Did I do something wrong?" Angelo guessed, confused about what he possibly did.
Collins took off his trademark cap and ran a hand through his very short hair. "You really don't know, do you Angel?"
"Angel?" Angelo remembered the professor saying that in the alternate universe he had come up with one day in class that his name was "Angel" but didn't think about it. In fact, when he told Mikayla about it, she said (in Spanish, of course) that she thought it sounded weird when she said it. She pointed out that after the damage he'd caused to Benny's face, there was no way that he could be called an angel.
"You've been acting like there's been nothing going on all of this time," Collins continued. "And why are you wearing glasses?"
"I'm near-sighted," Angelo answered. "I have poor eyesight."
"Yeah, but you wear contacts because you always thought that you looked your worst wearing glasses."
"Um, Professor Collins?"
Angelo tugged at the collar of his shirt nervously as Collins moved around his desk and sat on top of it right in front of him. Their legs were barely touching and their faces were about one foot apart. He began to shift uncomfortably in his seat.
"Sir, I'm a bit uncomfortable right now," he admitted.
"What do you mean, Angel?" Collins asked.
"Stop calling me Angel! My name is Angelo!" The Latino tried to get away, but Collins kept a steady hand on his shoulder and held him back in his seat.
"Hear me out," Collins said.
Against his better judgement, Angelo sat still and agreed to do so.
"When I did the lecture about alternate realities, I meant every word. There is another universe where we are a couple. You're not a student at NYU, and neither are Mark and Maureen. You're a street drummer who carried around a red jacket, leather bag, ten-gallon pickle tub, and drumsticks. We met after I got jumped by a group of thugs who stole my things on Christmas Eve of '89, and we just clicked instantly. You took me to Life Support because we both had AIDS and I introduced you to everyone else. Well, except for Mimi. You knew her before the rest of us. And after that first Life Support meeting, we shared our first kiss, and then we went to Maureen's protest of the rezoning of the eleventh street lot between avenues A and B. Afterwards, we went to the Life Café and we just had the time of our lives. On New Years we broke back into the loft. We were dressed up as James Bond and Pussy Galore and you accidentally told Benny that you murdered his dog. And as time went on, you became sick, and I tried my best to keep you alive, but one night in October... you died in my arms. We buried you on Halloween, and I never got over it. But within that time span of less than one year, I had the best months of my entire existence. Deep down, you know all of this too. But the fact that you don't right now is killing me inside. How can you not remember what we had together Angel? Why don't you love me anymore as much as I love you?"
Angelo was stunned by his teacher's rant. Even more, he was terrified. He saw this on television all of the time; this meant that he was in trouble unless he could scram within the next minute. Otherwise, he would need to write a will and call Mikayla to tell her that he was glad they were best friends.
"Professor Collins, I need to go to work," he stammered.
"Angel, why are you acting like this?" Collins demanded. He reached out to Angelo.
And then Angelo punched him. It wasn't the strength in his arms that caught Collins off-guard, but the fact that Angelo hit him that made him fall backwards and almost land on the other side of the desk. His student scrambled out of his seat and ran out the door. Anyone who didn't know what had just happened would have assumed that the room had been on fire, not that the professor had put moves on his pupil.
Maureen whistled to herself one of the songs she had heard on the radio recently as she walked up the stairs to herself. Angelo was with her, angrily cursing in Spanish about the hell they'd gone through that day. Maureen noticed that he had been on edge since before the beginning of his shift. When a group of NYU professors came to the restaurant in Angelo's section, Maureen was bribed with a portion of his tips for the night to take them. She did begrudgingly, only because she needed to money to pay rent and to buy Mark his AZT. Disaster had continued when another party involved two careless parents with four monster children who insisted on throwing french fries and flicking ketchup on Maureen. A handful of waiters had to restrain her from tackling the family while the manager asked them to leave.
She walked alone up the last flight of stairs to her own apartment. And she was surprised to find that her new roommate had company over. They were laughing over a story Roger was attempting to finish through his giggles.
"Oh, hey there, Maureen," Roger greeted her.
"Um, hi," she replied. "Who's your friend?"
"This is Joanne."
Joanne waved with a little smile. "Nice to meet you," she said.
Maureen nodded. "You too...?"
"I think that Maureen wants us to give her and Mark some privacy," Roger said to Joanne. "Maybe we can go to your place?"
"Only if you bring your guitar," she purred. Maureen found this amusing as she saw Roger become very slightly uncomfortable by the gesture.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," he said. He grabbed his guitar and led Joanne out of the loft. Maureen shook her head and sat down on the couch.
She thought about class earlier today. Sure, she talked Angelo's ear off, but he was the only person who had listened to her. She wanted a baby. Not just any baby, but Mark's. It would be the most creative, adorable, and absolutely perfect kid in the universe. And it would be theirs. But that was something unspoken between the two of them. They always used condoms during sex. If Maureen was sick or Mark was bleeding, they wouldn't stand near each other and Maureen would sleep on the couch. If Mark impregnated her, she and their potential child would risk having the deadly virus running through their body. That would absolutely kill Mark. But she looked into the subject matter, and she had found medicine that would reduce the risk enough to make her feel relief.
Now all she needed to do was find a way to convince Mark.
"Pookie, can you come out here for a minute?" she asked.
A minute later, Mark emerged from the bedroom. His hair was damp and he was only wearing a white undershirt and blue boxers. He climbed on the couch and smirked.
"Now that you're home and we're alone," he whispered, "we can have some real fun."
He leaned in to kiss her, and Maureen tried not to say it, but she couldn't help herself.
"I want a baby!" she blurted. Mark froze and sat back.
"What?" he asked.
"I want to have a baby," Maureen said. "With you."
"Mo..." Mark shook his head. "We can't do that, you know this."
"Yes we can," Maureen insisted. "There's a medication that helps prevent the mother and child from having AIDS. And I know it will work."
"But what if it doesn't?" Mark turned his back to Maureen.
But she wasn't about to give up yet.
"We both know that you don't have much longer to live," she said. Tears sprang to her eyes as she spoke. "And we both want children too. Are you going to say no to the one chance that we have?"
"What else am I going to do when you're gone?"
Maureen broke down now, bawling. She hated being emotional like this, but as the words poured of her mouth, she couldn't help it. She hugged her knees to her chest and cried into them. Soon she felt Mark wrap his arms around her.
"Alright Mo," he told her. "We'll do it."
Joanne grinned as Roger played the final chord of one of his songs. She clapped enthusiastically as he did.
"Anything else you wanna hear?" he asked. He raised as eyebrow and began playing another song.
"Is this... Musetta's Waltz?" she asked.
"I see you've heard of La Boheme," Roger said as he strum the strings with his pick.
"It's my favorite musical."
"Then you, Joanne, have excellent taste."
Joanne beamed. She was falling hard for Roger Davis. The fact that he could play an instrument was making her crush worse. He kept on giving her flirty glances every few moments and she'd wink in reply. He was almost the complete opposite of guys like Steve and Tom Collins. That made him perfect in her book.
"I have this one song that always triggers something in everyone who hears, if you know what I mean," Roger told her. "I think you'll really love it."
Joanne (who misinterpreted what he meant) kept her enthusiasm bottled up. "Let's hear it," she replied.
Roger began this new song and sang, "Your eyes as we said our goodbyes..."
Joanne tried to figure out what the trigger Roger meant was about when she saw exactly what it was.
Running into Maureen at a bar late one night.
Flirting with her over a few beers- than several shots.
Taking her home and making her scream her name.
Figuring out that she was already in a relationship with a man and swearing to secrecy about their affair.
After many months, convincing Maureen to dump Mark and move in with her.
Helping plan a protest for the love of her life.
Somewhat noticing her girlfriend's loose behavior.
Being stranded at the empty lot without a clue about how to set up anything, or what RCA meant.
Watching as Mark wandered into the lot, just as surprised as she was when they learned each other's names.
Realizing that they had a lot more in common when it came to their relationship with Maureen.
Dancing the tango with Mark, even though she thought he wasn't as skilled in the art compared to her.
Thanking him when they were patched.
Maureen calling her Pookie and now knowing the true meaning of it.
Shining a light on the only star in her eyes- Maureen.
Having to put away all of the equipment in the snow while Maureen sat inside with their friends.
Watching from outside as Maureen kissed Mark and mooned Benny.
Finding a padlock on the apartment building.
Breaking it off with Maureen.
Searching for a possible loophole in their dilemma.
Getting back together with Maureen.
Breaking into the loft and being caught by Benny while celebrating her relationship and the new year.
Breaking up with Maureen.
Getting back together with Maureen.
Helping Mark land a job at Buzzline.
Having Maureen propose to her.
Breaking it off at their engagement party.
Visiting Angel at the hospital while he died while trying not to make eye contact with Maureen.
Going to his funeral while trying not to make eye contact with Maureen.
Going to the cemetery while trying not to make eye contact with Maureen.
Fighting with Maureen and trying to make her see the mistakes they've made.
Crying while being comforted by the love her life.
Letting Maureen move back in.
Desperately trying to find Mimi.
Finding her on Christmas Eve at the park and carrying her to the loft.
Standing by and praying that she wouldn't die while Roger played "Your Eyes".
Watching Mimi die and then breathe again.
"Oh my god," she whispered as it dawned on her.
"... I can see it in your eyes," Roger sang. He stopped and looked at a shocked Joanne.
"All this time," she said. "I can't believe it."
"It's a lot to take in, I know," Roger said.
"Collins told me everything and I didn't believe him."
"The truth is hard to accept-"
"Oh my god, I slept with Collins!" Joanne screeched.
Roger looked scared, then confused, and then ended up laughing.
"Thank god I told you before you tried to screw me!"