It started with a cough.
Angel tried not to worry too much about it. Everyone coughed every now and then. Collins' throat was probably dry. Maybe it's a tiny cold. He did walk to and from NYU almost every day. But there was no way that it could be anything more than just a tiny cough. It was still a bit frigid out; after all, it was the beginning of March.
By the time it's April, Collins still had a few bouts of coughing fits. Angel assured herself that it was nothing and continued beating her drumsticks against her pickle tub every night. When she returned home, she called out to Collins. For once, there was no response. She panicked and ran into the bedroom to find Collins asleep in his work clothes, his bag still in his hands. Angel shook him lightly and watched her lover roll onto his side and start hacking violently. She gulped. This was more than just a nasty cough. When it stopped, Collins took her hand in his and promised that everything was alright.
In May, Angel knows for a fact that nothing was alright. Fortunately, school ended, so Collins was going to be home until late August. She monitored him closely, watching his every move, just in case he ended up keeling over while pouring coffee. Maureen ended up moving in, crying over the fight that she had with Joanne ("And on my birthday, too!" she had sobbed into the drag queen's shoulder), and helped keep an eye on her best friend. Angel used this opportunity to go out to play more and make extra money; during the summer, Collins' pay wasn't as much because he wasn't teaching. One afternoon in late June, she found Maureen sitting on the couch, bawling and pointing to the bedroom. Angel dropped her things and rushed to her lover's side. Collins was clutching his stomach, coughing and sweating profusely. Both of them cried, knowing exactly what was going on.
Now rather than hang out at the loft, everyone came to Angel's apartment. Mark was the one who came the most. Roger and Mimi were constantly fighting, so they had to arrange when they could make appearances around the other, but they rarely came, knowing that if Collins' sickness passed to one of them, the consequences would be terrible. Angel even had to distance herself from Collins, meaning that Maureen had to stop planning her protest and play doctor. She did reconcile with Joanne, but they both knew that Maureen was needed more at her friends' apartment. Both Maureen and Angel had to get jobs to help pay for the extra medication, food, and rent, their schedules hard to maneuver so they could stay with Collins. Joanne spent her extra vacation days given to her to help the girls with Collins, until she and Maureen had another dispute in August. Angel had to tell NYU that there wasn't a chance Collins could come into work anymore. They understood.
In September, Collins took a turn for the worse. Lesions formed on his dark skin, making Angel worry about him nonstop. Mark started helping out more while Angel and Maureen worked. Roger and Mimi got back together, then broke up. Angel caught Maureen kissing Mark, meaning that Joanne left her again, and at the same time broke Mark's heart when he realized that there was still no chance of the two of them getting back together. The family was at ends, but they put up with each other long enough to help Collins. Mark tried to reason with Collins and insisted that the most practical thing to do was to go to a hospital. Naturally, the anarchist said that he refused to be hooked up to machines in an uncomfortable bed with shitty food when he could be at home with his Angel. As sweet as she thought it was, Angel knew that him staying home was only reducing the amount of time he had left on earth.
Near the end of October, Angel came into the bedroom wearing a tiny gossamer nightgown and her Pussy Galore wig, which she thought would spice things up (they certainly did on New Years). Collins was just waking up, and definitely couldn't complain about the view he was getting when he did.
"Where's Maureen?" he asked, his voice tiny and raspy.
"She got called into work late," Angel answered. "She said that she'll be lucky to get out by morning. Told that girl not to work at Denny's."
"Gotta love the stubborn drama queen." Collins sat up and grinned. "What have I done to deserve such a treat?" He licked his lips greedily at the sight of his Angel, who giggled and sat on the bed next to him.
"You've been having a rough time," she said. She planted a kiss on his lips. "And I thought..." She kissed his forehead. "That we..." She kissed his cheek. "Should have..." She kissed his nose. "Some fun..." She kissed his chin. "While Mo's gone."
"As long as we don't talk about Mo," Collins said. Angel giggled and kissed his lips again.
The next morning, Angel felt so much better. It had been the first time the couple had sex in months. All of the tension built up had been released. She felt more than refreshed. She stretched her arms and looked over to see Collins sleeping on his side, his back to her.
"Morning, lover," Angel greeted, a smile on her face. "I hope you're up for something big for breakfast. I know you don't eat meat, so maybe I can make a vegetarian omelet, hmm?" After a few seconds with no response, she sighed. "I swear, I won't let Maureen eat it all first." She reached over to shake Collins.
That's when she realized how cold his skin was.
"Lover?" Angel sat up and flipped Collins onto his back. His body was stiff, his eyes shut, his skin grey and cold. Angel gasped, an inhuman moan escaping from her lips. She crawled off the bed backwards and fell onto the floor. She couldn't believe it. Not now. It was too soon for him to be gone, especially after last night.
There was a knock on the door. Angel didn't bother to wipe the tears from her eyes, or to make herself look decent, only wearing her nightgown, panties, and long blonde wig. She opened the door to see Mark. The filmmaker paled immediately at the sight of the distraught drag queen.
"It's over," she sobbed before collapsing into his arms, sobbing into his shoulder. Mark stared at the wall while absent-mindedly hugging Angel.
Today, Angel wore one of the simplest outfits she owned - a plain little black dress, nylon stockings, black pumps, and her black bob. Her only makeup was simply water-proof mascara; even though she was heartbroken and overwhelmed, that was no excuse to look a mess in public. She sat on the front bench of the church. Mark and Roger were sitting behind her. Across from them were Mimi and Benny. Behind her was Joanne and Gordon. Maureen sat in the front with Angel. Other Life Support members, teachers from NYU, and workers from the Life Café sat in the rows behind her. On the altar was the Coffin that contained her lover. A picture of him sat on top, along with some flowers that Angel plucked out of the ground of the nearby park and the beloved trench coat she'd bought him last Christmas Eve. Her vision continuously blurred from tears and she just sat motionless as her friends gave their eulogies.
"...I knew the two of them hit it off the moment I'd met him. We were at Maureen's performance, and I saw the way they smiled at each other, how if one moved, the other did, making sure they weren't apart for even a second. And then when they kissed at the Life Café, I could tell they were perfect for each other..."
"...And then there was the time that he ran naked through the Parthenon. I wasn't there, of course, since he went there with Benny. When he came back, Benny was pissed, and when April asked what had happened, Benny said, 'We're banned from the Parthenon's property because someone went streaking!' Although he was pissed, I remember that Roger and Maureen had been laughing with Collins about it for weeks..."
"...You were so much more outspoken than the rest of us. You could've gone to a steakhouse that only served red meat, and soon, they'd be serving salads as dinners. You were my best friend. And I know that nothing will ever change that." Angel looked up to see Maureen letting out a sob - a rare sight for even the diva - as she shook her head. Angel stood up and gave Maureen a hug before letting her sit down. The drag queen slowly made her way to the altar, standing in front of her lover's casket.
"Live in my house," she sang softly. "I'll be your shelter. Just pay me back with one thousand kisses. Be my lover and I'll cover you, yeah." She took the coat in her arms and hugged it close to her. "Open your door, I'll be your tenant. Don't got much baggage to lay at your feet, but sweet kisses I've got to spare. I'll be there, and I'll cover you. Oh, I think they meant it, when they said you can't buy love. Now I know you can rent it, a new lease you are my love... on life, all my life."
She turned around to see everyone else in the church humming along and standing up. She took a deep breath before continuing, "I've long to discover something as true as this is."
"So with a thousand sweet kisses I'll cover you!" one person sang, her voice louder than the others chanting, "Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes."
Angel felt herself starting to cry again. "When you're cold and you're lonely... You've got one nickel only... When you're worn out and tired..." Everyone became silent as her voice rang out, "When your heart has expired." She blocked out everyone else. "Oh lover, I'll cover you, yeah-ah-ah-ah-ah. Oh lover, I'll cover you."
"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes," everyone sang. "Five hundred twenty-five thousand seasons of love!"
"Oh lover, I'll cover you!"
Angel ran her hands over the glossy exterior of the casket before it was lowered into the ground by Paul. The other men from Life Support took shovels and began to bury Collins six feet under. Angel, who finally had no more tears to cry, turned at looked at her friends, all fighting. Benny was stuck between Maureen and Joanne, while Mark backed away from the one brewing between Mimi and Roger.
"I'd be happy to die for a taste of what Collins had!" Angel could hear Mimi and Joanne scream. "Someone to live for, unafraid to say I love you!" Angel made her way over when Joanne started holding Mimi back, the dancer swinging at the rocker.
"All your words are nice Mimi, but loves not a three-way street!" Roger spat, getting in Mimi's face. Joanne had to tighten her grip on Mimi when she tried to wrestle free. "You'll never share real love until you love yourself - I should know!" Roger pulled his arm back, about to hit Mimi. Angel ran over and shoved Roger away from her best friend.
"You all said you'd be cool today, so please, for my sake," she told them. All six looked at the ground, guilt written all over their faces. "I can't believe he's gone." She turned to Roger. "I can't believe you're going. I can't believe this family must die. Collins helped us believe in love. I can't believe you disagree."
Everyone exchanged looks. "I can't believe this is goodbye."
Maureen turned to Joanne and opened her arms. "Pookie..."
"Honeybear..." Joanne ran into her arms. "I missed you."
"I missed your smell."
"I missed your mouth, your..." They began making out.
"Ow!" Maureen winced as she pulled away.
"What?" Joanne asked, confused.
"No, baby, you said ow... What?"
"Well, you bit my tongue..."
"No, I didn't."
"You did - I'm bleeding."
"No, it isn't."
"I think I should know."
"Let me see."
Maureen looked past Joanne to the others. "She doesn't believe me!"
Joanne whirled around. "I was just trying to..." They don't stay mad at each other for much longer and end up laughing and hugging. They say goodbye and walk away in each other's arms.
"Angel Dumott Schunard," the pastor called out.
"Coming," Angel responded. She followed the pastor in the church and into his office. She sat down in the chair in front of his desk while the pastor opted to sit down on top of his desk in front of her.
"So, how will you be paying?" he asked her.
Angel blinked. "Paying?"
"Yes, you do know that you have to pay, right?" The pastor raised as eyebrow, looking more than displeased with the drag queen.
"Well, sir, I don't have any money," Angel confessed.
"That's a problem." The pastor stepped closer, his hand resting on Angel's leg. The drag queen shifted in her seat uncomfortably. "There are other ways you can pay for it..." When his hand slid up her leg, Angel pushed him off and slapped him.
"How dare you!" she spat.
"Fine then, you little bitch," the pastor growled. He grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the door, throwing her at it. She tumbled out, noticing that only Mark and Benny were outside now. "Off the premises now!" he boomed. "We give no handouts here!"
"What happened to Rest In Peace?!" Mark asked.
"Off the premises, queer!"
"That's no way to send a boy to meet his maker!" Angel cried. "They had to know we couldn't pay the undertaker!"
"Don't you worry about him," Benny assured her. He turned to the pastor and said, "Hey, I'll take care of it!" The pastor acknowledged what the yuppie had said before vanishing back into the church. Angel let out a bitter laugh.
"Must be nice to have money," Mark said.
"No shit!" all three said.
"I think it's only fair to tell you that I'm the person who killed you dog," Angel blurted to Benny.
"I know," Benny said. "I always hated that dog." Angel laughed. "Let's pay him off, and then get drunk."
"I can't," Mark told them. "I have a meeting."
"Punk!" Benny and Angel teased.
"Let's go," Benny said.
"Bye, sugar," Angel said, kissing Mark's cheek before skipping after Benny.
Angel moved in with Mark shortly after the funeral. She couldn't bear to stand in the same bedroom she once shared with Collins, let alone that apartment. Mark was also lonely, with Roger across the country in Santa Fe. Angel quit her old job and got a new one at the Life Café, where the manager hired her out of pity. Her presence and constant happiness made everyone in the restaurant smile. It also meant she was given a discount, so she and Mark weren't as hungry as usual. She spent her time between work, hanging around Mark, who was quickly becoming her new best friend, and Mimi, who was still at the rehab Mark had suggested. So far, it seemed like she'd been recovering so much.
"Hello, Angel," the nurse said when Angel came in one day in November. "How are you?"
"I'm wonderful," Angel answered, smiling. "I finally finished that new skirt for Mimi."
"That's great. And by the way, I wore a red dress on my date last night, and lets just say that my boyfriend didn't want to leave."
"I told you, honey, red is going to be your favorite color!" Angel gave the nurse a little wave before walking up to the front desk. "I'm here to see Mimi Marquez."
"Go ahead, Angel," the receptionist told her without looking up. Angel smiled and headed over to Mimi's room.
"Meems, I made you something I know you'll love," she said as she walked into the room. She frowned when she saw that it was vacant.
"Angel, what are you doing here?" a nearby male nurse asked the drag queen.
"I'm here to see Mimi," Angel answered.
"She checked out two days ago. She said that she was going to your apartment... she did, right?"
"Oh, no, chica..." Angel ran out of the rehab center.
Angel didn't stop running until she slid open the loft door. Mark was cutting together his film strips when he saw the drag queen burst through the door. He abandoned his project and helped her get to the couch. He fetched her a bottle of water. She nodded, unable to say words.
"What's wrong?" he asked. "I thought you were going to see Mimi."
"She's not there," Angel told him. "One of the nurses said she checked herself out. She said she was coming here."
"That means... She's somewhere on the streets," Mark realized. He stood up and grabbed his coat. "I'll go out looking for her."
"I'll come with..."
"No, Angel, you need to rest. You look like you ran a marathon."
"Technically, sweetie, I just did."
"You stay here and let me worry about searching for her. You just call Maureen and Joanne and Roger and tell them what's going on, okay?"
"Okay." Mark left, and Angel walked over to the phone. She successfully reached Joanne at work, who said she'd get a hold of Maureen and send her out to look around the city. Roger's new number had been disconnected, unsurprisingly, but that meant that she had to worry about what was happening with Roger too. Angel sighed and decided that there was one more possible person who could know where her best friend was.
"Hello?" the familiar voice answered after three rings.
"Hi, Benny, it's Angel."
"Oh, hello, Angel. How is everything?"
"Not so good. I just found out that Mimi checked herself out of rehab. Is she with you?"
"No. Oh God, she checked herself out? I forgot that she was twenty, of course she could. Shit. Look, I'll call the police and see if they can conduct a search party. I'll call her mom too. Don't worry, Angel, we'll find her."
"Thanks," Angel said before hanging up the phone. Deep down, she knew that there was a very good chance they wouldn't find Mimi.
A few weeks later it was December, and they still hadn't found Mimi. Joanne had printed up flyers, which Angel and Maureen posted all around Alphabet City. Mark accepted a job at Buzzline. The poor filmmaker was unable to sit around all day, wondering where all of her friends were and if they were okay. Angel worked overtime at the Life Café. With both Mimi and Roger missing, everyone was affected. Even Joanne and Maureen stopped coming out of their apartment, unless Joanne went to work or the gang decided to go out to the Life, and took this as a sign that if they left each other, they'd end up just like Mimi and Roger. Angel became an insomniac, getting a few hours of sleep each night at most. Mark tried to help her, but she insisted that everything was alright.
"You've been doing so much for us," he told her that night. "Ang, you'll end up killing yourself at this rate. All you do is overwork yourself and stress out over everything that's been going on."
"Sweetie, I'm just fine," Angel said strongly.
"No, Angel, you're not. You're acting like everything is alright, but you know it's not."
"Dammit, Mark, you think I don't know that?" Angel sat down on the couch and buried her face in her hands.
"Sorry," Mark said sheepishly. He sat down next to Angel and rubbed her back lightly.
"I know that everything is fucked up," Angel said. "I just... I don't want to sit around and just mope about it."
Suddenly, Mark kissed Angel. She was surprised and shoved him off once she came to her senses. Mark blushed heavily.
"Wha-huh?" She was too shocked to say anything.
"I'm so sorry," Mark blurted. "I-I didn't mean to. It was just a random spur of the moment thing. It meant nothing, I swear! I'm just... I'm so alone right now."
"It's okay, sweetie. I understand." Angel pulled Mark into a hug, knowing how confused the blonde was.
"Um, am I missing something?" a new voice asked. Angel and Mark looked up to see Roger standing in the doorway, yellow Fender and duffel bag in hands, and a confused look on his face.
"Roger!" they cried. They ran over and hugged him, even though they both know how much Roger despised human contact, save Mimi.
"Asshole, don't you ever fucking disappear like that again!" Angel scolded, pulling away to smack his shoulder. The rocker winced. Mark laughed at him.
"I'm sorry, but I decided to come back to New York," Roger explained. "Santa Fe wasn't really where I belonged. So I drove back here, sold the car, bought a new guitar, and here I am. Even better, I think I've got my song!"
Angel and Mark smiled before hugging him again.
Angel giggled as she tucked two thousand dollars in her pocket. As it turned out, Muffy and Benny's fighting was annoying the same woman who hired Angel to kill their Akita last year. She offered to pay double to rat out Benny to his wife for being a cheater. Angel graciously accepted, knowing fully well that she and her roommates needed the money. Even though she'd just destroyed a marriage, it was worth it, and it made her smile. There was something about Christmas that always made her happy. Or maybe it was because she could wear her signature holiday outfit, from the zebra tights to the Santa dress, and was even excited about her ruffled panties, which she didn't mind flashing people with. There was a skip in her step as she passed a group of shivering homeless people, all of whom were frowning.
"Santy Claus is coming!" one shouted, making obscene gestures.
"'Cause Santy Clause ain't coming," the others said, obviously annoyed with that man. Angel offered a friendly wave. She wanted to give them some money, but she knew fully well that they would run to The Man before thinking about buying food. Shelter wasn't an option for them either; the Holiday Inn was swamped, again. Angel walked up the familiar stairs to the apartment she now called home to find that the power was out again.
"I wonder how Alison found out about Mimi," she heard Mark say from the other side of the door.
"Maybe a little bird told her," came Roger's voice.
"Or an Angel," Angel said as she came into the loft. She held out several of the twenties to the Boho boys. "I had a little hunch that we could use a little flow."
"Drumming again?" Roger asked.
"Back killing dogs?"
"No, no, no, I went back to the Gracie Muse to tip off Alison for a very rewarding price."
"A price?" the boys asked. "Well?"
"Two-zero-zero-zero dollars." Angel pulled the rest of the money out of her pocket and grinned. "Yet ratting Benny out isn't the solution. The powers that must be undermined where the dwell." She grinned, remembering what Collins had said last year. "In a small, exclusive gourmet institution where we overcharge the wealthy clientele!" She saw Mark smile, knowing that he understood where this came from.
"Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe," the three said. "With a private corner banquet in the back!"
"We'll make it yet, we'll somehow get to Santa Fe," Angel stated, doing a small turn.
"But you'd miss New York before you could unpack," Roger pointed out. Angel grinned and ruffled the rocker's hair. He whined and tried to fix it. Mark teased him about using too much hair gel. The three laughed about that. Angel spun around a bit, revealing her panties to the boys. Roger jokingly made catcalls while Mark started filming her. She mock-threatened to break the lens. The trio grew serious for a moment before giggling again.
"Mark! Roger! Angel! Anyone - help!" they heard Maureen shouting. Mark was the first over to the window.
"Maureen?" he called down. Angel and Roger stood behind the filmmaker.
"It's Mimi - I can't get her up the stairs!"
Roger and Angel both shoved Mark back and looked out the window. Sure enough, Joanne was holding a frail Mimi in her arms while Maureen was waving her arms at them.
"NO!" Roger shouted. Angel and Mark ran outside and took Mimi from Joanne's arms. They carried her up the stairs with the girls following them.
"She was huddled in the park in the dark," Maureen explained as they entered the loft. "And she was freezing and begged to come here."
"Over here," Roger instructed. He'd taken Angel's red jacked and laid it down on the metal table. "Oh, God..."
"Got a light," Mimi murmured in a daze. She looked up at her friends. "I know you... you're shivering..."
"She's been living on the street," Joanne said.
"We need some heat," Roger cried.
"I'm shivering!" Mimi cried. Roger stayed right at her side.
"We can buy some wood and something to eat," Mark suggested.
"I'm afraid she needs more than heat," Angel winced. This was too much. She couldn't lose her best friend and the love of her life in two months. It couldn't happen.
"I heard that," Mimi said in a hushed tone.
"Angel will call for a doctor, honey," Maureen assured, giving Angel a look. The drag queen nodded and rushed to the phone, dialling the familiar three digits.
"Don't waste your money on Mimi, me, me..." Mimi's speech was now unintelligible as she faded out.
"Hello? 9-1-1?" Angel shouted into the phone when someone answered. She was almost immediately put on hold. "I'm on hold!" She slammed the phone down angrily.
"Cold, cold!" Mimi cried. She tried to grab Roger's shirt, but it kept on slipping through her fingers. "Would you light my candle?"
"Yes, we'll... oh, God, find a candle," Roger said. Angel couldn't watch this. As much as she wanted to hold her best friend's hand and tell her that everything would be alright, she knew what Roger was going through. She stood to the side with Mark, Maureen, and Joanne.
"You okay, Angel?" Joanne asked quietly. "You're really pale."
"Yeah, honey, I'm fine," she lied. When Joanne gave her a classic lawyer I-know-you're-a-dirty-liar look, she confessed, "It's just too soon for me to lose someone else. I mean, first Collins, now Mimi? You guys saw how I was the first time, how do you think I'll be now?"
"You can't take it out on yourself because they're sick," Mark said. "I know that I don't personally know what it's like, but you know that eventually, that's gonna be you in Collins or Mimi's position. Collins had had AIDS for years, even before I met him, so we knew that it was bound to happen to him. Mimi has been living on the street for weeks. She hasn't been taking her AZT. We're lucky that we found her alive. And one day, we'll all be sitting around, watching you as you start to expire. When that happens, you'll already know that you departed this earth knowing that we all love you."
Angel smiled and hugged her friends. They looked over to see Roger holding Mimi's limp body in his arms.
"Mimi!" he screamed as he sobbed into her shoulder. He set her down gently and held onto her, as if to try to still keep her warm.
Suddenly, the Latina sits up. "I jumped over the moon!" she cried.
"A leap of moo!"
"She's back!" Joanne exclaimed. Everyone gathered around her.
"I was in a tunnel," Mimi began. "Heading for this warm, white light..."
"Oh my God!" Maureen breathed.
"And I swear-" Mimi looked at Angel. "-Collins was there! And he looked good!" Angel let out a laugh. "And he said, 'Turn around, girl, and listen to that boy's shitty song.'"
"Of course he did," Roger chuckled as he wiped away tears.
"She's drenched," Angel noted.
"Her fever's breaking," Maureen added, putting the back of her hand against Mimi's forehead.
"There is no future," Mark sang. "There is no past."
"Thank God this moment's not the last," Roger continued, looking at Mimi.
"There's only us, there's only this," the couple sang, remembering what they'd learned from Life Support. "Forget, regret, or life is yours to miss."
"No other road, no other way,"the other joined in. "No day but today!"
Maureen and Joanne kissed each other before hugging Mimi. "I can't control my destiny. I trust my soul. My only goal is just to be."
Angel is sandwiched in a hug between Mark and Roger. "Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?"
The power turned back on, and Mark's film continued playing. Everyone turned to watch it, smiling. Roger hugged Mimi to him. Mark sat down next to his best friend and was even pulled into the hug as well. Maureen and Joanne held onto each other and kissed. Angel stood off to the side, feeling a bit left out, but happy nonetheless.
"Without you," Maureen, Joanne, and Mimi sang, "the hand gropes, the ear hears, the pulse beats. Life goes on when I'm gone, but I'd die without you. I'd die without you. I'd die without you. I'd die without you."
"There's only now," Mark, Roger, and Angel sang simultaneously, "There's only here. Give in to love or live in fear. No other path, no other way. No day but today. No day but today. No day but today. No day but today."
Angel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, she could see Collins standing next to her, and even feel him holding her hand in his, just like he had Christmas Eve last year.
"No day but today!"