Her Name was April
Author notes: Pre- Rent. I don't own these characters.
Roger had always known that April was impulsive. It was one of the traits about her that had drawn him to her, from the start. He had known, from the first moment that she met him backstage after his show, intent in her hope that he would make the time to speak with her.
She was just a small slip of a girl, no different from any of the others in the crowd, at first glance, but nevertheless she was bold enough to squeeze her way back through the throngs of people still thrashing and swaying at the base of the stage and around its side, ignoring the jostles and blows received from stray elbows and stomping feet, intent upon her goal. She had not let herself consider that perhaps she would be stopped from reaching him, that perhaps he would have no patience for her expression of interest, that perhaps when standing face to face, without the intoxicating vibe of the microphone and the expanse of the stage in between, the man whom had moved her heart and awakened her desire throughout most of the night would not match up to the image she had built up for him in her thoughts.
Instead she had made her way back to him, had lay a cold hand on the inner part of his arm from behind him, and when he had turned to her, she had smiled, its self-conscious shyness belying the bravado she had expressed in coming to stand before him at all.
"Hi," she had said, her hand still resting on his arm. "I'm April."
That was all, to start off with, but it was enough. Looking down at her, with her short, slightly disheveled auburn hair, her slim frame, and her bright blue eyes, shining up at him with an admiration that bordered on worship, Roger had suspected even then that this girl would end up rocking his world.
"April," he had smiled back, and as he had taken her hand in his, lifting it to lightly brush against his lips, he had watched her face flush with pleasure, her eyes crinkling in the corners with her slightly widened smile. "It's a pleasure. I'm Roger...hope you're having a good time tonight?"
She was, though not in the open, loud manner of the majority of the crowd. He had noticed her before from the stage, though not with conscious interest; she had not been pretty in the stereotypical scantily clad, long-haired, large-breasted manner of many of the girls who showed up to watch his shows, girls who would giggle and spill their drinks and scream out his name in between numbers. No, this girl-April- had been quiet, standing in the front with the others, but with no drink, with no cluster of friends gathered about her with their arms loosely draped over her shoulders, no lover with his hand groping up her side and around towards her breasts. April had stood alone even among the crowd, swaying slightly to the music without singing along, her lips curved into a faint smile. But her eyes had shone as brightly as the others, luminescent with feeling, and they had never once strayed from Roger's face.
She had been almost glowing, her otherwise thin, almost plain face taking on beauty in her enjoyment of the moment. And seeing her face to face, holding her hand in his, Roger could see that beauty even more clearly, enough so for him to lean his lips close enough to her ear to cause her to shiver, nearly brushing her skin.
"It's been a crazy night…what would you think about the two of us getting out of here?"
From that point onward, the rest had been history- or, the way Roger looked at it now, a slow descent into both their destructions.
Impulsive, he had learned, was April's way, and when paired with her tendency to swing between passivity and emotional outbursts, it could be either fun and endearing or exasperating, even dangerous. She could go along with his suggestions to climb onto their rooftop and dance close to the edge, twirling and laughing and shouting even as she wobbled in spiked heels, her short hair ruffling in the wind as Roger played his guitar for her, never doubting for a moment that she would not fall- or perhaps daring the fates, tempting them to give her one stumble in the wrong direction. She would go to any party, any gig of his, regardless of whether it meant she would be delegated to standing alone in the corner, waiting for him to finish interacting with people she did not know and was too shy to introduce herself to without him standing at her side. She would at his urging run across the road during the height of traffic, cold fingers clutched in his, laughing and gasping with the adrenaline of the near collisions they encountered as horns honked and drivers swore, extending middle fingers their way which they would only acknowledge with a wave. She was willing to stay up all night and sleep half the day, if Roger suggested, even if it meant losing another job; she believed him when he told her that he would always be able to take care of them both.
"Don't worry, April Lily," he would tell her as they lay back on his lumpy futon, his arms around her, one finger lightly twirling a strand of her hair as she hooked one leg over his, her chin resting against his chest. "You don't need any of those jerks, right? I'll never let you go without."
And she had believed him. Always, she had believed him. Smiling up at him with those shining blue eyes, April had trusted every word he spoke to her, every gesture he made, as the inevitable truth, simply because he spoke it. She would do anything he asked, anything that she thought he might enjoy or appreciate, simply to prove herself to him over, and over, to somehow earn, or continue earning, his devotion, devotion that was already hers regardless.
And that was why, the first time he offered to shoot her up, she accepted without reservations- she, who at 22 years old, had never had anything harder than marijuana, who had begun to regularly drink only when Roger began to offer. It was Roger who was asking, Roger who she with her life, and it was through this misplaced trust in him, Roger was later to realize, that he had indeed taken her life in his hands.
"A little smack now and then isn't anything to worry about, " he had told her, even as he carefully rolled up her sleeve, turning her arm so he could see the fragile blue of her veins beneath her skin, even as he placed the needle's tip against the inside of her elbow. "It will make you feel so good, baby, you'll see…it makes you feel free. I want you to feel as good as I do."
And for a time, she had. She had taken to the needle with an enthusiasm that only April could, falling laughing into his arms as the first crest of her high hit, eager to explore his body with both lips and hands in a fervor that surpassed even the passion she had always shown before. Even now Roger vividly remembers those first few times of shooting up with April, how every nerve of his body seemed to open up to pleasure in a way he had never felt before, how every color, every sound, every touch was magnified until he could hardly breathe with the beauty of it all….the beauty of April herself. He could not get close enough to her, could not hear her voice or feel her touch too often, to the point that sometimes it seemed he would physically hurt, in those times, if she did not remain in close contact.
Shooting up quickly became a ritual between them before and after each of Roger's shows, and then a daily activity, until Roger's world had narrowed to the point that music, heroin, and April were all that it consisted of, and all that really mattered to him. He did not notice when it was that what he had thought of as fun, even bonding between them, began to shift from an action they simply wanted to one they needed, even one they would suffer from the lack of if they had to do without. He only knew that eventually, it got to the point where he felt sick to his stomach without it, that he would shake so badly he could barely hold his guitar, let alone play. He only knew that he sweated even when shivering, that every muscle in his body ached, and that to feel such pain, to see April in such anguish as well, was such agony that he could not rest until he had done whatever it took to make them both feel better again.
It was thinking of those times, how April had cried and writhed in the center of their bed, sweat plastering her hair against her hollowed cheeks, bruise-like smudges beneath her eyes as she begged him to please, please make the hurt go away, please fix her, help her, and it was this, this hopelessness and suffering in eyes bright with feverish pain rather than the excitement that had once shone out, that even now made him physically ill to remember. It was his fault, he had known even when he himself was ill, that she suffered so. It was his doings that had brought her to where she was, it was her trust of him that had allowed her to put her life in his hands. And the irony of her faith in him and his protection was that he was the one who had marked her life's inevitable early end.
April had always been sensitive, even emotional. Roger had known this about her within the first week of being with her. If he were late for a date, she would take it personally, suspecting that it was his way of indicating that he didn't want to be with her at all. If she saw him speaking to even one of the many adoring females that always tried to claw their ways towards him at a performance, she would first become jealous, convinced that they not only were trying to sleep with him, but that Roger might not have the self-control to resist. Many times after such an occasion would end with her in tears, asking him with shaky intonation if he thought she was pretty, or why it was that he stayed with her when he could have others who were so much more so than she.
Sometimes an even slightly negative remark about her appearance could make her withdraw behind a locked door, crying, until Roger would force it open and apologize, and scary or sad movies upset her to the point that she often couldn't finish watching them, instead hiding her face against his arm. Conversely, she could also become angry enough to scream and throw things, to slam doors and kick counter tops until she injured her own feet, and more than once she had broken a mirror with her fists, holding up her bloody fist as through proof of the injury she felt herself driven to commit. She could come up with creative name-calling almost as well as Maureen, and when she was truly furious, she could retreat into an icy silence that rivaled Maureen's as well.
Roger had always been able to handle her mood swings, even as they became more exaggerated as her heroin use increased. He had considered them interesting, even endearing, calling her his April Hurricane with a smile and a kiss to the tip of her nose. He could handle them, even remain somewhat amused by them, as long as they were balanced and made up for by the exuberance of the enthusiasm and impulsive enjoyment of life that was part of them as well.
But as they both became more dependent on the needle and the drug that went along with it, as they both became progressively sicker without it, the high points of her moods began to take more and more of the drug to occur, lasting a shorter and shorter amount of time, and then began to disappear entirely. With no excitement, no happiness left with April's moods, all that was left was her anger, but much more frequently and prominently, her despair.
April's occasional spurts of jealousy became an anxiety that was so all-consuming that even when Roger could not perform any longer, could barely leave their home, let alone be noticed or admired by other girls, she felt such insecurity that she could not at times bear for him to leave her sight, or even to relinquish physical contact with him.
"I need you here," she would tell him, her words almost a gasp. "I need you with me, I need you to feel better."
And no matter how badly he himself was feeling, Roger would stay, because to walk away from her when she felt bad was to make himself feel that much worse.
At other times she could not stand to see him or touch him, locking herself into their bedroom or bathroom and curling into a ball in the corner, shrinking away from his outstretched hand when he finally broke in. Self-inflicted wounds began to appear on her inner arms and thighs, shallow scratches at first, then deep cuts that left scars, and when Roger asked about them, April could not articulate to his satisfaction why she felt driven to hurt herself in this way. It became a daily occurrence for her to cry, sometimes for over an hour at a stretch, with nothing he could seem to do or say being effective at comforting her. Nothing, but to provide her with her fix.
It had once been he who was her world, he whom she trusted. Somewhere along the way, something had changed, and the place in her life that had once been reserved for him was now occupied by heroin. He was merely the person who provided what she now truly needed.
He himself had never considered it, but April must have suspected, or why else would she have taken the test? What Roger couldn't understand was the secrecy with which she had done so, the lengths she had gone to in order to leave the house without him for the first time in weeks, probably while he was out to get them another fix. For her to force herself up and out of bed when feeling badly, to drag herself down to the clinic and then back, must have required a strength of will and determination that April had rarely shown herself to possess anymore by that point in time. She must have known, even before she received the results…but what Roger struggled with now, what he couldn't understand, was why she felt that she had to hide what she was doing from him, why April, who had found herself incapable at times of walking out of a room that he was occupying, felt so strongly about taking an HIV test alone that she had taken a bus uptown and back, while in the grips of withdrawal.
He would never know now what she was thinking, how scared and sick and alone she must have felt on that ride to the clinic, how much more so on her ride back, the results of her test clinched tightly in her hand. He would never know if she was crying, if she spoke to anyone at all, if anyone at the clinic had talked to her or tried to comfort her. He would never know if she had felt frightened and panicked, if she had been angry…he would never know if she hated him, if she blamed him for the stark words on the paper, the words spelling out her future
Positive. HIV Positive.
Did she blame him, as he now blamed himself? Did she want to get back at him, to give him a brutal, unforgettable slap in the face that would sting without fading for the rest of his shortened life? Or had he been no more than an afterthought, all her focus caught up instead in the certain misery of the rest of her existence? Or, and this somehow seemed one of the worst possibilities to Roger, had April calmly examined the possibilities of life with AIDS versus death by suicide, life with him versus death alone, and come to the conclusion, without emotional attachment, that she wanted to die?
He would never know, and the question was one that would keep him awake at night even past his six months of struggling through withdrawal, for grief, he soon came to know, was an addiction even more powerful than heroin. Whatever April had been thinking, however she had come to her decision, the results had been the same- her body, pale and inert in his bathtub, the water tinted red with the blood seeping from her slit wrists. And the note propped against the bathroom mirror, the three words leaving him no clue as to her emotions or the intent behind either the words or the act: "We've got AIDS."
It had taken him almost a month later to check for himself whether what she had assumed to be true of him, as well as herself, was correct. It was.
Roger could never understand what it had been like for April, in her last moments, the tone of the message she had meant to leave behind for him, or whether she had meant anything more than the surface nature of those words at all. But it was something he could not stop thinking about, an open possibility that would not leave his thoughts. And as his withdrawal began to subside, and his awareness of the limited time he had left sharpened, he began to think of the message he himself wished to leave behind, of what he wanted to say to the world before he joined April in making his exit, through the nature of his disease.
It dawned on him, over time, that what he wanted, the message he wanted- no, needed- to leave was a song. One song, one last refrain, saying everything he had had never had the chance or ability to say before…a song for April. Not her words, for he could never know those, but a tribute to her, to his memory, to his regret, to his love. One song for April, and he could leave this life, knowing that everything that needed to be said, had been.
He only hoped that he could find the words, and that whatever they turned out to be, somehow, April would hear them. That somehow, she would understand.