It would be easy and nice to say that they lived happily every after once Mimi came back, all smooth resolution and fade to black, but this wasn’t that kind of a story. Mimi was still sick, very sick, and for a good month after she continually scared the life out of all of them by repeatedly relapsing, until Roger hadn’t sleep more than two hours in the past thirty-six and Collins had taken up semi-permanent residence on the loft couch.
Mark didn’t want to think about the fact that while most of the reason Collins stayed was for Roger, would always stay when a friend needed him, a good part of it was because Collins had nowhere else to go, no one else to go home to.
There wasn’t any more food in the house, so Collins had gone off to convince the ATM to float him some cash and Mark was reading a book on the couch. It wasn’t quite ‘reading a book’, it was more sitting quietly and staring at nothing because he didn’t want to wake Mimi and hopefully Roger, who had to fall asleep sometime, in the next room. For a moment Mark let his eyes close, wishing this was just another day, and Collins and Angel were just out and Roger was just taking a break from practicing his guitar and—
He heard a door creak and looked for Collins.
The front door was still closed. Roger stood in the bedroom doorway, half-lit by the crappy lamp on the floor near Mark’s feet.
“How is she?” Mark felt that one of these days he would remember to stop asking this question. Mimi—like Angel had, like Collins was and Roger too, the rest of my damn friends how dare they leave me here—was dying.
He didn’t think Roger heard him, or saw him, even, but then he came over and curled into the lumpy pillows on the other end of the couch.
Roger had slept too, a little, which made him look better and worse. Some of the nervous energy was gone, but there was brittleness to his posture that made Mark still whisper.
“That’s good.” Mark said, running a finger along the tattered edge of the paperback in his hands. Not that he’d really been paying attention to a word on the page, but it was better than meeting Roger’s gaze.
“Yeah,” Roger said, and the word fell jagged and a little wet into the silence. The slick clench that was Roger’s attempt to swallow, breathe. “A couple more naps and she’ll be as good as new.”
“Roger-“ Mark started, but what else could he say?
“Maybe…” Roger’s hands twisted together, pale fingers pulled paler as he tugged and clenched his hands. “Maybe if we went back to the clinic…”
“No, Roger. No. We can’t, they’d probably send her off to the hospital or something and…” Mark bit his lip, his words, stopping before she’d never get out again.
He could feel the couch shift a little as Roger nodded.
“If we could get meds,” he began again.
“Roger,” Mark tried to let it be patient, gentle, but there was enough bite to his voice that Roger twitched, almost a wince. “Trust me, if it was a question of the right medicine, the right pill, would there be any reason for us to be sitting here? If it was a question of money, would either of us stay here instead of breaking down Benny’s door? It won’t work.”
Roger breathed, a defeated and quiet inhale and letting go of breath that made Mark’s eyes prickle with tears.
“I wish I could fix her.” Broken, Roger’s voice was so broken, like Mimi was in the other room. Like they all were.
Mark wondered if that’s why Maureen and Joanne stayed away, because they didn’t like being reminded of how whole they were compared to their chipped and fractured friends.
“Me too,” Mark whispered. Which was almost too simple, because Mark wished sometimes, even though he knew that wishing was pointless, that dreams always had a price tag, he wished that he could fix them all, that there was some way that could raise the dead and dying, give Collins back his smile and Roger the fire in his eyes.
Roger sighed a little, burrowed deeper into the couch.
“She said she wanted me to call Benny, see if he’d come and see her one… come see her.”
“God,” Mark forgot how painful it would be to look at Roger and stared. “What’d you say?”
“I said I’d try.” Roger shrugged. “I’m sure Muffy would be thrilled with the invitation.”
Mark chuckled without meaning to, feeling it scrape past the lump in his throat. That Mimi had asked Roger to find Benny, find the man who had kept her and had her and loved her before… and maybe still. But Roger seemed calm, and was even smiling a bit like he knew what Mark was thinking.
“I don’t hate him, Mark.”
“You don’t?” Mark didn’t even pretend not to know who “he” was. Wasting time had fallen out of fashion sometime before Halloween.
“Not anymore.” The words caught and Roger had to cough. Mark tried to think of it as merely a noise, a pause, not a chance that a conflux of germs and sickness that had clung, stuck, would carry his world away. Roger tucked his knees up to his chin. “Because if I hated him, I’d have to hate what he did, and he… loved her. Or something. Tried to help her. And so, for her, I… can’t.”
He finally noticed the look on Mark’s face, probably something between horrified and amazed, and laughed. Brittle, but real.
“Christ, Mark, I’m not going to marry him, I’m just saying I most likely won’t sock him in the face the next time I see him.”
“That’s okay,” said Collins, standing at the loft door with an armload of paper bags. “I’ll hold him and Mark can hit him.”
Roger smiled and Mark stood to take the groceries. He noticed without wanting to that Collins looked tired, and was breathing heavier than he should have been after climbing the stairs. But Collins’ look said to leave it, so Mark laughed. It sounded close to normal.
“Bruise these hands? Are you crazy? These hands create cinematic genius; I can’t waste that on a loser like Benny.”
Collins grinned and joined Roger on the sofa. Mark set the bags on the table, glancing at their contents. Soup, pasta, cereal. Cheap stuff to keep them from starving.
“I see you really broke the bank on this one,” Mark said, dryly, and Collins laughed again, laughed like wasn’t thinking about how tired he looked or how heavy the air felt in the loft, but laughed like he was merely happy, enjoying the joke.
Angel had laughed like that, a proud sound that seemed to defy sickness and pain and tears.
The sound made Roger sit up a little, smile in a hesitant twist of his lips. Like he wasn’t supposed to find things funny, a gesture that was deftly April’s, actually, if Mark sat and really thought about April before the drugs changed her, made her fade and shatter. Pretty, wild April, who had always looked like she wasn’t supposed to be smiling, like it would get her in trouble, but did it anyway, defiant.
Angel and April, resident rule breakers.
From the bedroom, muffled by the door, came a sound that would have been a cough if it had more air in it.
“Sounds like somebody’s awake,” Roger murmured, but his smile stuck, lay palely on top of the pain in his voice like glass, breakable but whole.
“I’ll make some soup,” Mark said, and it seemed he had finally started saying the right thing because Roger’s smile grew firmer as he walked across the room, and for once his back was straight and his shoulders almost relaxed as he went to Mimi.