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Mark had often wondered, in the midst of that cool and seemingly endless February, why he hung around with so many drug addicts. Roger was clean now, sure, but there was still the clench in his shoulders when they walked past the corner he’d bought from, or the look in his eyes when it was late night early morning and the notes wouldn’t come. He still hadn’t written his song, but that was all right; Mimi was there and she was like a song, all soaring melody and sharp counterpoint. Them being together took the hurt from Mimi’s eyes, the ache from Roger’s voice. It made them both stop looking for corners.

Collins enjoyed the rapid ups-then-downs of living with Angel: this week, shanty town. Next week? Hilton penthouse. Mark could remember when Collins smoked pot (the academic activist in him almost demanded it) in a serious way; he would then detail long involved plots and plans. World domination. Staring tomorrow. After Angel, his plans became real, a little more grounded. Which was why he’d quit. It made sense, at least to Collins. Because of that, it made sense to Angel.

Mark never had the money for drugs, none of them did, really, which was just the bitter irony of it; only Benny had the money and his drugs were sex and power and living off the lost look in Roger’s eyes whenever Benny mentioned Mimi.

He’d say, if asked, that he never had the inclination for it, except for once. Once, they were all out together, Roger and Mimi and Angel and Collins and Maureen and Joanne and all (Benny was uptown with Allison, indulging), out at the Life Café, laughing and drinking and... happy. It wasn’t an odd night, really, perfectly normal; and when Mark looked over at Roger and Mimi, and Roger was whispering something in her ear, it should have been the same. But it wasn’t. Roger had that same tension in his shoulders, but it was a good tension, like the laughter in his mouth and in his eyes, and suddenly Mark wanted it, wanted that, but he couldn’t, it wasn’t his. Nothing was. All he had was the bottle in front of him, bottles upon mindless bottles, more than he should, to wash out the taste of yearning and the ache that was in his mouth and in his head and curled around the sting of sharp, sharp counterpoint.

Not a lot of alcohol, but enough to have him vomiting in the gutter outside. Roger tried to laugh away the fear in his eyes by calling him a lightweight. Collins looked up from his seat next to Angel and asked if he was all right.

It was Maureen who saw him leave and followed, rubbing his back as he knelt on the sidewalk, staying until he was empty and lightheaded. She handed him a crumpled tissue, then, being Maureen, started to sing along with a third floor radio. You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you need. But if you try sometimes…

Mark stood on the corner alone for a moment, then followed his ex-girlfriend back through the door, towards Roger’s easy laughter.

[September 29, 2005]