December 24th, 10:23pm, EST
Joanne was the one who saw it first.
"You're in love with them," she said quietly, in the hospital waiting room.
Maureen was asleep with her head in Joanne's lap. Roger was pacing back and forth in front of the admissions desk. Collins was back at the apartment, calling everyone they knew saying We found her, she's alive. In the tiny of bubble of calm that surrounded them in the chaos of the waiting room, Joanne watched him with clear, sharp eyes.
Finally, too late, Mark said, "I'm in love with the idea of them."
Joanne snorted, unimpressed by his hedging.
He wasn't lying, but she wasn't wrong.
He was in love with the idea of them, had been since the beginning. Mimi, so bright and fierce and alive and on the edge of burning up, and Roger, so steady and quiet and brilliant and already turning in on himself. They could save each other, he thought, and it was like framing a perfect shot, everything clicking into place.
When Mimi and Roger crashed and burned, when they both disappeared from his life, it hurt more than he was expecting, worse than that feeling of not getting the camera up in time.
Even Mark didn't know himself until he was editing the film, until he had to go through everything he'd thought had mattered about 1990, frame by frame. He thought he'd cut it all out, left all the evidence of his foolish heart on the cutting room floor, but then, Joanne had always been sharp.
March 3rd, 8:47pm, EST
Mimi moved in, and Mark didn't move out, mostly because he couldn't afford to. And it wasn't like he didn't love the loft, but there were times when he wished the walls were thicker. Or, in some cases, existed.
When the shouting finally stopped, Mark gave them ten minutes and then poked his head out. Roger was gone, and Mimi was sitting on the fire-escape, hunched over against the cold and smoking furiously.
Mark wrapped a blanket around himself and grabbed Mimi's coat.
She smiled gratefully at him when he handed it to her. He clutched his blanket more tightly and climbed out to join her.
They were quiet for a minute, then Mimi said, "I went to see my old dealer today."
Mark snorted. "Yeah, I picked up on that."
She winced. "It didn't mean…what he thought it meant. I just—Layla owed him some money, and she was afraid to go by herself, and I guess I just wanted to see if I could do it. If I was strong enough."
She ground out her cigarette and shivered a little, and Mark held open one side of his blanket like a wing. She slid in close, under his arm, and he wrapped the blanket around both of them.
She put her head on his shoulder and said, "I'm going to do it this time. I'm never using again." A year ago, six months ago, it would have all been bravado and flash, but in that moment, she sounded quiet and steady.
"Yeah," Mark said, equally soft, and behind them, Roger said, "I know."
They turned to look at him, and he scrambled out the window to join them. He had his own blanket, and draped one end of it over Mark's shoulders, settling himself on Mimi's other side. He kissed her temple, and slid his arm around her waist to rest his hand on Mark's hip.
They sat like that on the fire-escape, until Mark couldn't feel his toes anymore, and the loft seemed warm and cozy afterwards.
April 17th, 2:01am, EST
"That was a nice party," Mark mumbled. On his left, Roger laughed, and on his right, Mimi said, "Yes, yes, it was. Watch out for the puddle."
They maneuvered carefully around the puddle. Mark had his arms wrapped around Roger and Mimi's waists, because he'd had maybe one too many glasses of wine with dinner.
It had been a very nice party, to celebrate the fact that Joanne had gotten some kind of promotion at work, the lawyer equivalent of tenure, he thought. There was wine and music and dancing and people laughing, everyone happy for their friend, just for one night.
Maureen flirted with absolutely everybody, but her eyes always went back to Joanne, smiling and talking at the edge of the room.
Mark had decided that Joanne had won Maureen because Joanne was willing to stand up to her, to push back, to fight for what she wanted. Mark was maybe thinking about Joanne and Maureen when Roger slammed the door to the loft behind them, and Mark leaned in to kiss his mouth.
(Mark and Roger had kissed once before, a long time ago, during Roger's glam rocker phase, eyeliner and long hair and an every-present bottle of whiskey. Mark remembered it only hazily, fragments of sensation like a film of other people's dreams.)
He heard Mimi's sharp hiss of breath beside him, and he kept his arm around her waist, pulling her in closer.
For just a moment, Roger opened his mouth and kissed him back, leaning into the embrace, and then he was pulling back and saying, "Hey, hey, no."
Mark made a little frustrated noise. "I'm not that drunk," he said.
Roger and Mimi exchanged one long glance, a whole silent conversation that he couldn't follow.
"Go to bed," Mimi said gently, and he looked at their faces, a united front against him, and did.
April 17th, 10:56am, EST
They were sitting at the kitchen table when he got up. They smiled at him, but there was something careful and wary behind their expressions.
Mark was pretty sure he'd fucked everything up last night, but he figured he might as well go out in a blaze of glory. When Mimi pushed a cup of coffee across the table to him, he took her hand and kissed the underside of her wrist, right over her pulse. Her lips parted on a silent breath, and her eyes were wide and dark and little bruised-looking, like she hadn't slept well.
Mark shifted his gaze to Roger. "I still want this," he said. "I still want you."
"No," Roger said, and his voice was low and rough like the words hurt coming out. "You—we can't."
Mimi turned her hand in his grasp, sliding her fingers between his and squeezing hard before pulling away completely.
"There's already so little love in the world. Don't—don't throw this away," Mark said, and it came out more softly that he had intended.
"Your life is already short enough. Don't make it shorter by taking stupid risks," Roger said.
Mark looked at them, and they looked back at him, and finally he nodded jerkily.
"Fine," he said, and walked out the door.
He went to Maureen and Joanne's place. Maureen looked like she was going to make a joke when she opened the door, but she frowned when she saw his face.
"What?" she asked. "What did you do?"
He told her, and she hugged him, and whispered, "Oh, baby," into his ear.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
He gave a humorless little laugh. "I don't know," he said. "I was thinking about running away. It seems to have worked for everyone else."
April 20th, 5:18am, EST
Collins turned out to know a guy in Chicago who was doing a project on police brutality and needed someone with film experience to record interviews.
"They basically can't pay you, but you can crash at his place, and I know you'd like the work," he said, and Mark grabbed at the chance.
Collins was also the one who helped him sneak back into the loft so Mark could get his stuff the morning he was going to leave.
"You could do this the mature and responsible way and actually move out while they're not sleeping," Collins said.
"I'm sorry, I think the boat sailed on mature and responsible when I took the job in Chicago. Give me a boost up."
Roger and Mimi were sleeping on the sofa when he crept in through the fire-escape window, like they had been sitting up waiting for something, or someone. He hesitated at the sight, but the thought of talking to them was a thin, sharp pain in his chest, so he just packed up a single duffle bag of his possessions and snuck back out the way he'd come.
Collins went with him to the Port Authority bus terminal.
"So, hey," Mark said on the subway. "Can I ask you…"
He trailed off, and Collins bumped their shoulders together. "What, man?"
"Do you regret getting involved with Angel?" Mark kind of asked it in a rush.
Collins was quiet for a minute. "I suppose the right answer is no, never, but the truth is yeah, sometimes." His eyes were soft and unfocused, looking inward. "But mostly, no, I don't regret it. Because I know. However it turned out, I know Angel loved me, and I know we were happy together, and I'd rather know that than keep thinking what if or I wish."
Mark nodded, and Collins turned his head to look at him, eyes suddenly sharp. "You did the right thing. And you're doing the right thing now."
Collins hugged him at the bus terminal, and Mark said into his shoulder, "Call me if…if anything."
"Yeah, I promise," Collins said, and squeezed him tighter.
April 21st, 9:40am, CST to November 22nd, 7:33pm, CST
Collins's friend James met him when he stumbled off the bus in Chicago. He slept for twenty-four hours, and then started the interviews.
They kind of helped put his problems in perspective.
He called Maureen and Collins and told them he was doing fine. He wrote It's my turn to run away. I promise I'm not sleeping on the streets on a postcard to Roger and Mimi, and stared at it a long time before he mailed it.
He got a part-time job in a bookstore so he could eat, and started sleeping around. He slept with the singer-songwriters who came to the bookstore's open mic nights, and the dark-haired girls he met in clubs. When that started to seem…a little self-destructive, he started sleeping with the guy who was doing sound for James's project, who was smart, and funny in a deadpan way, and didn't look at all like Roger or Mimi. It was sweet and easy and not quite what Mark was looking for, and it ended pleasantly when they finished the project.
The project was shown in an obscure gallery on the edge of Hyde Park. It got a little press coverage, and there wasn't a riot, so Mark was willing to call it a success. He was able to turn it and his old Buzzline pieces into a job with WTTW, for which he was grossly underpaid, but at least it was public broadcast.
Once a week he wrote a postcard to Roger and Mimi, just one or two lines that mostly came down to Wish you were here. He dropped them all in a shoebox under his bed.
He got an apartment with two of James's friends, and wrote I'm actually paying rent now on another card he never mailed.
He liked Chicago, liked James and James's friends and the people he worked with, liked his work, but it still felt like marking time, like waiting for something that was never going to happen.
He went to James's apartment for Thanksgiving, the refuge of people with nowhere else to go.
He was slicing bread when James held the phone out and said, "It's for you."
"Hi," Mimi said, "Happy Thanksgiving," and Mark almost dropped the phone.
"Hi," he said blankly.
"Um, we just…" Her voice sounded fragile, on the verge of cracking, and for a minute they just listened to each other breathe. "We were just wondering if you were going to come home for Christmas."
Mark stared down at the bread knife in his hand, his knuckles white around it. "Yeah," he said, slowly, not letting himself think about it. "Yes, I'll be there."
"Good," she said, still fragile, but happy now underneath it.
December 24th, 9pm, EST
"It's me," Mark said into the phone, shivering so hard his teeth clicked together. "Throw down the keys."
It was snowing, wet and heavy, and the wind was like a knife.
They were waiting for him when he got to the top of the stairs.
Mimi pulled off his coat and rubbed his hands between hers. "You look awful—what happened?"
"Heater crapped out in Pennsylvania," he said between shivers.
"Shit," Roger said, and put his palms, blessedly warm, over Mark's ears.
Mark sighed and leaned into his hands.
Mimi pulled him over to the sofa, covering him with a pile of blankets and burrowing in next to him. Roger made tea on the camp-stove, and slid in under the blankets on his other side.
When he'd stopped shivering and was starting to feel mostly thawed out again, Mimi said, hesitantly, "We thought you weren't coming."
"Weather slowed me down," he said. He hadn't intended to be this late. "Where is everyone?"
"It's just us," Roger said. "Nobody wants to go out in this."
With the warmth creeping into him from their bodies, he felt like all the time in Chicago had disappeared, and he was back where he started from, wanting something he couldn't have.
"Hey," Roger said softly, and he knew they'd felt his body language change.
He could feel them exchanging one of their looks, and he kept his head turned down. Then Mimi reached out and caught his hand. She tugged it out of the nest of blankets and lifted it to her mouth. She kept her eyes on his and kissed the thin skin of his wrist, just over his pulse.
Mark's breathing faltered.
Roger rested his chin on Mark's shoulder and said quietly into his ear, "We want this. We want you. If you still…"
Mark turned his hand a little to cup Mimi's cheek. "Yes," he said. "Always."
She smiled at him, brilliant and open, and leaned up to kiss him, soft and warm and careful, like a new beginning.