Summary: Mark's best friend is dying. He's less alone than he thinks.
Original Story: Falling Is Like... by pressdbtwnpages
Notes: Many thanks to ignipes and leighblack for reading this through for me - I always appreciate it!
In a perfect world, Mark wouldn’t be the one in this position. Angel would have been good at this bedside vigil stuff; she would have already distracted Mrs. Davis with an analysis of Macy’s spring fashion line. They would have agreed that pale yellow isn’t really a color most people could wear, but Mrs. Davis would have admired the lemon-colored dress Angel had sewed from the scraps she’d found outside the fabric store up the street from Benny’s apartment. By the time Roger woke up, neither one of his parents would even be thinking about the fact that they were talking to a drag queen.
Collins would have known what to say. Collins would have looked Mr. Davis in the eye and said the words that the older man danced around: “Yes, I am gay, what of it?” Roger’s dad wouldn’t have had a response, Mark knew – he was the kind of man who danced around an uncomfortable topic, hoping that the other person was just as out of his element as he himself was. Collins was never out of his element. He belonged everywhere.
Mimi wouldn’t have even blinked. When Mrs. Davis said, “Well, you two are …” with the upwards lilt at the end that made the fragment a question, Mimi would have nodded and kept holding Roger’s hand. Because they were. Roger and Mimi had been all the words that Mr. and Mrs. Davis were too proper to say. Mimi would have been proud. Had been proud. Before she died.
They were all gone now. Angel, Collins, Mimi. And Mark was left standing awkwardly in the middle of a cold hospital room.
“What?” he said. His voice sounded flat; the sound disappeared into the white walls surrounding them.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis looked at each other. “You two lived together for a long time,” Mr. Davis said, after a long pause.
Another pause. “Roger’s life …” Mr. Davis ran a hand through his hair. “It’s been something we didn’t really understand. These things, they’re not things that we really believe in.”
“You and Roger. You’re … together. We know, you don’t have to deny it.”
Mark’s hands clenched into fists; he put them behind his back to keep from showing them to Roger’s parents. It wasn’t the suggestion that made him mad – hell, if his relationship with Roger could have filled all his needs, he’d have saved himself a hell of a lot of pain and irritation over the years, because women were a species he’d never really figured out. If he and Roger could have had what Maureen and Joanne had – what Collins and Angel had – he’d have taken it. Unfortunately, biology dictated preference, and Mark always had been a sucker for loud women with the ability to command a room. He figured a shrink would trace that back to his childhood, if he ever bothered to see one. Maybe he’d do that, after this was all over.
… but that was the problem, wasn’t it? This was almost over. A stark hospital room, the sound of Roger’s raspy breathing, two strangers staring at him like he was some kind of alien – this was the end of his best friend’s life, and suddenly, Mark was done. “You think you know so much.” His voice was even, quiet, a stark contrast to the rage that bubbled inside his chest. He glanced back at Roger, pale and far too skinny, his chest rising and falling so, so slowly. “You don’t know shit, you know that?”
When he looked back at Roger’s parents, Mr. Davis’s mouth was set in a grim line. “I think,” he said slowly, “it would be better if you left.”
No, Mark thought, it would be better if you left. It would be better if Roger woke up, stood up, and walked out of this hospital room. It would be better if they were back at their apartment, sitting around with Maureen and Joanne … and Collins and Angel and Mimi, drinking and laughing and listening to the noise of the street below. But those things weren’t going to happen, not ever again. Roger was never going to look any different than he looked right now, hollow eyes and lips nearly as white as …
With mental effort, Mark unclenched his fists and folded his arms over his chest. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe it would be better if I left.”
He left the room without looking back at Roger. He didn’t want to remember him that way, if this was the last time …
When Mark kicked the gurney in the hallway, the passing orderly didn’t yell at him. He just put a hand on Mark’s shoulder and pointed him towards the door.
Images flickered on the bare wall of the loft. Mark sat slumped on the floor, back against the tattered couch. Joanne kept offering Mark and Roger her old television – not old at all, really, but her parents had bought Joanne and Maureen a gigantic flat screen television for Christmas last year, so they had an extra. But Mark had refused; he’d always preferred the fragile quality of film, the sound of the roll cranking, the slightly jerky pictures moving across a blank canvas. It reminded him of going to the movies as a kid. Nothing on television would ever come close to matching the feeling of wonder that he felt watching the title sequence of Star Wars scrolling across a screen as tall as his house, sitting between his father and his sister with his hand in a bucket of popcorn and legs not quite long enough to reach the floor. It was a cliché, he supposed, for people his age. But, cliché or not, that was the moment he’d decided that yeah, he wanted to do that for a living someday.
Not that he was making much of a living at the moment. He directed industrial films to pay the bills and had a deal with his boss for use of the editing room when he was off the clock. He had to shoot in video now, because the only tools he could get access to were a computer and a software suite. It just didn’t feel the same, but it would do.
So, he hadn’t really shot anything on film for a long time. That was why he was watching ghosts on the wall. As he fingered an unopened bottle of horrible, cheap rum, Angel sashayed across the wall in a halter top and a skirt cut to look like the petals of a tulip. She crawled into Collins’ lap and started a vulgar lap dance that had everyone off-screen howling with laughter. In the corner of the screen, Mimi twirled like a jewelry box ballerina. They’d been drunk that night, Mark remembered, on several bottles of good champagne that Joanne had liberated from an office party. It was a good night. The couples had all been madly in love all at once, at least for a few hours. And Mark … well, Mark recorded the moment. A beautiful moment, one he’d treasure when he was the only one left to watch it.
“Stop being so dramatic,” he muttered to himself, shoving the untouched bottle away and across the floor. Maureen and Joanne were still there, and would always be. He couldn’t get rid of Maureen if he tried, really. He’d be in trouble if he didn’t show up at the premiere of her new show next week. She’d founded a theater troupe – if by ‘founded’, you mean ‘badgered a bunch of friends until they agreed to support her in her star-making, self-penned opus.’ Mark hadn’t seen any of it yet. He was scared to, if he was being honest. He’d been rehearsing polite, supportive phrases in his head for weeks. He’d been saving the bottle of rum for Joanne, once she’d survived opening night.
When Maureen’s show opened, Roger would be dead.
Mark let his head drop between his knees. He closed his eyes. He could hear Maureen, Roger and Mimi singing a raucous version of “I Wanna Be Sedated” on the film. He saw the images behind his eyes – the camera swung around to film Roger, who reached over and slapped the camera away. “Get that thing out of my face,” Roger laughed. “Put it down and join the party.” Mark hadn’t. He’d turned the camera in the opposite direction, just in time to see Mimi spin so fast that she fell over into Collins and Angel, who had been about thirty seconds away from turning Mark’s film into a porno. Angel fell onto the floor, laughing hysterically and tucking all pertinent bits back into the panties she wore underneath the skirt. Maureen straddled her and kissed her loudly on the mouth.
Mark heard the sound of the film flapping on the reel. That was where the footage ended; he’d misjudged the amount of film he had left that night. The room had laughed at him, he remembered, but he really didn’t remember the rest of the night. He’d had more champagne, he supposed, and sat around and watched his friends clown around. The same thing he usually did, only without camera in hand.
He’d once thought he’d make copies of these films for Roger’s parents – he’d given a few to Mimi’s mother, and her English-speaking niece had called him a few months later to thank him profusely. It had been so long since they’d had any real contact with Mimi, she’d told him, that seeing her on film was like having a little piece of her back again. But, somehow, he didn’t think Roger’s parents would think the same way. Not with Collins licking Angel’s neck, or Maureen kneeling between Joanne’s legs and miming oral sex. They probably wouldn’t even appreciate seeing Roger and Mimi hanging on each other – Mimi’s profession was obvious in everything she wore, even when she got too sick to dance. Mr. and Mrs. Davis didn’t seem like the kind of people who approved of strippers.
His rage returned, but this time it was a quieter, more hopeless feeling filling his chest. Roger was going to die, and his parents were never going to understand who he really was. Who his real family had been.
Mark lay back on the floor and stared up at the ceiling. “That’s unfair,” he muttered to himself. Roger had chosen a life that hadn’t included his parents. That had to be hard. God only knew, Mark’s mother questioned his life choices every other week, whenever she managed to catch him on the phone. But, in the end, his mom and dad accepted Mark’s friends, even if they didn’t quite understand them. His mom had come to Collins’ funeral; later, at home for his sister’s birthday, he’d spotted a card from AMFAR on the kitchen counter, thanking her for her donation. He’d hugged her goodbye for an extra long moment that day.
Roger hadn't visited his parents in a long time. Mark searched his brain - the last time he remembered Roger going home was before he caught pneumonia for the last time, the illness that had lasted for months, until Roger finally ended up a ghost in a hospital bed. It had been a holiday. Not Christmas, maybe Thanksgiving. Yes, Thanksgiving, because it had been cold and snowing in New York. Mark had spent the holiday with Joanne's family, always a strange experience. Her father still didn't quite like Maureen, but Mrs. Jefferson had made the decision to embrace her daughter's entire lifestyle, which included Maureen and everyone else involved. So, gatherings with the Jeffersons were inevitably awkward, but they had better food than any of the rest of them ate all year. When Roger returned to New York, Mark regaled him with the tale of Maureen debating the legal ramifications of gay marriage with Mr. Jefferson, complete with dramatic interpretation of Maureen's flounce out to the front porch to sulk. Roger laughed, but when Mark asked him how his holiday had been, he just shrugged. "It's the same as always back there. Nothing ever changes."
Things always changed in New York. Mark wondered if Roger's parents knew how much the city had changed their son. For the better. He'd hit bottom, yeah, but but before the end, he'd become something better. He'd always been Mark's best friend, but in the end, he'd been someone Mark was proud of. His parents should be, too. He wished they were.
The film continued to flap. Mark stared at the ceiling of the loft for a long time; how long, he didn’t know. When the phone rang, he continued to lay there, not comprehending the sound. It wasn’t until he heard his and Roger’s voices – “SPEAK!” – that he moved.
“Mark. Loser, it’s me. I know you’re there. Pick up. Pick up. Pick up, man.”
Roger’s voice sounded weak. Mark flinched. He’d have to erase the answering machine as soon as … as soon as it was all over. He’d rather remember Roger’s voice as it was on film, bright and loud and full of music.
But, for now, this Roger needed him. He took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
After the funeral, Mark handed Mr. Davis a medium-sized box. Inside, video tapes and DVDs rattled, making a hollow sound that somehow comforted Mark. Mr. Davis stared at it in confusion. “What is this?” he asked.
“Memories,” Mark answered.
Before Mr. Davis could respond, he turned around and rejoined Maureen and Joanne. Maureen buried her face in Mark’s neck. “Love you,” she murmured. Joanne squeezed his hand in agreement.
“You guys too,” he said, his voice breaking.
They walked out of the cemetery hand in hand in hand.