Chapter 1

Years After The Events of RENT

Mark was running late to his rendezvous with Maureen. He nervously glanced at his watch, tapping his foot as he waited on the street corner. The light finally changed to green and he breathed a sigh of relief as he walked across. Maureen waved at him from her vantage point at Stardust Café. It was fairly easy to tell it was her, in the sunhat and sunglasses with the not-so-subtle Victoria's Secret bag on the table

Mark smiled. "Hey," he greeted her, and she pulled out a chair for him, gesturing him to sit.

"Oh, Mark, it's so great to see you again!" She hugged him tightly, her wide-brimmed hat bumping into his head. He hugged back.

They broke away, both smiling. Maureen grinned at her friend. "I's been so long. When was the last time we talked? Three months ago? Talked in person, I mean, not just over the phone."

"Yeah, three months," Mark said, playing with a fork. "Right after I got out of rehab."

"Oh, of course." Maureen fell silent for a second. Digging around in her purse, she found something. "That reminds me! I have something for you." She handed a small object to him. He took it, studying it carefully.

It was a small teddy bear. Mark couldn't help but smile at it. "Milo picked that out," Maureen continued. "He just turned three this weekend, you know that? Oh, it's crazy. They're growing up way too fast."

"Thank you," Mark said, looking back up at Maureen and setting the bear back down on the table. "Tell Milo hi for me. Oh, yeah - speaking of the kids, how's your husband?"

"He's just amazing," Maureen gushed as a waiter came by and took their orders. "We had his ex-boyfriend over this weekend, they're still friends, and it was really great. I got to know more about his college days. You know he went to Brown, too?" She looked at Mark expectantly.

"Really?" he commented. The waiter walked off. "I'll have to talk to him about it. You saw Joanne too, right? I know she's really busy these days but you mentioned it on one phone call-"

"Oh my god. Mark." Maureen leaned over the table and grinned wickedly. "Joanne might actually get married. Her current girlfriend, Leana, was talking about getting a ring or something? Mimi overheard her. And she's just perfect for Joanne, I mean-" Maureen fanned herself dramatically. "We were never really going to work out longterm. I've made peace with that. I hope Joanne has, too."

Mark held back a laugh. Joanne had talked to him about it, and she certainly wasn't the one taking a long time to heal from her relationship with Maureen.

"How's Mimi, then?"

"Still at the hospital. She's working her way up to residency, but she and the other interns have heard rumors that the hospital is super racist." The waiter had returned with their orders. Maureen took a giant sip of her wine. Mark gave her a look. "Oh, no, I'm not driving. Mimi's off today, she's picking me up."

"Good." Mark began to eat. Maureen was so energetic, but the time with her was nice. "You weren't worried that I was late?"

Maureen waved that away. "Oh, no, not at all. I know what your...schedule is like." For the first time since the conversation began Maureen's voice wavered. Mark thought she might cry.

"Okay," Mark said, quieter.

"...well, anyway, the rumor goes that the old-ass director won't let any marginalized people or minority groups move up. What's the proper term now? Oh, I don't care, I am a minority group. I'm freaking bisexual! Of course I don't mean that I'm all the bisexuals in the world-"

"Maureen," Mark said, and a smile tugged at the corners of his lips.

"Right, right, of course." Maureen took another huge sip of wine. "Mimi and the others are looking into it. Frankly, I'm hoping it's some sort of decades-long conspiracy. After I had Jesse I was bedridden for...I think a month or two? I don't know, it's a little hazy, he was a pretty hard birth. Keala and Milo were never that bad. Anyway, staying in the hospital got pretty boring, going day to day just watching the same shit on the TV/computer thing they give you and the same food every day and trying to find out more drama about Mildred and the doctors in the next room. Of course my husband came, he was great, taking care of all the kids while I was stuck there. But it was just so. Boring."

"I know," Mark said. "Rehab, remember?"

Maureen nodded. "Was it the same hospital where Mimi works?" Mark added.

"No," Maureen said. "Different one. Better one. Did you hear a nurse got fired from Mimi's for denying a patient care?"

"Oh my god, no," Mark said, playing into Maureen's retelling of the drama.

At the end of their meeting, Mark and Maureen hugged once more and Maureen paid the check. Mark's face hurt from how much he had been grinning the whole time, seeing his old friend again.

"We really need to do this more," Maureen said as they stood up and walked to the parking garage where Mimi would meet them. "I know I've just been busy with the kids-did I tell you Leo and I are trying for another?" Mark looked at her, incredulous. "Oh, I know, I know. Jesse was pretty hard. Not during the pregnancy but at the end...and I know you didn't see me a lot then. We were...busy. But. We might try IVF or a sperm donor or something. We'll see."

"You could adopt, too," Mark commented.

Maureen nodded. "I brought that up. But his mother is being a complete ass about it. We've tried to get her to back off, but Mrs. Gladys Healy is a stubborn pig." Maureen made a face. "I got along with my previous mother-in-law. Just wish Gladys could be more like her."

"Yeah," Mark said. "She was nice."

Just then a black SUV pulled up, a Latin woman cursing at the wheel. Seeing Mark and Maureen, she grinned and waved. She pulled into a parking spot and got out, slamming the door.

"Mimi!" Maureen ran over, hugging her. "I…," she burped. "...missed you."

Mimi laughed. "Cariña, are you drunk?"

Maureen just giggled and Mimi rolled her eyes. "Hi, Mark," she said. Mark waved.

"I can give you a ride, too," added Mimi.

"Sure, that would be great," Mark said. "I took the bus here. From Solid Oak. Had to, uh, get some extra paperwork finished."

"Nice place," Mimi commented, nodding. The two exchanged a look. "Help me get this puta into the car?"

"Of course." Mark helped carry Maureen, who was still rambling about her husband and kids. The alcohol seemed to just now be truly setting in.

Maureen sat in back, making "ooh" and "aah" sounds at her phone. Mark sat in the front next to Mimi. He buckled himself in, the seatbelt making a zipping sound. Mimi pulled out, cursing at all the other drivers in the parking garage.

"So…" he said. "Joanne's getting married?"

Mimi laughed. "Is that what you heard? That what she told you? Oh no no. I just briefly heard Joanne's current girlfriend-you know she changes them like every six weeks-" Mimi briefly paused to adjust the mirror. "-talking about rings and stuff. For all I know Leana was talking about NuvaRings. Those things hurt like a bitch."

"I thought they weren't supposed to hurt?"

"It's the side effects." Mimi took a sharp turn and Maureen burped again.

"So...Jesse was a hard pregnancy?"

Mimi sighed. "Yeah. At the end. She probably told you she was bedridden for months. Leo kept her company. We switched out taking care of the older kids. Keala's six now. I…" Mimi shook her head. "You remember when she was born? I know you weren't there for Jesse, five months ago,, other stuff."

"Yeah. I know." Mark absentmindedly scratched at his jeans. "I remember Keala. It was pretty soon before Roger left, right?"

Mimi nodded. "I haven't talked to him in a while."

"Me, either. I mean, I haven't talked to anyone in a while. person." Mark sighed, turning to stare out the window.

Mimi reached over and gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. "It gets better," she assured him. The moment was quickly over though, as she snapped her head around and growled. "Oh, use your fucking turn signal!"