An evening at home alone gives Roger and Mimi a little too much time to think.
"Mimi, sit down," her lover cajoled, placing his calloused hands on her shoulders in an attempt to quell her nervous circling.
"I can't. Can't sit still. It hurts," her eyes watered as she turned, nuzzling her face into his neck and clinging to the worn fabric of his jacket. His signature aroma of leather, cigarette smoke, and something reminiscent of Old Spice always gave her comfort, no matter how small. She barely managed to choke out two small words. "Everything hurts."
Her body shook with a small sob as she was enveloped by his strong arms. "Shh, shh, baby. Everything is going to be fine." He leaned down and whispered in her ear, "You're strong. You're so strong."
"Roger, make it stop," she managed to say before the tears came again. The songwriter shut his eyes tight, holding her close and feeling his heart strain at the sound of her weeping. The sobs and shortness of breath wracked her small frame as Roger placed a gentle arm under her legs, lifting her off her feet and bringing her to the couch.
Earlier, he had been relieved when she gave up the fight for the door. She soon collapsed into tears again, and he felt selfish. It was then that he was reminded that only time he could truly feel relief was when she was through her withdrawal and safe.
As safe as she could be.
Glancing over at the large sliding entrance, Roger could see the thin trails of plaster where the already decaying paint had been scratched off: her nail marks on the wall. It was such a bitter metaphor, her nails being a wicked symbol of her. Once strong and adamant, they were now broken and withering. But he was there to pick up the chips of nail polish, just like he was there to pick up the pieces of Mimi.
He was fairly sure Mimi hadn't noticed, but Roger made a ritual of repainting her nails every night, to remind himself that she'd be strong and beautiful again. He'd be mortified if anyone besides her found out, but knew even if she had noticed, Mimi was smart enough to keep it between them.
The songwriter was snapped back to reality when Mimi broke into a hoarse cough. Roger rubbed compassionate circles on her back, whispering soft words of support and love. He leaned off the couch, removing his jacket and wrapping it around his lover.
"I can't do this," she muttered between sobs. "Please, I need it."
Roger knew exactly what "it" she was talking about.
Fragmented images of his own addiction flashed through his mind like a demented film reel: searching for a vein, tying a piece of cloth around his arm, injecting himself with that vile liquid. He vaguely remembered the short highs, all the memories of pleasure gone. More memorable were the lows, the moments when he sat in the darkest corner of his room, arms around his knees, rocking back and forth frantically. The times where he searched and searched, staying out past midnight in the grottoes, desperately trying to find a dealer.
Most vividly, he remembered the night when Mark found him in the alley, crying behind a Dumpster.
Mark had seen him at his weakest, and he felt stripped and bare. He knew that's what Mimi felt like now. Long ago, when she first made the decision to really withdraw, Roger had made the resolve that he would be her Mark.
He looked down at her. As she continued to beg him with such soft, desperate words, as her watery eyes pleaded for him to help her, Roger almost felt like giving in. But then he remembered his own withdrawal, and what help really was, and what she really needed.
"No, Mimi," he replied in an adamant tone. She looked away, shutting her eyes tight, muttering "please" over and over again like a mantra, until eventually she was asking so quietly Roger wasn't sure she was even saying anything. She nuzzled deeper into the worn fabric of Roger's black shirt, soaking the fibers with tears and sweat. Half of him hoped she'd get up and run for the door, screaming and cursing the day he was born. He'd rather be pulling her away from the stairs and doing something than watching her slowly break apart in his arms, feeling helpless.
He wondered if Mark ever felt this way. They hadn't been lovers, but they had been very close friends and the only constant each other had. Even though Mark was dating Maureen at the time, the two were going through a particularly rough patch, and the only thing he could rely on was Roger. At the time, Roger felt the only thing he could rely on was a needle. But Mark pulled him through, and he'd do the same for Mimi, even if it killed him.
"I'm scared..." Roger was absorbed in his memories, and the voice was so soft that he barely even heard it. But if nothing else, he heard the fear.
The ex-frontman gently pulled Mimi closer to him. "I know, baby, I know. But everything's going to be fine."
"How can you tell?" her voice was hoarse and labored.
"Because I've been there, and look at me."
"You're braver than I am," she was too ashamed to look at him, and Roger's sentiment went out to her.
"No, you're the brave one." Then he allowed himself a hint of humor in his voice, "After all, I don't think I could run around a stage wearing nothing but leather boots and a mini skirt." At this, Mimi gave a short laugh, which was quickly transformed into a raucous cough.
"It's not all it's cracked up to be," she managed to say. Roger gave into a small, pitiful grin as he rubbed her back.
Serious again, he placed his finger beneath her chin and lifted her head. "Hey, look at me," he whispered, though not commanding. Her dewy gaze reluctantly met his as he stroked her cheeks. "You're the bravest person I know, and you're going to get through this. I'll protect you."
Mimi gave a tiny ghost of a smile, and the fleeting expression of hope made Roger's heart swell. He knew she'd make it through this, and he was willing to be there every step of the way, wiping away her tears and taking her punches.
Yes, I'll protect you, he affirmed in his mind, holding her close, from yourself.