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fic: The Way That It Was

Title: The Way That It Was
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: Merrily We Roll Along (Sondheim/Furth)
Pairing/Characters: Mary Flynn, Charley Kringas, Franklin Shepard, Beth Shepard, Evelyn Kringas, Gussie Carnegie, Joe Josephson, OCs
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: references to alcoholism, angst
Wordcount: 1353
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine.
Summary: Life would be a lot better for a dose of amnesia, if you ask Mary Flynn. She’s been cursed all her life with near-total recall, no matter how much she drinks to forget.
A/N: fill for the "love-stricken" square on my love_bingo card. This one is for my Merrily companions: ginbitch, [personal profile] kalypso and kate_lear.

Life would be a lot better for a dose of amnesia, if you ask Mary Flynn. She’s been cursed all her life with near-total recall, no matter how much she drinks to forget.

Once upon a time she didn’t drink at all. She knew it wasn’t safe. An addictive personality, that obnoxious pre-med boyfriend of hers had called it. Too much coffee, too many cigarettes, too much food. Too much Frank, Charley said. She’d started drinking that day, when she realized Gussie had got her hooks into Frank. No, she’d started drinking after that thing Joe Josephson said to her: Is Frank the only person in the world who doesn’t know you’re in love with him?

The humiliation of that – everyone knowing what she’d tried to hide so long even from herself – was the last straw. She’d knocked back Gussie’s horrible expensive champagne, then gone on to get blind drunk with Charley and Evelyn at the Downtown Club, waiting hour after hour for Frank who wasn’t coming even though he’d promised, of course he wasn’t, because he was with Gussie, in bed with Gussie, in the apartment Gussie was decorating for him…

The worst of it was, it was all her own fault. Mary was the one who’d persuaded Frank to go on that cruise, thinking it would get him away from everything, not realizing that the minute her back was turned, Gussie would be out there with him, nothing and no-one to stop her getting Frank all to herself.

No, that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was that she’d allowed herself to hope, just a little, when Frank’s marriage was breaking up. Telling Frank he’d still got her and Charley, I love you, Frank, and Charley loves you, and couldn’t everyone hear what she was really saying?

Not in a million years could she ever have had a chance with someone like Frank. Frank the golden boy, Frank the charmer, Frank the genius. Frank who could turn your soul inside out with his music, and all the drink in the world couldn’t blot out the sound of that in her mind.

How does anybody compose music, though? she’d said to him in wonder, up on the roof as they waited to see the Sputnik. To me that is the gift of gifts. And he’d laughed, shy and pleased and incredulous, and said to Charley I just met the girl I ought to marry.

You could wait all your life for that moment to come again, day after day after day after day, watching Frank tie himself up to a woman who could never love him the way you did just because she was pregnant, watching her push him to do the shows that would pay, not the one Mary knew they ought to be doing, the one Frank and Charley really wanted to write. Beth’s words still stung: Mary, you don’t have a child, and you just had yourself a bestseller, so of course it’s very easy for you to say. Watching Beth lose him to Gussie because she wouldn’t listen to Mary’s warning. I would never want to be with a man I couldn’t trust, Beth said, blithe and boastful, and followed Charley to the hospital, leaving Frank with Gussie. Leaving Gussie in possession. The end of a marriage, right there.

A writer is a witness to life; so many other people’s lives. Your own life – well, there’s not much of that, is there? The musician she’d had because she couldn’t have Frank, on and off over so many years. Mary, you look wonderful! Lost a little weight? Frank said, that awful time at the studio, and she’d joked about it: A hundred and eighty pounds. He still calls, though.

Not any more: even the musician had got the message eventually. “Frank’s never going to look at you, but he still means more to you than I do,” he’d said, the last time. “Damn straight he does,” she’d snapped, though she was shriveling inside from the truth of his contempt. How could she ever have thought that Frank would look at her, would look the way he’d looked up on the roof in the early morning, all those years ago?

She’d thought that look might be for her, and built her whole life on hoping it would come again, even though she knew it wouldn’t. It had taken her a long time to realize that it had never been for her at all, but for his music. If I didn’t have music, I’d die.

So what is he now? A dead man walking, a Hollywood producer who hasn’t written a note in years. Hasn’t written anything since he and Charley fell out, as if Charley’s words came true: he’s become Franklin Shepard, Inc., and nothing more. She meant every word she flung at him in front of his stupid guests: fat, drunk and finished, I would rather be me, any day.

Unbearable to see him like that, surrounded by those empty pieces of junk he calls his friends now. To watch him cheating on Gussie with that brainless bimbo Meg Kincade, who must be half his age, if that.

Back in her dingy hotel room, Mary had cried till she couldn’t cry any more. Enough now: she wasn’t going to spend another day thinking and waiting and wishing for something that was never going to happen, for everything to be like it was when they were young and full of hope and just starting out. Time to come down off the rooftop and start living, Mary Flynn.

Six months in Europe and she still wasn’t writing, except for letters to Charley. That was the one good thing about what happened at Frank’s house, that she and Charley are back in touch again. She’d written to him because she couldn’t think of anyone else who’d understand, or care. Nobody loved Frank the way the two of them did.

She’d never seen Charley’s love for what it was: too wrapped up in her own feelings for Frank to recognize that Charley was in love with him all that time as well, and with even less chance of success than she had. After six months of Charley’s letters, she could see why he and Evelyn were breaking up, even if he couldn’t.

When she came back from Paris and met Charley’s new composer, she’d wondered if he and Charley were partners in more ways than one. Oliver was pretty obviously gay, and cute enough in a gawky way, but he wasn’t Frank, and he never would be. It took her a while to see that what was making Charley so happy was their work, not the kid himself.

As good as her memory is for most things, she can barely remember what that feels like: being so alive in your work, so completely caught up in it that nothing else matters. She sees Charley bursting with joy and pride about the new show he’s written with Oliver and she can’t resist twitting him: “Jesus, you look as if you’ve just had pups!”

“Are you calling my writing partner a bitch, Mary Flynn?” Oliver says, bristling with mock offence, and everyone laughs.

She doesn’t believe for a moment that Charley’s actually going to send Frank a ticket for the show. Until he shows her the post office slip and says “Now you.”

Meaning, now you have to write something, because that was the deal, that was the dare.

Two cigarettes and a strong black coffee, first. The whiskey bottle sits there on the sideboard, a refuge she can’t let herself take if she’s going to do this. Whoever said Write drunk, edit sober had obviously never met Mary Flynn. If she gets drunk now she’s not going to let herself get sober for long enough to edit anything.

It doesn’t matter where you begin, her English teacher used to say. Begin anywhere.

She puts a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter, says one last goodbye to that look of Frank’s and all it meant to her, and types: Chapter One.

Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/126504.html with comment count unavailable comments.


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