Mickey turned around to see Ms. Pearce jogging half speed at him down the hall.
“Fuck,” he mumbled turning around, and squeezing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He had only come to school today to collect on a debt from one of the squirmy ninth graders who had been dodging him on payment. No one ever expected to see Mickey at school, so it was usually a safe place for a surprise attack. And now his fat, fuckin’ wineo English teacher was going to chew his ass out and eat up his time. Stupid fuckin’ school.
The woman caught up to him in the hall and was trying hard to hide the fact that she was catching her breath, which Mickey found pretty pathetic, as he couldn’t have been more than ten or so yards down the hall from her.
“I haven’t seen you in class in a few weeks, Mr. Milkovich,” the woman finally got out, standing upright to try and look Mickey in the eyes. He ran a thumb across his bottom lip and looked at a couple points behind her head.
“Yeah, been busy.”
“Well, I’ve been waiting to give you this,” she said, with a small smile, handing Mickey the paper that was in her hands.
The paper, as it turned out, was an essay from (according to the date) two months ago. The front page read “A Character Analysis of Nick Carraway by Mickey Milkovich” and written in the top right corner, in red pen, was a B+.
Mickey looked at the paper and raised an eyebrow. This was far and away the highest grade he had ever received on a paper out of the handful he had ever actually handed in.
When Mickey didn’t say anything, Ms. Pearce pressed on, ducking her head to try and get into Mickey’s eyeline. “It would appear you have more potential than you’ve previously shown in class, Mickey. Your analysis was insightful and moving. I didn’t think you had it in you. Could this be a Will Hunting situation we have on our hands?”
Mickey looked up from his paper to finally meet her eyes. “The fuck is that?”
Ms. Pearce rolled her eyes. “Come to class, Mr. Milkovich. You may just be destined for greater things than common hoodlumism.”
And with a decisive nod of her head, Ms. Pearce turned on her heel and walked back down the hall (at a noticeably slower pace than before, Mickey realized) towards her classroom.
Mickey rolled up the essay and jammed it in his back pocket. He raised his middle finger at the woman’s back and turned to walk out the school’s back door.
Potential? Destined for greater things? Eat me, he thought, pulling out a cigarette as soon as he hit the sidewalk outside of the school. He hadn’t even written the damned essay.
A couple of months earlier, Lip Gallagher had come looking to buy some whippets. He had explained that Karen Jackson’s father had just walked out on her and her mother, and that Lip wanted to take her under the L, do some nitrous, and cheer her up. Mickey had wondered if Lip was smart enough to realize that relaying Karen Jackson’s sob story was not the best way to appeal to Mickey’s bleeding heart.
The dynamic between Lip and Mickey had shifted since they were children, but never quickly enough to be noticeable. Mickey would be dead and buried in the fucking ground before he’d ever say he liked Lip Gallagher, and he’d be hard pressed to think of a situation in which he’d actually want the boy around, but he wasn’t the worst thing in the city.
Lip’s father was the town drunk in a town full of drunks and Mickey’s was the town criminal in a town full of criminals. Everyone needed to feel like he was doing better than someone else so he could sleep at night, and Mickey figured Frank and Terry had been both wordlessly and unanimously elected the bottom rung, in a sort of sacrifice to save everyone else’s sense of identity. It was common ground that connected the families in a kind of mutual respect. There was comfort in being around someone who wouldn’t judge or pity you for your last name.
Karen Jackson was another fuckin’ story.
“Thirty bucks,” Mickey had priced, without even looking up from the target he was shooting across the alley.
“Jesus Christ, Mick. Little expensive don’t you think?” Lip asked. Truth be told, it was more than Mickey would have charged if Gallagher hadn’t mentioned Karen Jackson’s name. The kid never did seem to know when to keep his mouth shut.
“Take it or leave it,” Mickey shrugged, firing the Glock again.
“What can you give me for fifteen?” Lip asked, flinching slightly at the bang from the gun, but recovering quickly.
“Not a damn thing, since it’s thirty,” Mickey responded, reloading.
Lip sighed. “Look, uh, I only have fifteen on me. What about I give you that and an essay?”
Mickey had lowered his arm to look at Lip, staggered. “Gallagher, the fuck you think this is? Detention? Why would I want an essay from you?”
“It’s not for you, Einstein. It’s by you,” Lip replied.
“The fuck you on about?” Mickey sighed. He had been losing his patience and really wanted for this interaction to be over.
“I write kids’ essays for them so they don’t have to,” Lip explained, pulling out a stack of papers neatly stapled. “I wrote this one for Liam McDougall, but he couldn’t pay. I could print out another title page, and you could hand it in.”
“I don’t know, Gallagher. Doesn’t academic misconduct go on your permanent record?” Mickey had asked with a smirk.
Lip had snorted out a laugh, “Well, hey, if your GPA doesn’t need the boost...”
Mickey had rolled his eyes. He didn’t really give a shit about his grades, but he did think it could be kinda funny to see Ms. Pearce's eyes bug out of her head when he actually handed in an assignment for once. That, plus the fact that accepting this deal seemed to be the ticket to get Lip Gallagher to leave him alone, caused him to shrug and hold out the case of nitrous.
By the time Mickey got home that night, it was already late. He had finally tracked down that fuckin’ ninth grader, gotten his money, and given the boy a few hard hits to the gut for good measure.
He walked in his house to find it completely empty. He wasn’t surprised his brothers weren’t there (Iggy was in juvie and the rest would be out either banging girls or getting high - most likely both). His father was back in prison and his mother had driven upstate to “pick up his brother”, which he knew to be code for hooking for some H. Why the fuck else would she leave the night before Iggy actually got out?
He was slightly surprised, though, that Mandy wasn’t home. Mandy had been making a legitimate effort to play little Suzy homemaker for the past couple weeks - making breakfasts and suppers. She had even planned a gay fuckin’ party for Iggy’s homecoming. As annoying and depressing as it was to watch Mandy attempt to rise above her station in life, Mickey had to admit he had gotten used to coming home to find food, and his stomach gave a disappointed grumble upon finding the house silent.
He debated running across the street to the Kash and Grab and picking up some PopTarts or some soup or some shit, but the store would be closed by now, and he really didn’t feel like breaking in.
He grabbed a can of spray cheese and squirted the entire can into his mouth, before reaching to his back pocket for his pack of cigarettes. Instead, he pulled out the rolled-up essay he had completely forgotten about. He reached in again and pulled out his pack and lighter and sat down at the table, lighting up.
He looked down at the paper in front of him. He wasn’t entirely sure who Nick Carraway was, but there was a B+ to his name, in honour of the fucker. Mickey chuckled and took a drag. He flipped to the first page of the essay and let his eyes skim down. Comments like “Very Insightful!” and “Great Connection!” were written in red ink all over the page. Stupid bitch.
Two sentences, mid-paragraph, caught Mickey’s eye:
Carraway’s obvious homosexual desire for Gatsby is at a complete juxtaposition with his character. While Carraway is regularly admired and praised by other characters for his honesty, verging on bluntness, the character cannot even be honest with himself about who he truly is, at his most basic level.
He quickly surveyed the next few paragraphs. That was it. The entire point of the fucking paper was that this Carraway guy was a fag and was in love with some guy named Gatsby and dated a really manly girl to try and pretend he wasn’t gay and how fuckin’ tragic that was.
“Jesus, Gallagher,” Mickey breathed, exasperated. He pulled out his lighter and held it up to the corner of the paper until it caught. He threw the burning essay in the kitchen sink and watched it curl in on itself and turn black. Yeah, that was all he fuckin’ needed: his father to get out of prison and find a paper with Mickey’s fuckin’ name on it all about how beautiful and nice it is to be a fag. Thanks a lot, Fuckface.
Terry Milkovich was renowned as the biggest fag basher in the south side. The second time he had gone to prison was because he had seen two men walkin’ down Centre Street holding hands. He had grabbed one of the men and slammed his face into the sidewalk. He had beaten him to within an inch of his life, his boyfriend watching and screaming the whole time. Mickey was pretty sure if Terry had had a gun on him, he would have shot them both.
“I was doin’ some goddamn public service,” Terry had told Mickey when he got out of prison. “The world would be a fuckin’ better place if every one of those queer fucks dropped dead and rotted.”
Mickey had been seven.
If you had asked him at seventeen, Mickey would have expressed the same sentiments. Being gay was unnatural and wrong and if he saw two fags walking down the street, he’d like to believe he’d have the balls to do what his father did. He knew that the world would be better if every fuckin’ faggot and carpet muncher just fuckin’ offed themselves. He knew it.
Sometimes Mickey lay in bed at night reminding himself over and over, like a prayer. And every time Mickey found himself getting a hard-on from thinking too long about another man, he’d have to fight the urge to stick one of his father’s guns in his mouth and swallow a bullet.
Usually fucking some hood girl or beating some kid senseless would do the trick by distracting him. Release of energy and all that. And it couldn’t be considered gay if he was thinking about some guy, as long as he was balls deep in a girl, right?
He was shaken from his thoughts by the front door slamming. Mandy came running in, her makeup streaked down her face.
“The fuck’s wrong with you?” Mickey asked, but she ran straight into her room and slammed the door.
Whatever, Mickey thought. Not my job to deal with a fuckin’ teenage girl.
Mickey woke the next morning to silence. For the last few weeks he had woken up to find Mandy clanging around in the kitchen, making some kind of breakfast. He wasn’t hugely fond of the noise, but it was nice to have eggs and bacon waiting for him before he had to go to work.
He walked out of his room and confirmed his suspicions that there was no breakfast. He felt a mixture of concern and annoyance. Both emotions caused him to barge into Mandy’s room.
“Yo, Martha Stewart, you plan on cooking at some point?”
“Go away,” he heard Mandy sniffle. She was curled up on her bed, still wearing her clothes from last night. Concern started to win out over annoyance.
“The fuck’s going on, Mandy?” Mickey sighed, leaning against the doorway. He wondered if he was supposed to walk over and comfort her some other way, but decided the doorway was probably his best position for now.
Mandy sniffed a couple times more and then rolled over to face Mickey. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Snot dripped from her nose and her lip was trembling. She looked fragile and the entire scene made Mickey very uncomfortable. His sister could be emotional at times, but she usually didn’t have this much of a problem putting herself back together.
“Last night...,” she started, whispering. “…I was at the G-“
“Could you speak the fuck up?” Mickey interrupted, raising his eyebrows.
“I was at the Gallagher’s house!” she yelled, sitting up. Half of her hair was sticking up in strange directions.
Mickey felt his heart stop and then pound faster. He clenched his fists and his jaw at the same time and stood up straight in the doorway.
“Lip?” he asked, through his gritted teeth.
“Ian,” she said, looking down at her lap.
Mickey blinked twice at the curveball. He knew Lip’s brother was in Mandy’s grade, but the boy was so docile, he hardly expected him to be the reason Mandy was inconsolable.
“We were watchin’ TV and-“
“He touch you?” Mickey asked. His voice was flat, but he had shaken off the surprise, and the rage was back.
It was Mandy’s turn to look up in surprise. She paused for a minute, biting her lip, and then nodded decidedly.
“Y-yeah…he forced himself on me,” she finally said, in a quiet voice, avoiding eye contact.
Mickey cracked his knuckles.
“I’ll take care of it.”
Mickey stormed into the Kash and Grab with Jaime and Joey tailing close behind him. The store had become his favourite to pick up groceries from. The store owner was a pussy coward, and as long as his Quran-thumping bitch of a wife wasn’t around, he wouldn’t say “boo” about Mickey taking whatever the fuck he wanted. He often saw Lip’s kid brother bouncing around the store with an apron on and a big stupid grin on his face, so it was the first place he and his brothers had decided to check.
“You messed with the wrong girl!” Mickey yelled and saw a flash of red out of the corner of his eye by the milk racks.
“Come here!” He yelled, chasing the ginger to the back of the store just as Ian was running into a back door. He felt the door lock and started throwing his body into it. “Get out here! Mandy told us what you did, you piece of shit! Get out here!”
“He’s gone,” Kash said, coming up behind them. Mickey could hear he was trying to be brave, but his voice wavered when the Milkovich boys turned to look at him. “There’s a door in the back of the store room.”
“Alley!” Mickey yelled at his older brothers, pointing vigorously for them to leave before Gallagher got away. “Alley!”
His brothers ran out the way they had come in, and Mickey grabbed Kash by the front of the shirt. He pushed him back against the wall and pointed his finger in his face.
“Tell Fuckhead this is not over,” Mickey demanded, gritting his teeth. He turned to run after his brothers and pushed a crate of chips over for good measure on his way out.”
He got outside to find his brothers standing there, scratching their heads in confusion – no red head to be seen.
Fuck, Mickey thought. He’s probably still in the fucking store.
He spun on his heel and turned back around to run into the store. He saw a wide-eyed Kash reaching for the door to lock it but couldn’t see Gallagher anywhere.
Mickey sniffed, grabbed two Yodels from the rack by the door, and bit the top of the wrapping off one. He spit the wrapper at the scared looking man and grinned before walking back out the door. He knew the grown fucking man was terrified of him. Good.
They had been looking for three hours and Mickey could feel the resolve of his brothers weakening. They had stopped to grab a burger and he could see the shift of focus in their eyes. When he had woken them this morning it had been with the promise of a fight (at least a one-sided one) and spray-painting “IAN GALLAGHER IS A DEAD MAN” across the city just wasn’t cutting it. He knew that with all this pent-up energy, they had to either find Ian soon or shift focus to another cause, otherwise he would never hold their attention long enough to track down their sister’s assailant. His older brothers must have the collective attention span of a fucking goldfish.
As they left the diner, without even considering asking for the bill, Mickey was thinking how to quickly rally the troops, when he noticed, strolling down the street towards them, a walking, talking opportunity. Mostly talking.
Lip Gallagher was coming towards them with his arm around Karen Jackson’s shoulders. Wasn’t that just cute as a fuckin’ picture? If anyone in this fucking city knew where Ian was, it was his brother. Those two were like two peas in a motherfuckin’ pod.
“Hey, yo!” Mickey yelled. He saw Karen say something to Lip and then laugh. Fucking bitch.
Mickey weighed the options on how to play out this interaction. In the end, he settled on “pleasant conversation”. Lip always seemed like he wanted to chat and playing nice seemed like the best way to get any useful information out of the asshole.
“Hey, I got a B+ on that English paper you wrote for me,” Mickey said, once Lip and Karen were close enough. He saw Karen roll her eyes and look away.
“Well hey, spread the word. Could use the business,” Lip replied, friendly enough. “I heard they’re letting Iggy out of juvie.”
“Yeah, yeah, Mom drove up to go get him. Throwing a party or some shit this weekend,” Mickey gestured with the pool cue he was carrying. He saw Lip’s eyes dart towards the weapon, and quickly back up.
“Probably back in before then, yeah?” Lip chuckled.
“Ha, ha, probably,” Mickey agreed with a smile. There were a couple seconds of silence, before Mickey decided that had probably been enough niceties. He hardened his face and looked Lip straight on. “So, Ian messed with Mandy.”
“Ian?” Lip asked, and he looked genuinely surprised.
“That’s, uh, that’s highly unlikely,” Lip said, with a shrug. He was fidgety like he knew something he wanted to say but couldn’t. Like a child with a secret.
“That’s what Mandy told us,” Mickey shrugged back.
“No, trust me, you got the wrong guy,” Lip said. His voice was quickening, and he wasn’t smiling anymore. Mickey could see there was legitimate panic on Lip’s face. A small part of Mickey respected that Lip seemed concerned for his younger brother’s safety when he so rarely seemed concerned for his own. It was very small, though, and Mickey easily pushed it to the back of his mind.
“Right. The problem is that Ian’s been avoiding us all day, and, uh, someone’s gotta get a beat-down ‘til we find him,” Mickey explained, apologetically shrugging.
“Could make an exception,” Lip offered with a smile, but no real hope in his face.
“Not really, though.”
The two boys looked at each other and silent understanding passed between them. Mickey was going to defend his younger sister and Lip was going to protect his younger brother. Stalemate.
Lip nodded slowly with acceptance, looked over at Karen, and shrugged again. “Well, maybe, uh, Mandy’s confusing Ian with any one of the other four hundred dudes in the tenth grade she’s already blown.”
Mickey licked his bottom lip and smiled humourlessly. He nodded and turned his head. He may not be as smart as Lip, but he could recognize that Lip was trying to bait him. The “if I’m gonna go down, I’ll go down fighting” mentality. And, yeah, he was gonna go down.
Mickey shoved the pool cue he was carrying into Lip’s gut and heard a satisfying grunt of pain from Lip before kicking him down.
Giving Gallagher a beating had seemed to satiate his brothers for the time being, but Mickey knew it wouldn’t last. Where the fuck was this kid? The town wasn’t that big, and Mickey had only ever seen him in, like, three fuckin’ places.
They headed back to the Kash and Grab around closing time and loitered across the street, smoking cigarettes and drinking warm beer.
“Where’s Firecrotch?” Mickey yelled across the street when Kash came out to lock up. The man pretended not to hear him, pulling down the bars to cover the glass door and windows.
“Hey! Kash ‘n’ Grab!” Mickey continued taunting, knowing the man could hear him. “He’s only making it worse!”
Kash got in his truck, still ignoring the boys yelling at him from across the road.
“Okay,” Mickey nodded, pressing his tongue against the inside of his cheek. “Okay. We’re gonna find him.”
The boys turned to leave. Mickey called back over his shoulder, “Hey! Kash ‘n’ Grab! Tomorrow. When your shithole opens.”
They had looked all over the south side and hadn’t found Ian fuckin’ Gallagher anywhere. Mickey hadn’t sold a damn thing today, and aside from busting up Lip Gallagher’s face a little, it had been a complete waste of a day.
Mickey decided they should walk past the Gallagher homestead one last time before calling it a night and starting fresh in the morning. A north side looking fucker was coming down the steps, as Mickey and his brothers rounded the corner.
“I saw you smile!” the man called, not turning around, and Mickey heard the door slam.
“Hey! Yeah, you!” Mickey called, walking over to the man. He expected the fucker to look at least a little unnerved, but he put his hands in his pockets, cool as a fuckin’ cucumber. “You, uh, you see Ian in there?”
“Not home,” the man replied, barely looking up, as he walked around his very fancy, should-never-be-left-alone-in-the-south-side car.
“Know when he’s comin’ back?” Mickey asked.
“No, man. Not a clue,” the man shrugged apologetically, opening the driver’s side door.
“Yeah, yeah, alright, Fuckhead,” Mickey replied, scratching the side of his nose and turning around to face the house. He looked up to the top floor window and saw Lip Gallagher peering down at him and duck as soon as their eyes met.
“Hey, Lip! How’s your lip? Yeah, I saw you up there. Tell your shithead brother we’re waiting for him!”
Mickey waited for a couple minutes for a reply and received none. He sighed. Waste of a fuckin’ day.
Mickey had intended to get up with the sun to continue his hunt for Ian Gallagher. He figured the boy couldn’t avoid work forever, and if he hung around Towelhead’s store long enough, he’d be bound to run into him sooner or later. But the best-laid plans of mice and Milkoviches often go awry. Mickey had gotten pretty drunk throughout the day, with nothing to do but drink and walk around town, and he ended up sleeping until past noon. He probably would have slept longer, had the smell of eggs and bacon not woken him up.
He walked out of his room to see Mandy practically bouncing around the kitchen, preparing breakfast, a huge smile plastered on her face.
“The fuck you so happy for?” Mickey asked, rubbing a fist against his eye, trying to get any residual sleep out.
“No reason,” Mandy replied, obviously lying. She handed Mickey a plate of food, and he sat down at the table. Mandy grabbed her own and sat across from Mickey. “I gotta tell you something.”
“Wa?” Mickey asked, through a full mouth of eggs. It had been over 24 hours since he had had real food, and he hadn’t realized how much he had missed it.
“You gotta leave Ian alone,” Mandy said, looking down at the table, but still smiling.
Mickey looked up from his eggs, shocked. “The fuck? Why?”
“’Cause he’s my boyfriend now,” Mandy said, nonchalantly picking up a forkful of her own eggs.
Mickey threw his fork on his plate in frustration. “The fuck, Mandy?! Like, a day ago you told me he fuckin’ raped you and now you’re saying he’s your boyfriend?!”
Mandy’s smile shrunk considerably. “He didn’t do that,” she mumbled. “I lied.”
Mickey raised his eyebrows and looked at Mandy, waiting for her to explain more. When she didn’t Mickey rolled his eyes and slammed a hand on the table, “Well thanks a fuckin’ lot for wasting my time looking for your boyfriend.”
Mandy scowled. “Oh, sorry if it cut into your busy day of selling Molly and beating up thirteen-year-olds.”
Mickey scowled back but picked back up his fork and started eating again. He was tired and frustrated, but he had gotten to kick Lip Gallagher in the face. It was important to focus on the positives.
The siblings ate in silence for a few minutes.
“Why would you fuckin’ lie, though?” Mickey asked, breaking the silence. His frustration had all but dissipated and the question was more from curiosity than anything else.
Mandy shrugged and didn’t answer at first. Mickey dropped his eyes down to his meal and started eating again.
“He’s, like, the nicest boy I know,” Mandy said quietly.
Mickey looked up and his sister, chewing on her cuticle and avoiding eye contact.
“I went to his house and thought he wanted to screw, but he pushed me off and said he just wanted to watch TV and hang out.”
Mickey pulled a face. He regretted engaging his sister in conversation at all if it had caused her to give him recounts of her throwing herself at boys.
“It hurt my feelings,” Mandy continued, biting more vigorously at her nail bed. “Like he didn’t think I was good enough. I know how the people talk about us, and if the nicest boy I know thought those things too…”
Mandy let her voice trail off, and Mickey didn’t ask her to explain further. He didn’t need someone to clarify for him how it felt to have everyone judge you.