Moving meant a lot of new things.
New district, new house, new school, new bedroom, new rules. But the newest thing that Mickey dreaded the most was a new family.
He had been caught shoplifting and his old foster family had wanted him gone, not opting to bail him out, but luckily his public defender had managed to get him out on community service, pleading the ‘child lost in the system’ argument he had heard so many times before. Of course, he didn’t blame his old foster family for how they had acted at all, but… it made everything difficult. Especially when his new foster family lived on the North Side, not far from his true home, but quite far from Mandy, who was stuck in Gary, over sixty miles away.
As he sat in the back of his social worker’s old, shitty Corolla, earphones jammed so far in that he was very close to perforating an eardrum, he sighed over the increasing distance. Brow furrowed and lips pulled in a tight, defiant line, Mickey became wary when he saw Donna flick on her blinker and pull up on the kerb halfway up the hill. It meant they were there, and that meant the hideous, overly-friendly introductions, the shifty eyes when they noticed his knuckle tattoos and pulled their own children closer, and the ‘so, tell us about you, Mickey’ talk that saw him desperately wishing for his sister to go first.
But this time she wouldn’t be able to. His sister (and social buffer) would no longer be just down the hall if he needed to talk, just to his side as he was awkwardly introduced to a new family, or an El ride away if he needed bailing out. No, he was up shit creek on his own this time, and he would have to manage alone until he found a paddle.
The car door opening and his social worker gesturing for him to get out had Mickey huffing as he slid out and swung his duffle over his shoulder, staring down at his feet. He willed them to move as Donna walked to the front door, her hips swinging with each bouncy step. “Mickey?” Her call had him moving as she found herself stood alone on the porch of the building that seemed nice enough and expensive enough, but just squashed in enough with all of the other buildings perched on the steep hill that the value was pulled down. So, his new foster family were probably going to be wannabe-rich with the interior of the building far too pretentious for the location and exterior. He imagined the dad was a banker and the mom a hairdresser. They had a couple of kids, both of whom were excelling at school and played the violin or some other stupid extracurricular.
In reality, the door was opened to them by a strong-looking man with the full-blown lumberjack look, bushy beard and button-down plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. “Hey, I’m Hank, you must be Donna and Mickey. Come on in, y’all.” The southern twang that had greeted them had Mickey cocking a brow at Donna, wanting to know if she was really serious.
“Thanks, Hank. Yes, Mickey Milkovich,” the curvy woman confirmed as she put a forceful hand on his back in response to Mickey’s silent query. Yes, she was damned well serious.
Mickey shuffled his feet into the well-lit hallway to follow his new foster father through to a spacious lounge. It was funny that the interior was not what Mickey had expected, instead housing modest, comfortable-looking couches, a large, wall-mounted TV, and two curly-haired, blond toddlers yanking every toy available out of the two toyboxes that sat either side of the fireplace. Jack and James were painted on to the toyboxes, with dinosaur and dragon stickers haphazardly placed on them.
“Boys, come say hello to Mickey before your toyboxes swallow you whole.” Hank chuckled as he had caught the attention of the two boys. When they turned to look at Mickey with cheesy, gappy grins, Mickey would be lying if he said they didn’t look a little creepy. Their white-blond baby afros were teamed up with skin so pale it made Mickey’s look positively bronze, and big, brown eyes hidden behind the hideous, brightly coloured, round glasses that toddlers were often subjected to. “This is Jack and James, they’re just crazy little rockets. Jack wears the green glasses and James is the blue,” Hank explained as a beautiful, dark-skinned lady walked in to shake Mickey’s hand before stepping back to place her arm around Hank’s hip. “And this is my beautiful wife, Jayla.”
Sensing Mickey’s reluctance, Donna stepped in, “Mickey here is a Chicagoan himself and he’s a real talker once you chip the ice away.” She nudged his arm playfully as she said, “Aren’t you?” He offered up a small grunt by way of response. “Well, he’ll thaw eventually.” She laughed, Hank and Jayla joining in with cheesy grins. “Anyway, you have my number, Mickey, so call me if you have any problems or questions.” And then another grunting response was all Donna received before she saw herself out.
Mickey was grateful that Hank had noted his discomfort and reluctance to socialise, gesturing him upstairs, saying he would take him to his room so he could get his bearings. “Thanks, man,” he had mumbled, following him up the wide stairway.
The walls that cased in the stairs were lined with pictures of Hank, Jayla and the twins in various locations and positions, and he wondered if the boys were adopted rather than fostered. And, apparently, he had said this aloud without thinking because Hank explained “Neither. They’re our biological children. They have albinism, hence the lighter features. But when you look closer, you’ll notice that, pigment aside, they’re the spit of Jayla.”
“What is that?” Mickey queried, intrigued by the two boys.
“Basically, they don’t produce melanin, which is the pigment that makes up the colour in your hair, skin, and eyes.” Hank shrugged a little as he spoke, “They just gotta’ wear sunscreen more often, other than that they’re just like you or me. They’re great kids.”
Mickey smiled as Hank opened a door for him at the farthest point down the hallway, waving Mickey in. The room was nicer than any he had ever had, even when it had been his own and not in a rent-a-room foster home. The walls were a soft peach, the light carpet plush beneath his feet, and there was a desk beneath the window with a computer set up on it. A queen-sized bed, large wardrobe, and a small TV atop the chest of drawers opposite the bed completed the furnishings.
“TV has basic cable, computer for your schoolwork. Laundry is every day with the messy rascals downstairs, so just throw it into the chute down the hall and we’ll just put it on your bed when it’s done. There’s no lock on the door, but we’re very respectful of knocking before entering, so you shouldn’t feel like you need one.” Hank looked around to check that there was nothing he hadn’t mentioned, twisting a section of his beard between his thumb and forefinger. “Your own bathroom through there,” he gestured to the door beside the wardrobe.
“Dinner is at six. Umm, we’re just doing a Bolognese, you eat that?” Mickey nodded with a small smile, “Okay, great! Jay and I figured we could speak with you a little later after the boys are down, nothing intense, just getting to know your hobbies, food preference, and stuff like that so we can make you feel at home here. Oh, and Jay has booked a sitter for the afternoon so she can take you to enrol at the school to start Monday. Anyway, I’ll leave you to it because I’m tired of hearing my voice, so you definitely must be.” He clapped Mickey on the shoulder warmly as he said, “We’re really looking forward to having you here.”
As Mickey stood in his new room, he simply looked around and wondered what to do with himself. He only had a handful of tops, a couple of pairs of jeans, some sweatpants, his coat, and underwear. Along with his phone charger, sketchpad and pencils, that was the contents of Mickey’s duffle, factor in the items on his person, and that was his life; not much to pack away. Feeling like he needed a sense of normality, Mickey pulled out his art supplies and went to open the window to draw the skyline.
Only when he opened it and prepared to hook his legs over the ledge to allow them to dangle out did he remember that he was in a tightly-knit suburban neighbourhood on a hill. The sight that welcomed him instead was the wooden panelling of the neighbouring house and the ledge above their side door. To his left, he could just see something non-house-related – a thin slither of trees and sky. The other way, more houses. The weird thing, though, was that to his right there was a window with a protruding section of wall and roof, as though it was a perch off of the edge of the house. And on it sat a boy with very red hair, his head buried in a book.
What a fucking reading spot if ever there was one, Mickey thought as he looked over at the boy. Screw it, he would try his hand at drawing people, he decided, hooking his legs out of the window as originally planned, feeling them land on a flat surface. No fucking way! The elation that almost bounced out of Mickey as he looked down to see confirmation that he had his own perch was difficult to contain; it was like a dream come true. Cautiously, he pressed his foot a little more firmly, checking the stability of the structure. He had stayed sturdy on weaker roofs, so allowed himself to slip out of the window to sit down.
“Don’t fall, that shit hurts.” Mickey looked up to see the redhead casting eyes over the top of his book, a slight smirk on his lips. It was scary that the boy was so close that Mickey could have mapped the constellations in the freckles across his nose and cheeks. “Ian,” the boy introduced himself, giving a two-fingered salute as he tipped his head.
Mickey watched the boy curiously, contemplating playing ignorant. No, he couldn’t do that. Hell, he had probably stared at him directly for a good minute. Whilst manners weren’t one of his reputable traits, he still had some semblance of knowledge for when they should be used, particularly around cute guys. “Mickey,” he settled on, offering a half-smile, “just moved in.”
“You staying with the Michaels?” The redhead laughed at the vacant expression Mickey returned, not even sure of Hank and Jayla’s surname. “Lumberjack dude with the hot wife.”
Oh, a small, dejected voice echoed through his head, thinking about how he had called Jayla hot, which she was, but Mickey didn’t see her that way, he saw her as pretty or beautiful. But not hot. She wasn’t a dude, so that word was non-applicable to her.
Wiping his expression, Mickey nodded, “Glad I’m not the only one who sees him as a lumberjack!”
By now, Ian had placed his book down beside himself, dog-earing the corner to mark his page, Mickey had noticed. “Man, he’s a lumberjack in my dreams even if he isn’t in real life,” Ian laughed, his eyes trained on Mickey’s blue ones, gauging his reaction.
“Jesus¸ I gotta’ live with the guy, don’t say shit like that and get me having wet dreams over the dude!” He saw how Ian relaxed at the comment, the guard behind his wide, doe-like eyes softening. Ian’s nose had crinkled with a silent laugh, and it had to be the fucking cutest thing Mickey had ever seen. It made Ian’s face seem young and vulnerable when he did it, his firm jaw becoming soft, his eyes like a galaxy of possibility in shades of green.
“Have them over me instead then,” Ian simply laughed before standing up to pick up his book and navigate his long limbs back into his window, yelling behind him, “Catch ya’ later, Mickey Just Moved In.”
In his head, he had yelled something really witty and smart back to the flash of ginger hair, but reality heard a strangled sort of ‘buh-heh-heh’. Mickey leaned his back against the wall as he retrieved his supplies from where they sat inside on the desk, beginning to draw the previously-present neighbour who had intrigued him. He didn’t know what it was, whether it was that he was visually stunning, that his eyes held stories for days, or the forwardness and headstrong way in which he had acted, but Mickey felt as though Ian had cast a line and hooked Mickey in for catching.
When it came to the detail of the facial features, the ones that had made Ian so attractive, Mickey held fire, not trusting his memory to have memorised the flecks in his eyes or the pattern of his freckles. It was a good time to stop he decided, climbing back in his window to pack away his few belongings and catch a shower. He would wholeheartedly deny thinking of green eyes, red hair, and broad shoulders whilst in the shower cleaning himself, an act which had become less innocent the more he allowed his mind to wander across the planes of that face.
As he stepped out of the shower, basking in how soft and thick the bath sheet was, Mickey heard his name called. He quickly tied the towel around his waist and opened his bedroom door to a smiling Hank letting him know dinner was ready. “Thanks, man, I’ll just quickly get some clothes on.”
It was nice to not have to just try and salvage up anything he could with whatever mismatched or forgotten groceries he could find in the cupboard or freezer, but to instead have a home-cooked meal waiting on the table to be dished up with a smile. Jayla grinned happily when Mickey commented on how good everything smelt, smiling his thanks when she piled his plate high with the pasta. He was just about to reach for a piece of garlic bread when he saw in his peripheral Hank holding a hand out towards him.
“Grace,” the man simply explained, noticing the perplexed look on Mickey’s face.
“Oh, shit, sorry.” Mickey apologised, accepting Hank’s hand and then looking to his right to take James’ grasping hand. And that was enough to remind him that he had cussed in front of two toddlers. “I’m real sorry,” Mickey instantly said, hanging his head slightly in embarrassment, a burning warmth settling about his ears. He chanced a look across the table to see Jayla nodding her head softly and mouthing ‘thank you’ at him for noticing his mistake. His brows knitted together, hoping he was able to silently communicate how sorry he was.
“Thank you, Lord, for our health, the food we are about to eat, and for allowing Mickey to come and be a part of our family. Amen,” Jayla spoke softly.
For once, he didn’t just feel like a foster kid that was taken in for the government check, and it was enough to make his Atheist self chorus in quietly with the table’s synchronised ‘amen’s. He would definitely have to work out a way to thank these people.
After eating, and a half-hour of Mickey being roped into playing a game of who could build the highest block tower with the twins, wherein they would take it in turns to knock his tower over and giggle animatedly, Hank had declared he would do storytime with the boys. The two blond boys stood up to hug their mother goodnight before throwing themselves at Mickey, both shrilling out a “Goodnight, Mommy and Mickey,” as they followed their father to bed.
Mickey packed away the blocks before standing and accepting the seat beside Jayla on the couch that she had patted for him to take, feeling a little unsure of what to say.
“They have been very excited to meet their ‘big brother Mickey’ since we told them that you would be coming last week. It is lovely to see you playing with them,” the dark-skinned lady said, smiling as she smoothed out a crease in her long skirt.
Shrugging his shoulders lightly, Mickey simply said, “They’re cute kids.”
“Thank you.” The pride behind the twins’ mother’s smile was enviable. Terry had never once shown an ounce of pride or love for his children that Mickey could remember, only frustration or disdain. “So, tell me about Mickey, besides what the file says. I, much like the Lord, am a strong believer of forgiveness and fresh beginnings, so I want to hear about your hobbies, your favourite food, your ambitions.”
“I like to draw,” Mickey admitted after a moment of thinking about his make-up besides petty crime and anger.
“Do you? What a marvellous hobby. I wish I could draw, but even my stickmen are questionable.” She matched Mickey’s laughter before speaking again, “What do you draw?”
“I, uh, I mostly do landscape – sunsets are my favourite – but…” he thought about how well his half-finished Ian drawing had turned out, “I’m trying to do portraits as well.”
“Wonderful! Well, if you ever need any supplies, do let me know, I wouldn’t want an artist to be without his tools!”
The enthusiasm and encouragement that Jayla showed made Mickey blush a little. Terry had told him that drawing was for pussies and fags. Well, he guessed Terry was fifty percent right. “I… thank you. Not quite an artist, though,” he admitted.
“If you draw, you are an artist, regardless of your skill or talent.” He had shrugged off her comment, a bashful smile on his lips as he looked down to a corner of the couch, noticing how clean the cream fabric was. He felt guilty, almost sure that his clothes were leaving grime on its spotless upholstery, making a conscious effort not to move about too much.
“Oh, before I forget, I would like to take you shopping after we enrol you at the high school,” his foster mother began, “your bag did not seem very full, which makes me think you do not have many clothes. We will get you some new ones.”
Mickey shook his head, “Nah, you don’t need to buy me nothing.”
“Maybe wait until you see what the school is like before you refuse,” she had suggested, her eyebrows raised as a knowing smirk sat on her lips.
Hank had joined them slightly later, coming in with two glasses of white wine and a root beer for Mickey, the three of them sitting and talking about the subjects Mickey enjoyed at school, his drawing again to Hank, and his sister.
“She must join us for dinner!” Jayla had exclaimed when Mickey had mentioned how they had been a year ago when the family that was fostering both of them was no longer able to do so. Mandy had gone to Gary (now sixteen, the state was happy to separate her from her brother) and Mickey had gone to a South Side foster home close enough for him to catch a bus down to see her without breaking the bank.
“I’ll mention it to her,” Mickey responded appreciatively.
“We could drive down and make it a beach day,” Hank suggested, earning a shrill of agreement from his wife.
Not long after, Mickey bade them goodnight and took himself off to his room, hoping that a certain redhead would be outside reading to allow him to finish off his portrait. He had decided that if it turned out well, he would draw the twins as a gift for his foster parents.
“Miss me?” Mickey was taken aback to see that the ginger boy had been looking directly at his window before he had even made a move to go outside, no noise being made on his part.
A small scoff and a roll of his eyes was Mickey’s immediate response; “You were the one staring at my window like I’m Rapunzel or some shit!”
Ian wasn’t intimidated in being caught in the act, simply shrugging his shoulders, “True. But if any of us has the hair for Rapunzel, let’s be serious, it’s me.” He ran a hand through his shiny locks for emphasis as he spoke.
“Not long enough, man,” Mickey had pointed out, earning himself another flirty, ballsy remark from his neighbour.
“Long enough to pull, that’s all I need.” Ian had chuckled under his breath at the blush that had risen up Mickey’s cheeks with the sole purpose of embarrassing him. “So, what do you draw?” The forward boy asked, watching as Mickey’s eyes flitted between the sketchpad on his lap and his face.
How did Mickey answer that he had been drawing him without sounding like a total stalker? He didn’t. There was no arrangement of words to explain the fact where he didn’t seem strange. So, he puffed his chest out, spoke boldly and plainly, and owned it: “You.”
“Oh, paint me like your French girls, Mickey.” Ian grinned, but Mickey was sure he saw the crimson tide engulfing his freckles as it washed across his face. “Can I see it?”
“It’s not finished yet.” Instinctively, Mickey gripped the sketchpad a little tighter, expecting people to snatch it from his hand like they had in previous foster care situations.
The freckled boy simply nodded understandingly, “What’s left?”
“Your eyes and those god-damned freckles. I mean, Jesus, do you got enough?” The Milkovich boy laughed to himself as he raised a hand in question.
Ian was suddenly shuffling himself further down the slope of his perch, sitting on the corner with his legs dangling over the edge, before he spoke “I dunno’, you tell me.”
Why not? Mickey needed to get a closer look to be able to get them right on his first attempt at a portrait. He placed his sketchpad and pencil down for a moment to sit as Ian had, only a couple of inches between their knees. Without speaking, Mickey picked up the drawing and a soft pencil and began to add the freckles that adorned Ian’s pale skin like glitter, his eyes focused and his tongue peeking between his lips slightly as he concentrated. His brows met in a tight furrow when he kept double-checking to see if he had mapped all of the delicate freckles accurately.
“You got a lot,” Mickey concluded with a soft smile. “You mind staying there so I can do your eyes? I just gotta’ get a harder pencil.” The willing nod from Ian was enough, and Mickey was quickly scrambling to get up and lean in the window to get the desired grade of pencil, conscious that it was getting closer to dawn and he would soon lose the light. “Thanks,” Mickey sent a soft smile to his model as he settled back into their close proximity, returning to the final part of his drawing.
“Come on, man, there can’t be that much going on in my eyes,” Ian laughed after he had been sat for anywhere upwards from fifteen minutes with the artist focusing on his eyes.
The impatience made him chuckle softly. Shaking his head, Mickey explained, “Nah, man, your eyes are throwing all sorts of shapes. You got these blues and greens in there that I gotta’ pull apart, and a little fleck of brown in your left.”
Ian was slightly taken aback, a brow briefly raising but then dropping to its original stance, “That’s insane. I don’t think anyone has ever looked in my eyes this long.”
“I’m passionate about art,” Mikey explained as he finally managed to finish Ian’s eyes, that fleck being the final touch.
As if noticing Mickey’s completion, Ian leant forward, whispering as he spoke, “Have you done my lips? Maybe you should take a closer look, they’re quite intricate. I think there’s something on them.”
Looking between his sketch and Ian’s lips – damn, they were plump and looked deliciously kissable – he noticed no distinct differences, “Nah, I think we’re-” Mickey was unable to finish his sentence as the red-haired boy had leant forward to press his bright lips against his own, shocking him for the two seconds that the closed-mouth kiss lasted.
“Told you there was something on them,” Ian smirked, his cheeks flushed from the brazen act.
Flustered. He had never felt like it until this red-haired boy had planted a sneak-attack kiss on him, and it saw him trying to bite back the smile that wanted to spread across his lips with smugness. He simply gave Ian a knowing look as he mumbled out “Asshole,” under his breath lightly.
“A pretty one, though, from the looks of your drawing.,” Ian pointed out, jerking his head towards the sketchpad that sat in the neighbouring boy’s lap.
“Yeah…” Mickey breathed out, turning to put the sketchpad and pencil back on his desk. The bedroom light highlighted how quickly the remnants of the sun had vanished, the faint glisten of stars gradually becoming visible against the imminent darkness.
“It’s really good, Mick,” Ian complimented, “I’ll definitely be your French girl again. Maybe I’ll go full-Rose next time.”
First of all, Mick, he loved it coming from those soft lips. Second of all, this kid knew what buttons to press to have his insides erupting in butterflies and warmth, and, for once, he no longer found himself wishing his way out of his foster home, instead thinking about how much his neighbour had been the cherry on top of the perfect cake that was Hank and Jayla’s welcoming home and family.
“Sure,” Mickey heard himself responding as he manoeuvred himself to lay on the ledge with his legs hanging over, wanting to watch the way the darkness led to the sky slowly lighting up one star at a time, like a new freckle growing up there with every new-found shade of darkness that hung over them.
“You’ve got a perfectly good bed in there,” the neighbouring boy pointed out.
“Wanna’ watch the sky catch fire, could never see the stars in any of the places I lived before,” Mickey explained softly, placing an arm beneath his head as he allowed the other one to hang over the edge of the structure.
He heard a slight scuffle and looked to see Ian mimicking his position, his head nearest to him. “It does look pretty cool up there,” he commented as his long arm extended over his head towards Mickey’s, catching his fingers in his own as they lay peacefully watching the transition to a night sky, neither of them speaking, simply allowing their hands to remain lightly linked in the peace of North Side Chicago.